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Five Books to Help Understand Our Current Geopolitical Climate

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Accusations of "fake news", competing agendas, media biases, propaganda, terrorism, and never-ending wars: we're living in strange and challenging times. Geopolitics – the politics of international relations – is a mammoth topic, and like anything, what constitutes a 'good' geopolitics book for one person may not quite cut it for the next. It's nearly impossible to whittle this down to just a handful of books, but you've got to start somewhere, right? These five books help get behind the headlines. Better still, they do it without getting too heavy and are accessible to the general reader. 

In other words, you don't need to be an expert to read them, but you might feel like one after you have. 

Prisoners of Geography

When I sat down to write this list, I knew this book would be at the top. It is an absolute must for anyone interested in current geopolitics. Marshall deals with the subject matter in a more fair and balanced way than most. His goal is not to condemn nations, but to understand them. Particularly, to help us understand how foreign policy is affected by mountains, rivers and seas. It's not something we think much about when we read the headlines, but it really is what forms the basis of each nation's foreign policy. Marshall deals with complex topics in an engaging, entertaining and accessible way. Prisoners of Geography asks us to put ourselves in the shoes of other nations. You can't help but come out the other side better informed.

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Flashpoints

This one focuses on the European continent; where might trouble kick off next, and why? To answer the question, Friedman examines the cracks that have existed for centuries and looks and history to understand the present. He details how efforts to unite Europe after two wars have not been successful and looks at how tensions and conflict in Europe can affect the rest of the world. For those well versed on foreign policy already, Flashpoints is the kind of book which will having you nodding along enthusiastically on some pages and shaking your head in vehement disagreement on others. Overall though, it's a readable and worthwhile book.

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The Tragedy of Great Power Politics

Not a book for optimists. Mearsheimer began work on The Tragedy of Great Power Politics after the Soviet Union collapsed; a time when many were hopeful about a new age in international relations. His goal? To challenge that hopeful view and bring everyone back down to earth. Over time, it became clear that Mearsheimer was on to something. In this updated version of the original, he focuses on China and asks one major question: Can China rise peacefully? His answer is no. He argues convincingly that the US desire to maintain global hegemony and China's desire to rise ensure an inevitable and inescapable clash.

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The Rise of Islamic State

A short, but essential book on the hows and the whys of the rise of ISIS. Cockburn, whose personal experience in the Middle East is extensive,​ ​looks at the failures of Western foreign policy in the region​ ​and how they have facilitated the rise of the brutal terror group. It's impossible to understand the conflicts in the region today without understanding the information Cockburn presents here.

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How the World Works

There's how things seem, and then there's how things really are. Chomsky is essential reading for anyone desiring to understand the latter. This is a collection of Chomsky's speeches and interviews with Armenian-American investigative journalist David Barsamian. Chomsky, who is "arguably the most important intellectual alive" according to the New York Times, is never easy reading, in the sense that you won't come away feeling particularly optimistic. Reading Chomsky is a bit like coming across an image you really didn't want to see – but now you can't unsee it. Enlightening, eye-opening and, well, depressing, How The World Works is a revealing book for anyone who dares to read it. I've only listed one of his books here, but in truth, all of his works are worth reading and most produce the same effect.

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Danielle Ryan is a​ ​freelance journalist based in Budapest, Hungary. She writes about media, geopolitics, and books.​​ Follow her on Twitter: @DanielleRyanJ

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