PS Commentators’ Best Reads in 2023
Another year of global turmoil and uncertainty has prompted a search for answers in books from both the past year and previous decades. But as one new primer on the limits of rationality shows, a world that makes sense may be more than we can hope for.
In this season of reflection, Project Syndicate contributors continue an annual tradition of sharing the book that resonated most with them this year. Although new and recent titles concerning war, strategy, and geopolitics inevitably feature prominently, there is also a robust selection of books from previous decades, underscoring the enduring value of thoughtful writing in an age of hyperactive information flows. At a time when the world increasingly seems to be driven by centrifugal forces, disruptive technologies, and an all-encompassing sense of novelty, we could do worse than to press pause and seek insights that have stood the test of time.
Frank Dikötter, China After Mao: The Rise of a Superpower, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2022.
This book presents a very different take on the Chinese economic miracle than the conventional wisdom. It convincingly shows how foreign capital pouring into China (to benefit from low – and often artificially suppressed – wages) became a key ingredient of economic growth at a time of intensifying repression following the Tiananmen Square massacre. It also shatters the myth of competent technocratic policymaking under leaders such as Deng Xiaoping. In reality, Communist Party elites were often reacting to, and sometimes trying to stop, economic developments on the ground. Most radically, the book makes the case that, rather than being a sharp break with the recent past, President Xi Jinping’s more nakedly authoritarian rule is in many ways a continuation of trends that started long ago.