New Books

Empire of Cotton: A Global History

By Sven Beckert

Image of book coverEmpire of Cotton is the epic story of the rise and fall of the empire of cotton, its centrality to the world economy, and its making and remaking of global capitalism.

Cotton is so ubiquitous as to be almost invisible, yet understanding its history is key to understanding the origins of modern capitalism. Sven Beckert’s rich, fascinating book tells the story of how, in a remarkably brief period, European entrepreneurs and powerful statesmen recast the world’s most significant manufacturing industry, combining imperial expansion and slave labor with new machines and wage workers to change the world. Here is the story of how, beginning well before the advent of machine production in the 1780s, these men captured ancient trades and skills in Asia and combined them with the expropriation of lands in the Americas and the enslavement of African workers to crucially reshape the disparate realms of cotton that had existed for millennia, and how industrial capitalism gave birth to an empire, and how this force transformed the world.

The empire of cotton was, from the beginning, a fulcrum of constant global struggle between slaves and planters, merchants and statesmen, workers and factory owners. Beckert makes clear how these forces ushered in the world of modern capitalism, including the vast wealth and disturbing inequalities that exist today. The result is a book as unsettling as it is enlightening. (Alfred A. Knopf, 2014)

Weatherhead Center Faculty Associate Sven Beckert is the Laird Bell Professor of American History, Harvard University, and co-chair of the Weatherhead Initiative on Global History.

Currency Politics: The Political Economy of Exchange Rate Policy

by Jeffry A. Frieden

Image o fbook coverThe exchange rate is the most important price in any economy, since it affects all other prices. Exchange rates are set, either directly or indirectly, by government policy. Exchange rates are also central to the global economy, for they profoundly influence all international economic activity. Despite the critical role of exchange rate policy, there are few definitive explanations of why governments choose their currency policies. Filled with indepth cases and examples, Currency Politics presents a comprehensive analysis of the politics surrounding exchange rates.

Identifying the motivations for currency policy preferences on the part of industries seeking to influence politicians, Jeffry Frieden shows how each industry’s characteristics—including its exposure to currency risk and the price effects of exchange rate movements—determine those preferences. Frieden evaluates the accuracy of his theoretical arguments in a variety of historical and geographical settings: he looks at the politics of the gold standard, particularly in the United States, and he examines the political economy of European monetary integration. He also analyzes the politics of Latin American currency policy over the past forty years, and focuses on the daunting currency crises that have frequently debilitated Latin American nations, including Mexico, Argentina, and Brazil.

With an ambitious mix of narrative and statistical investigation, Currency Politics clarifies the political and economic determinants of exchange rate policies. (Princeton University Press, 2014)

Acting Center Director and Weatherhead Center Faculty Associate Jeffry A. Frieden is the Stanfield Professor of International Peace, Department of Government, Harvard University.

Do Facts Matter? Information and Misinformation in American Politics

by Jennifer Hochschild and Katherine Levine Einstein

Image of book coverA democracy falters when most of its citizens are uninformed or misinformed, when misinformation affects political decisions and actions, or when political actors foment misinformation. In Do Facts Matter? Jennifer L. Hochschild and Katherine Levine Einstein start with Thomas Jefferson’s ideal citizen, who knows and uses correct information to make policy or political choices. What, then, the authors ask, are the consequences if citizens are informed but do not act on their knowledge? More serious, what if they do act, but on incorrect information?

Analyzing the use, nonuse, and misuse of facts in various cases—such as the call to impeach Bill Clinton, the response to global warming, Clarence Thomas’s appointment to the Supreme Court, the case for invading Iraq, beliefs about Barack Obama’s birthplace and religion, and the Affordable Care Act—Hochschild and Einstein argue persuasively that errors of commission (that is, acting on falsehoods) are even more troublesome than errors of omission.

Do Facts Matter? looks beyond individual citizens to the role that political elites play in informing, misinforming, and encouraging or discouraging the use of accurate or mistaken information or beliefs. Hochschild and Einstein show that if a well-informed electorate remains a crucial component of a successful democracy, the deliberate concealment of political facts poses its greatest threat. (University of Oklahoma Press, 2015)

Weatherhead Center Faculty Associate Jennifer Hochschild is the Henry LaBarre Jayne Professor of Government, professor of African and African American Studies, and Harvard College professor. Katherine Levine Einstein is an associate professor, Department of Political Science, Boston University.

The Arab Spring: Pathways of Repression and Reform

by Jason Brownlee, Tarek Masoud, and Andrew Reynolds

Image of book coverSeveral years after the Arab Spring began, democracy remains elusive in the Middle East. The Arab Spring that resides in the popular imagination is one in which a wave of mass mobilization swept the broader Middle East, toppled dictators, and cleared the way for democracy. The reality is that few Arab countries have experienced anything of the sort. While Tunisia made progress toward some type of constitutionally entrenched participatory rule, the other countries that overthrew their rulers—Egypt, Yemen, and Libya—remain mired in authoritarianism and instability. Elsewhere in the Arab world, uprisings were suppressed, subsided, or never materialized.

Why did regime change take place in only four countries and why has democratic change proved so elusive in the countries that made attempts? This book attempts to answer those questions. First, by accounting for the full range of variance: from the absence or failure of uprisings in such places as Algeria and Saudi Arabia at one end to Tunisia’s rocky but hopeful transition at the other. Second, by examining the deep historical and structural variables that determined the balance of power between incumbents and challengers.

Brownlee, Masoud, and Reynolds find that the success of domestic uprisings depended on the absence of a hereditary executive and a dearth of oil rents. Structural factors also cast a shadow over the transition process. Even when opposition forces toppled dictators, prior levels of socioeconomic development and state strength shaped whether nascent democracy, resurgent authoritarianism, or unbridled civil war would follow. (Oxford University Press, 2015)

Jason Brownlee is an associate professor of government and Middle Eastern studies, University of Texas, Austin. Weatherhead Center Faculty Associate Tarek Masoud is an associate professor of public policy, Harvard Kennedy School. Andrew Reynolds is an associate professor of political science, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis

by Robert D. Putnam

Image of book coverOur Kids is a groundbreaking examination of the growing inequality gap. It’s the American dream: get a good education, work hard, buy a house, and achieve prosperity and success. This is the America we believe in—a nation of opportunity, constrained only by ability and effort. But during the last twenty-five years we have seen a disturbing “opportunity gap” emerge. Americans have always believed in equality of opportunity, the idea that all kids, regardless of their family background, should have a decent chance to improve their lot in life. Now, this central tenet of the American dream seems no longer true or at the least, much less true than it was.

Robert Putnam offers a personal but authoritative look at this new American crisis. Putnam begins with his high school class of 1959 in Port Clinton, Ohio. By and large the vast majority of those students—“our kids”—went on to lives better than those of their parents. But their children and grandchildren have had harder lives amid diminishing prospects. Putnam tells the tale of lessening opportunity through poignant life stories of rich and poor kids from cities and suburbs across the country.

Our Kids is a rare combination of individual testimony and rigorous evidence. Putnam provides a disturbing account of the American dream that should initiate a deep examination of the future of our country. (Simon & Schuster, 2015)

Weatherhead Center Faculty Associate Robert D. Putnam is the Peter and Isabel Malkin Professor of Public Policy, Harvard Kennedy School.

The Cultural Matrix: Understanding Black Youth

Edited by Orlando Patterson

Image of book coverThe Cultural Matrix seeks to unravel a uniquely American paradox: the socioeconomic crisis, segregation, and social isolation of disadvantaged black youth, on the one hand, and their extraordinary integration and prominence in popular culture on the other. Despite having school dropout rates of over 40 percent, chronic unemployment, endemic violence, and one-third spending time in prison, black youth are among the most vibrant creators of popular culture in the world. They also espouse several deeply held American values. To understand this conundrum, the authors bring culture back to the forefront, while avoiding the theoretical errors of earlier culture-of-poverty approaches and the causal timidity and special pleading of more recent ones.

This interdisciplinary work draws on all the social sciences, as well as social philosophy and ethnomusicology, in a concerted effort to explain how culture, interacting with structural and environmental forces, influences the performance and control of violence, aesthetic productions, educational and work outcomes, familial, gender, and sexual relations, and the complex moral life of black youth. (Harvard University Press, 2015)

Weatherhead Center Faculty Associate Orlando Patterson is the John Cowles Professor of Sociology, Harvard University.

Contentious Elections: From Ballots to Barricades

Edited by Pippa Norris, Richard W. Frank, and Ferran Martínez i Coma

Image of book coverFrom Afghanistan to Zimbabwe the world has witnessed a rising tide of contentious elections ending in heated partisan debates, court challenges, street protests, and legitimacy challenges. In some cases, disputes have been settled peacefully through legal appeals and electoral reforms. In the worst cases, however, disputes have triggered bloodshed or government downfalls and military coups. Contentious elections are characterized by major challenges, with different degrees of severity, to the legitimacy of electoral actors, procedures, or outcomes.

Despite growing concern, until recently little research has studied this phenomenon. The theory unfolded in this volume suggests that problems of electoral malpractice erode confidence in electoral authorities, spur peaceful protests demonstrating against the outcome, and, in the most severe cases, lead to outbreaks of conflict and violence. Understanding this process is both of vital concern to domestic reformers and the international community, and it is part of a growing new research agenda.

The book provides insights invaluable for studies in democracy and democratization, comparative politics, comparative elections, peace and conflict studies, comparative sociology, international development, comparative public opinion, political behavior, political institutions, and public policy. (Routledge, 2014)

Weatherhead Center Faculty Associate Pippa Norris is the Paul F. McGuire Lecturer in Comparative Politics, Harvard Kennedy School and Laureate Research Fellow and professor of government and International relations, University of Sydney. Richard W. Frank is a lecturer in the School of Politics and International Relations, Australian National University. Ferran Martínez i Coma is a research associate in the Electoral Integrity Project, University of Sydney.

Protest Dialectics: State Repression and South Korea’s Democracy Movement, 1970–1979

by Paul Y. Chang

Image of book cover1970s South Korea is characterized by many as the “dark age for democracy.” Most scholarship on South Korea’s democracy movement and civil society has focused on the “student revolution” in 1960 and the large protest cycles in the 1980s that were followed by Korea’s transition to democracy in 1987. But in his groundbreaking work of political and social history of 1970s South Korea, Paul Chang highlights the importance of understanding the emergence and evolution of the democracy movement in this often-ignored decade.

Protest Dialectics journeys back to 1970s South Korea and provides readers with an indepth understanding of the numerous events in the 1970s that laid the groundwork for the 1980s democracy movement and the formation of civil society today. (Stanford University Press, 2015)

Weatherhead Center Faculty Associate Paul Y. Chang is an assistant professor of sociology, Harvard University.

Crisis and Promise in the Caribbean: Politics and Convergence

by Winston Dookeran

The Caribbean is a complex, enigmatic region characterised by great disparities in size, population, geography, history, language, religion, race, and politics. This is a region in which harmony and discord work in tandem, trying to link economic logic with political logic. This book is a useful tool for specialists and students of regionalism, for those involved with nationbuilding, and those interested in the development processes of small states and economies. At the same time, this book offers a comprehensive historical record highlighting hindrances to development in this region. This study raises two important issues: the political imperative of convergence, and the need for appropriate correcting mechanisms that align the needs of the local with the regional. It is a volume that underlines the need for a change in strategy and makes proposals as to how to go about making those changes. (Ashgate, 2015)

Former Weatherhead Center Fellow (1993–1994) Winston Dookeran is Minister of Foreign Affairs, Trinidad and Tobago, West Indies.