As I recently graduated with my MA in international affairs, I thought it would be a good idea for my first blog post to be a list of the most valuable books I came across in grad school. These are the books I feel most advanced my own knowledge of international relations and political economy, as well as of Iran and the Middle East (my regional concentration).
Theory of International Politics by Kenneth Waltz (1979): Waltz’s seminal work on structural realism. Waltz posits that due to the structural reasons (the anarchic nature of the international system) states are forced toward competing for power. Waltz’s structural realism departs from Hans Morgenthau’s classical realism, which placed human nature as the chief causal factor explaining international politics.
The Tragedy of Great Power Politics by John Mearsheimer (2001): Mearsheimer’s highly regarded work wherein he details his theory of “offensive realism.” Mearsheimer makes a solid case for his theory with pertinent historical examples, and provides a great breakdown of neorealism overall. Mearsheimer’s theory stands in contrast to Waltz’s in that he argues states seek power beyond maintaining a balance of power and have the ultimate aim of gaining hegemony.
The Origins of Alliances by Stephen Walt (1987): This influential work by prominent political scientist Stephen Walt makes the argument that states do not necessarily ally to balance against power alone but rather mainly do so to balance against threats. Walt explains how taking the level of threat into account adds several additional important factors to the reasons for/against alliance formation, such as: geographic proximity, offensive capabilities, and perceived intentions.
The Peace of Illusions: American Grand Strategy from 1940 to the Present by Christopher Layne (2006): An eye-opening book in many ways, Layne argues that U.S. grand strategy since World War II has been geared towards attaining extra-regional hegemony. Layne makes a persuasive argument about how this policy has been marked by an “open door” policy of promoting economic liberalism and fostering political orders globally that are in line with U.S interests and beliefs. Layne argues this policy is unsustainable.
The Worldly Philosophers: The Lives, Times and Ideas of the Great Economic Thinkers by Robert Heilbroner (1999): A classic book that really helped me understand economics better. Outlines the trajectory of economic thinking by expounding on the ideas of economic thinkers such as Adam Smith, David Ricardo, Karl Marx and John Maynard Keynes.
Theories of Political Economy by James A. Caporaso and David P. Levine (1992): Similar to Heilbroner’s book, this book details the major schools of thought in political economics. Complements Heilbroner’s book really well by comparing and contrasting the different theorists and their ideas.
State, Power and Politics in the Making of the Modern Middle East by Roger Owen (2004): Great overview of the history and politics of the Middle East. Provides highly informative insights into state formation in the region and distinguishes between “weak” and “strong” states.
Going to Tehran: Why America Must Accept the Islamic Republic of Iran by Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett (2013): This book is a must-read for anyone wanting to understand Iranian strategic thinking and the current Iranian political system. The Leveretts also make a very compelling strategic case for why the United States should come to terms with Iran as it is right now.
The International Relations of the Persian Gulf by Gregory Gause (2010): Gause provides a very detailed overview of Persian Gulf politics and the power rivalries between Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and the Arab states of the Persian Gulf.