Literature Recommendations For Fans Of Political Thrillers, Wars, And Diplomacy
The political scene has always been rife with mystery, violence, and intrigue. A fact that no doubt makes it very interesting for students and professionals in the fields of journalism, political science, and international relations, and even to normal aficionados. The latest events in Washington DC and the storming of the capitol would have seemed too fantastical for some if it had appeared in a show like House of Cards.
But politics continues to teach us to leave our assumptions at the door and be open to all possibilities. It is an unfortunate part of reality that the more exciting the politics of one’s country is, the bigger the problems it has that it needs to fix. The expression “May you live in an interesting time” perfectly exemplifies this, it is thought to be translated from a Chinese curse and while it appears to be a blessing it is used in irony as interesting times involve lots of instability and trouble.
Novels of fiction on political thrillers allow us to live in very interesting times while being safely tucked in our beds free from the tumults they include. They include everything exciting in political life minus all the risks and negative consequences. They allow us to dive deeply into the twisted machinations of corrupt politicians, experience the intensity of war through the eyes of a soldier, feel the tensions that underly subtle negotiations. But most of all the best of them represent simulations of mental experiments that might offer us valuable insights.
In this article I will recommend and describe my favorite novels of political fiction, explaining while they might be your perfect escape in our times of confinement.
Red Storm Rising by Tom Clancy
One of my favorite novels by the renowned political thriller author. The events of the novel are set in the 1980s, the story describes with high technical details how a war between the Warsaw pact and NATO would have played out in Europe. What’s interesting about this novel is that the war does not involve nuclear weapons. Instead, Tom Clancy describes a grueling battle of wills, technology, and machines. He highlights the importance of adequate command and the role that psychology plays in the decisions of the leaders of both alliances throughout the war.
Tom Clancy describes the combat actions of platoons of infantry, tanks as well as massive air to air engagements with great fidelity to how the experts think war is actually conducted. I cannot actually imagine how terrifying it must have felt reading this novel in 1986, the date of its release. When the specter of war still ruled over the world.
Recommended for readers who like realism and delving into technical details.
Foundation by Isaac Asimov
Science fiction and political thrillers make an awesome combination, especially when the author is a genius like Isaac Asimov. In “Foundation”, the author builds and presents a future galactic empire on the decline. Yet although a work of fiction, the way in which the fall of the empire is described can be used as an analogy for the fall of real-world empires and even for state failure in general.
The collapse of the galactic empire is not depicted with a bang, like the explosion of the death star in star wars for example. Instead, this collapse unfolds over hundreds of years. It begins with the periphery and slowly keeps to the center.
As the military strength and authority of the empire decline, zones of lawlessness begin to appear on the outer rim of the empire. Warlords style themselves as kings of their own regions, the empire loses its monopoly over the legitimate use of force in a Weberian sense, and when that happens it ceased to exist as a continuous state. These dynamics can be observed in the real world in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, Lebanon, and other weak states. As the central authority weakens the galactic empire becomes a state only in the name and regions that fall outside of its control are left to protect themselves as chaos and conflict rises.
Asimov also paints us a good picture of how a world characterized by anarchy evolves, students of international relations and political science would find his fictional model of great interest.
He also highlights the importance of continuous investment in knowledge and in people in the long term.
The foundation is a lonely planet situated at the edge of the galaxy inhabited by a society of scientists of various fields and endowed with an encyclopedia archiving and preserving humanity’s greatest achievement. At first, the planet is weak and vulnerable yet through the stewardship of its educated leaders and its knowledge advantage vis a vis the collapsing empire and the rising warlords. The foundation manages to become eventually the preeminent power in the world.
The foundation not only teaches us the importance of knowledge but also that of effective and decisive leadership capable of deviating from the norms when necessary and taking risky decisions when the stakes are high.
Recommended for readers who like novels of epic scale, rich world-building, and strategy.
Dune by Frank Herbert
Frank Herbert’s Dune and Isac Asimov’s Foundation are frequently mentioned in the same conversation. Herbert was in fact greatly inspired by Asimov when he created his novels. And the stories he wove share many of the themes present in “Foundation”.
Like Foundation, Dune is a novel of epic scale and world-building. It also spans an intergalactic human civilization and shares a similar essential plot device that I will leave for the reader to discover. However where Asimov focuses on the larger structural dynamics that drive civilizations. Dune focuses on how individual leaders can shape the events of their nations long into the future.
The story follows the life of Paul Atreides, the scion of an ancient noble family, as his father the duke Leto Atreides takes control of a desert planet called Arrakis (the dancer in Arabic), on behalf of the emperor of humanity.
This was however a ploy by the emperor and a rival noble family to lead Duke Atreides and his family into their own doom as they were becoming powerful enough to pose a threat to the emperor.
Paul Atreides finds himself, therefore, navigating a dangerous political environment characterized by assassination, military coercion, and even colonial diplomacy as the planet is inhabited by a native nomad population that is in the active insurgency against the forces of the empire.
In the background of all this, we discover that there are secret organizations and religious orders that seek to manipulate events behind the scene in the hopes of producing a messianic figure to use for their own mysterious objectives.
Dune is rich in cultural references, it mentions a plethora of philosophical and religious currents, as Frank Herbert imagined they would morph and evolve in the future. Religions from east and west combine and evolve to create new ones such as the Zensunni (a combination between Zen Buddhist philosophy and Sunni Islam), you have the Orange Catholic Bible, and the worship of Shai-hulud an unstoppable and brutal force of nature that I will also leave for the reader to discover.
Far from being superficial names, Herbert uses the novel to describe and delve into deep philosophical thinking about the nature of existence and of destiny. And his writing style is often psychedelic and trippy.
I should also add that fans of military affairs would love this book, this is because Frank Herbert constructed one of the most balanced and logical warfare systems that are coherent with the limits imposed by the technology present in the world.
I recommend this novel for readers who enjoy mystery, philosophy, and subtle intrigue.
These three books only serve as an introduction to many books written by these authors. Tom Clancy has written dozens of novels usually revolving around the cold war. While Herbert and Asimov each has continued the works they respectively began in Dune and Foundation by two additional books that I highly recommend.
I hope these books serve as a good introduction to these authors by fans of politics and literature alike, and for them to provide my dear readers with a good and exciting escape from the dullness of confined life.