Thomas Bollyky on “Plagues and the Paradox of Progress”

February 11, 2019

Council on Foreign Relations' Thomas J. Bollyky 

Plagues and the Paradox of Progress: Why the World Is Getting Healthier in Worrisome Ways

Plagues and parasites have played a central role in world affairs, shaping the evolution of the modern state, the growth of cities, and the disparate fortunes of national economies. This book tells that story, but it is not about the resurgence of pestilence. It is the story of its decline. For the first time in recorded history, virus, bacteria, and other infectious diseases are not the leading cause of death or disability in any region of the world. People are living longer, and fewer mothers are giving birth to many children in the hopes that some might survive. And yet, the news is not all good. Recent reductions in infectious disease have not been accompanied by the same improvements in income, job opportunities, and governance that occurred with these changes in wealthier countries decades ago. There have also been unintended consequences. In this book, Thomas Bollyky explores the paradox in our fight against infectious disease: the world is getting healthier in ways that should make us worry.

Bollyky interweaves a grand historical narrative about the rise and fall of plagues in human societies with contemporary case studies of the consequences. Bollyky visits Dhaka—one of the most densely populated places on the planet—to show how low-cost health tools helped enable the phenomenon of poor world megacities. He visits China and Kenya to illustrate how dramatic declines in plagues have affected national economies. Bollyky traces the role of infectious disease in the migrations from Ireland before the potato famine and to Europe from Africa and elsewhere today.

Historic health achievements are remaking a world that is both worrisome and full of opportunities. Whether the peril or promise of that progress prevails, Bollyky explains, depends on what we do next.

Read more from Bollyky here:

Foreign Affairs: Health Without Wealth - The Worrying Paradox of Modern Medical Miracles 

Financial Times

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Francis Fukuyama on “Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment”

January 29, 2019

In 2014, Francis Fukuyama wrote that American institutions were in decay, as the state was progressively captured by powerful interest groups. Two years later, his predictions were borne out by the rise to power of a series of political outsiders whose economic nationalism and authoritarian tendencies threatened to destabilize the entire international order. These populist nationalists seek direct charismatic connection to “the people,” who are usually defined in narrow identity terms that offer an irresistible call to an in-group and exclude large parts of the population as a whole.

Demand for recognition of one’s identity is a master concept that unifies much of what is going on in world politics today. The universal recognition on which liberal democracy is based has been increasingly challenged by narrower forms of recognition based on nation, religion, sect, race, ethnicity, or gender, which have resulted in anti-immigrant populism, the upsurge of politicized Islam, the fractious “identity liberalism” of college campuses, and the emergence of white nationalism. Populist nationalism, said to be rooted in economic motivation, actually springs from the demand for recognition and therefore cannot simply be satisfied by economic means. The demand for identity cannot be transcended; we must begin to shape identity in a way that supports rather than undermines democracy.

Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment is an urgent and necessary book—a sharp warning that unless we forge a universal understanding of human dignity, we will doom ourselves to continuing conflict. 

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Stephen Tankel on “With Us and Against Us”

January 10, 2019

December's Cover to Cover featured a conversation with Stephen Tankel, professor at American University and adjunct senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, on his new book, With Us and Against Us: How America's Partners Help and Hinder the War on Terror.

Tankel analyzes the factors that shape counterterrorism cooperation, examining the ways partner nations aid international efforts, as well as the ways they encumber and impede effective action. It offers a policy-relevant toolkit for improving counterterrorism cooperation, devising strategies for mitigating risks, and getting the most out of difficult partnerships.

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Valerie Plame on KNOW NOW with SFCIR’s Executive Director Sandy Campbell

October 26, 2018

A former career covert CIA operations officer, Valerie Plame worked to protect America’s national security and prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, in particular nuclear weapons. During her career with the CIA, Valerie managed top-secret covert programs designed to keep terrorists and rogue nation states from acquiring nuclear weapons. This involved decision making at senior levels, recruiting foreign assets, deploying resources around the world, managing multi-million dollar budgets, briefing US policy-makers, and demonstrating consistently solid judgment in a field where mistakes could prove disastrous to national security. She was also involved in covert cyber operations and counterterrorism efforts in Europe and the Middle East.

Valerie sits on the boards of Global Data Security, a cyber security company that safeguards digital data streaming and extends that protection to email and attachments, and Starling Trust, a predictive behavioral analytics company that interprets and forecasts behavioral trends. She also serves on the nonprofit boards of Global Zero the United Way of Santa Fe County, and Postpartum Support International. Valerie is affiliated with the Santa Fe Institute, a trans-disciplinary scientific think tank created by two Nobel Prize winners to address the most compelling and complex problems in the world today.

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Sarah Igo on “The Known Citizens”

October 26, 2018

Every day, Americans make decisions about their privacy: what to share and when, how much to expose and to whom. Securing the boundary between one’s private affairs and public identity has become a central task of citizenship. How did privacy come to loom so large in American life? Sarah Igo tracks this elusive social value across the twentieth century, as individuals questioned how they would, and should, be known by their own society.

Privacy was not always a matter of public import. But beginning in the late nineteenth century, as corporate industry, social institutions, and the federal government swelled, increasing numbers of citizens believed their privacy to be endangered. Popular journalism and communication technologies, welfare bureaucracies and police tactics, market research and workplace testing, scientific inquiry and computer data banks, tell-all memoirs and social media all propelled privacy to the foreground of U.S. culture. Jurists and philosophers but also ordinary people weighed the perils, the possibilities, and the promise of being known. In the process, they redrew the borders of contemporary selfhood and citizenship.

The Known Citizen reveals how privacy became the indispensable language for monitoring the ever-shifting line between our personal and social selves. Igo’s sweeping history, from the era of “instantaneous photography” to the age of big data, uncovers the surprising ways that debates over what should be kept out of the public eye have shaped U.S. politics and society. It offers the first wide-angle view of privacy as it has been lived and imagined by modern Americans.

Sarah E. Igo is an Associate Professor of History and Director of the Program in American Studies, as well as the inaugural Faculty Director of E. Bronson Ingram College.  She received her A.B. in Social Studies from Harvard University and her Ph.D. in History from Princeton University. 

Professor Igo's primary research interests are in modern American cultural and intellectual history, the history of the human sciences, the sociology of knowledge, and the history of the public sphere. Her first book, The Averaged American: Surveys, Citizens, and the Making of a Mass Public (Harvard University Press, 2007), explores the relationship between survey data—opinion polls, sex surveys, consumer research—and modern understandings of self and nation. An Editor’s Choice selection of the New York Times and one of Slate’s Best Books of 2007, The Averaged American was the winner of the President's Book Award of the Social Science History Association and the Cheiron Book Prize as well as a finalist for the C. Wright Mills Award of the American Sociological Association.  Igo has just published her second book, The Known Citizen: A History of Privacy in Modern America (Harvard University Press, 2018).

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C.J. Chivers on “The Fighters”

September 14, 2018

More than 2 million Americans have served in Afghanistan or Iraq since September 11, 2001, and C.J. Chivers has reported from both wars from their beginnings. The Fighters vividly conveys the physical and emotional experience of war as lived by six combatants: a fighter pilot, a medic, a scout helicopter pilot, a grunt, an infantry officer and a Special Forces sergeant. Chivers captures their commitment and sense of purpose, their courage and ultimately their sacrifice, confusion and moral frustration as new enemies arise, and invasions give way to counterinsurgency duties for which they often were not prepared.

The Fighters is a tour de force, a portrait of modern warfare that parts from slogans. It does for these troops what Stephen Ambrose did for the G.I.s of WWII and what Michael Herr did for the grunts in Vietnam. The Fighters presents a human side of the long arc of two wars, told with the empathy and understanding of an author who is himself an infantry veteran.

C.J. Chivers is a reporter for The New York Times, where he works on the Investigations Desk and for The New York Times Magazine, covering conflict, crime, the arms trade and human rights, and other themes. His work also appears on the NYT’s At War and Lens blogs. He is a frequent contributor to Esquire and an occasional contributor to other publications, including Field & Stream, Popular Mechanics, Anglers Journal and more.  He is also the author of THE GUN (Simon & Schuster, 2010), a history of automatic arms and their influence on human security and war. The book was selected as a New York Times Editor’s Pick and a Best Book of 2010 by The Atlantic and The Washington Post.

 

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Vicki Huddleston on “Our Woman in Havana”

September 14, 2018

Our Woman in Havana chronicles the past several decades of US-Cuba relations from the bird’s-eye view of State Department veteran and longtime Cuba hand Vicki Huddleston, our top diplomat in Havana under Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush.

After the US embassy in Havana was closed in 1961, relations between the two countries broke off. A thaw came in 1977, with the opening of a de facto embassy in Havana, the US Interests Section, where Huddleston would later serve. In her compelling memoir of a diplomat at work, she tells gripping stories of face-to-face encounters with Fidel Castro and the initiatives she undertook, like the transistor radios she furnished to ordinary Cubans. With inside accounts of many dramatic episodes, like the tumultuous Elián González custody battle, Huddleston also evokes the charm of the island country, and her warm affection for the Cuban people.

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Jeffrey Lilley on “Have the Mountains Fallen”

September 13, 2018

In Have the Mountains Fallen?: Two Journeys of Loss and Redemption in the Cold War, Jeffrey Lilley's new book puts the spotlight on Kyrgyzstan. He examines the threat and legacy of the Soviet empire through intersecting narratives of a captive people's aspiration for freedom.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: After the witnessing the collapse of the Soviet Union as a journalist in the 1990s, Jeff Lilley moved to Central Asia in 2004. During a three-year posting in Kyrgyzstan, he started reading the works of Chinghiz Aitmatov, slept in yurts, drank fermented mare's milk, and hiked in the country's beautiful mountains. Over the following ten years, as he worked in the field of democracy and governance in support of Washington, DC, and the Middle East, he continued researching Aitmatov while adding Altay's remarkable life story. He finished writing the book in 2016, shortly before returning to Kyrgyzstan to lead a British-funded parliamentary support program. Lilley is the coauthor of China Hands: Nine Decades of Adventure, Espionage and Diplomacy (Public Affairs, 2004). 

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Dambisa Moyo on “Edge of Chaos: Why Democracy Is Failing to Deliver Economic Growth - and How to Fix It”

July 17, 2018

A generation after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the world is once again on the edge of chaos. In Edge of Chaos, Dambisa Moyo sets out the new political and economic challenges facing the world, and the specific, radical solutions needed to resolve these issues and reignite global growth.

Dambisa enumerates the four headwinds of demographics, inequality, commodity scarcity and technological innovation that are driving social and economic unrest, and argues for a fundamental retooling of democratic capitalism to address current problems and deliver better outcomes in the future. In the twenty-first century, a crisis in one country can quickly become our own, and fragile economies produce a fragile international community.

Edge of Chaos is a warning for advanced and emerging nations alike: we must reverse the dramatic erosion in growth, or face the consequences of a fragmented and unstable global future.

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Rick Barton on “Peace Works: America’s Unifying Role in a Turbulent World”

June 18, 2018

Bosnia, Rwanda, Haiti, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria - a quarter-century of stumbles in America's pursuit of a more peaceful and just world. American military interventions have cost thousands of lives and billions of dollars, yet we rarely manage to enact positive and sustainable change. In Peace Works: America's Unifying Role in a Turbulent World, ambassador and global conflict leader Rick Barton uses a mix of stories, history, and analysis for a transformative approach to foreign affairs and offers concrete and attainable solutions for the future.

Listen to the June conference call now.

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