Over the Horizon: Crafting an IR Professional’s Reading List

Over the Horizon: Crafting an IR Professional’s Reading List

What do policymakers have to read in order to be "informed" on international affairs -- or just to be thought of as informed? The question, which Daniel Drezner posed yesterday, is more than just a theoretical exercise, as every summer the Patterson School assigns a list of seven or eight books on international affairs to its new and returning students. Summer reading lists are not uncommon in academia, in both graduate and undergraduate programs. Many universities assign one or more books to give faculty and new students a common intellectual foundation. The Patterson list has a twofold purpose. The first is to familiarize students with many of the most important issues in international affairs. The second is to ground students in the most important and relevant recent books on international politics. Thus, there is an effort to provide both objective and subjective expertise: what's happening in international affairs as well as what the most influential observers are saying about what's happening in international affairs. As would be expected, there can be some tension between these two objectives, as on the rare occasions when what the most influential people are saying makes little sense.

Accordingly, the debate over which books to include involves an effort both to cover areas of substance and to determine which books the students will need to have read in order to be taken seriously. In terms of substance, we try to span both geographic regions and the core areas of study -- national security, commerce, economics, diplomacy and development -- that form our writ as a school. We also try to limit our focus to books released in the past two years. Our rule on tenure is simple: No book can be on the list for more than two years, and no book is guaranteed a second year. Two candidates from last year's list -- Yasheng Huang's "Capitalism with Chinese Characteristics" and Walter Laqueur's "The Last Days of Europe" -- did not make it to this year's version.

Of course, no list can be exhaustive. We once included 12 books, which stretched students' ability to read them beyond the breaking point. For the past few years, the list has been limited to eight books. Because Patterson is an 18-month program, this means that students will be responsible for reading about 12 books -- apart from the regular course reading -- during their time here.

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