Venus on 2016: Tips on books, TV, papers, and the late T.C. Schelling

Quite of a year, 2016. As we prepare to celebrate – big dinners around here – for New Year’s Eve, we want to share something we did like in the past year. We range from TV to academic papers. But, we promise: no Trump, no Brexit and no Italian Constitutional referendum among the topics. It’s strange Top 5 (maybe 6, depending on how you count) because we selected 5 topics but often we could not agree on what should have been mentioned. The longer-than-usual list is the outcome of such disagreements.

So we asked ourselves what 2016 brought on the TV screen. List would be long, so we focused on new stuff. Two different answers, of course. One came up with the (Netflix-produced) story of Irish soldiers deployed in the  first large-scale UN peacekeeping mission that took place in Congo in the early 60s (ONUC) : “The Siege of Jadotville” (trailer here). The other was struck by the realism and vivid description of life of American Muslims (as well as by John Turturro’s acting) in HBO’s TV series “The night of”.

Fiction books. 2016 Pulitzer Prize Winner The Sympathizer (here, The Guardian reviews it) – a contemporary yet classic spy story on a double agent moving from Vietnam to America – inevitably attracted the attention of the Vietnam War most passionate student among the two. The other recently read “The Association of Small Bombs”, on (terrorist) bombing and how bombers and survivors deal with its consequences (here, a NYT review).

Newspapers and magazines section. Suggestion number one is a A&Q (The Atlantic series that explores the complexity of commonly-held beliefs about “solutions” to big questions/problems) about the decline of crime in the US, by putting together and assessing different explanations for such trend. Suggestion number two is a different take on one of the topic that made the headlines in the past year: Aleppo. Legendary Middle-East reporter Robert Fisk wonders if the destructions of antiquities occurring in Syria proves that Western museums should still hold most of them.

Time for academic papers, and again two different tips. If you like focusing on contemporary matters and into hot policy-relevant debates, Aisha Ahmad shows how Islamist groups adopting a global Jihadist identity are better able than others focusing on local tribal and ethnic identities to recruit, expand, and create intra-group cohesion (“Going Global: Islamist Competition in Contemporary Civil Wars”). If you always wondered what made some Samurai more able than others to raise taxes…well it’s the peasants’ willingness and capacity to mobilize. Abbey Steele, Christopher Paik and Seiki Tanaka empirically show how this process worked in an article titled “Constraining the Samurai: Rebellion and Taxation in Early Modern Japan”.

Something we do agree upon, though. First, we join in mourning Thomas Schelling, who recently passed away aged 95. It is hard to overstate Schelling’s contribution to strategic thinking (actually, just one of the fields he contributed too). This is how great IR scholar Robert Jervis remembers Schelling. This is a thorough review of the contribution of Schelling’s most important book, The Strategy of Conflict.

Second, on a lighter tone and kind off-topic, we agree on sports’ best performance of the year: Lebron James’ NBA Finals concluded by “The Block” (and this ESPN Sports Science version explaining the numbers behind it).

 

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Bye bye Top 5, welcome monthly Venus in Arms’ Brief

You might have been wondering, if you followed Venus in Arms from the beginning, where the weekly Top 5 has gone. After two years of (rather) honourable service, we decided it was time to move on. We had a small crew of readers, and we hope they won’t be too disappointed. Indeed, we believe our new initiative will be of their liking, and will also be of interest to others. Thus, we present this new product through a quick list of questions/answers.

  1. What is it?

A monthly Venus in Arms Brief.

  1. What will it deal with?

Key defence themes, focusing on Italy or on themes that touch directly upon the Italian debate. Europe and NATO clearly will feature prominently. Less news and more analyses of trends and scholarly work

  1. When will it be released?

Late April, and then monthly on a regular basis. We are still deciding on the exact date, please stay tuned!

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