Book Review Club: Destined for War by Graham Allison

Destined For War coverDestined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap?
by Graham Allison (Adult Nonfiction)

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017

I bought this book in Kindle format last year after hearing about it on Fareed Zakaria GPS. In December, I decided to read it in preparation for a discussion on the Waning of Pax Americana for my AAUW International Interests group.

Allison examines the current rivalry between the US and China in light of what is called Thucydides Trap. Thucydides, an ancient Athenian historian, wrote the definitive history of the Peloponnesian War. “When a rising power threatens to displace a ruling power, alarm bells should sound: danger ahead. China and the United States are currently on a collision course for war—unless both parties take difficult and painful actions to avert it.”

As Thucydides put it, “It was the rise of Athens and the fear that this instilled in Sparta that made war inevitable.”

Allison set up the Thucydides Trap Project at Harvard, and after studying 500 years of recent history, “found sixteen cases in which a major nation’s rise has disrupted the position of a dominant state.” All but four of the cases ended in war. The odds are not in our favor. The events leading up to World War I were particularly interesting, as that war set the stage for the rest of the century and led us to where we are now.

The Pax Americana has been a rare “Long Peace,” but that peace is unraveling. By the day, or so it seems.

Allison gives historical background on some of the sixteen cases, but also spends a lot of time explaining China’s 100 Years of Humiliation and their rise to global prominence in the late 20th / early 21st century. He also goes into the policies and background of Xi Jinping, a man no one should underestimate. His life story is quite remarkable. His father was a high official in the Communist Party who became a victim of Mao’s Cultural Revolution. Xi was sent to the countryside as a boy to do manual labor. He educated himself with books stolen from boarded up libraries, and as an adult orchestrated a remarkable rise to power and may soon have absolute power over China.

I found the book fascinating and disturbing. It wasn’t a quick read as there is a lot of depth to it and I would stop to ponder the material. I’d recommend it for anyone interested in history and/or international affairs.

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