cover image The World: A Brief Introduction

The World: A Brief Introduction

Richard Haass. Penguin Press, $28 (400p) ISBN 978-0-399-56239-6

The planet is in a state both promising and perilous and needs America to stay involved in international relations, argues this superficial primer on world affairs. Haass (A World in Disarray), president of the Council on Foreign Relations and a former U. S. State Department official and Middle East policy adviser to George H.W. Bush, pitches his overview at generalists trying to understand developments abroad and their implications for America. After a whirlwind montage of world history since the 17th century, he focuses on the post-WWII period and looks at present-day conditions in various regional powers and hot spots. He then offers quick, chapter-long briefings on geopolitical issues, including climate change, nuclear proliferation, migration, trade, pandemics, development strategies for impoverished countries, war, and the rise of China. Haass’s rehash of these topics is cautious, evenhanded, and centrist—he advocates for a prudent but engaged American foreign policy that steers between adventurism and isolationism. (He notes his opposition to the invasion of Iraq, for example, but castigates the Obama administration for not punishing the Syrian government for using chemical weapons against insurgents.) Haas’s broad survey may make a useful introduction for neophytes, but it’s too shallow and conventional to hold much interest for readers who closely follow the news. (May)