From the southern border of the U.S. to the lithium mines of China, the island nation of Haiti to the Golden Triangle of Southeast Asia, these four books explore how geopolitics shape history and conflict throughout the world.

Everyone Who Is Gone Is Here: The United States, Central America, and the Making of a Crisis

Jonathan Blitzer. Penguin Press, $32 (544p) ISBN 978-1-984-88080-2
Blitzer, a staff writer for the New Yorker, debuts with a masterful portrayal of the trauma experienced by asylum-seeking migrants from Central America and the U.S. government’s often inept policy interventions. Blitzer organizes his narrative around four Central Americans, including Juan Romagoza, a doctor tortured in El Salvador for his political leanings who later cared for migrants in the U.S.; Keldy Mabel Gonzáles Brebe de Zúniga, who escaped violence in Honduras and was later separated from her children at the U.S. border; and Lucrecia Hernández Mack, a doctor and politician in Guatemala. Interwoven with descriptions of the struggles of these asylum seekers and activists is the tale of America’s chaotic immigration policy, beginning with the Reagan administration’s support of repressive anticommunist regimes in Central America (which led, according to Blitzer, to the gang violence, state repression, and unrelenting poverty that has triggered mass migration from the region). Blitzer has produced a model of long-form journalism that intertwines the personal and the political, describing how drug cartels and street gangs brought harm and death to prodemocracy activists and innocent bystanders, while those in power remained indifferent. This is a powerful indictment of U.S. immigration policy. (Jan.)

Correction: A previous version of this review misspelled the name of one of the book’s subjects and incorrectly summarized another’s biography.

Aid State: Elite Panic, Disaster Capitalism, and the Battle to Control Haiti

Jake Johnston. St. Martin’s, $30 (384p) ISBN 978-1-250-28467-9
Johnston, a senior research associate at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, debuts with a powerful and disturbing examination of decades of chaos in Haiti caused by outside forces, including the U.S., the United Nations, and what he evocatively terms the “aid-industrial complex.” Johnston’s focus is primarily on the period between 2010 and 2021, an era bookended by two devastating earthquakes, when the country’s supposed reconstruction with the help of billions of dollars in aid was sidetracked by greed and corruption. For example, after the 2010 quake, agribusiness firm Monsanto donated more than 100 tons of hybrid or genetically modified seeds, which by design supplanted crops that naturally produced seeds, thus creating a new, for-profit market for the company. Johnston lends immediacy to his account through stories of individual dispossession, such as that of the residents of Caracol, who were displaced by construction of an industrial park and never compensated or adequately rehoused. Bill Clinton, named a United Nations special envoy to the country in 2009, and his wife, Hillary, who oversaw America’s Haiti policy as secretary of state, come off poorly as patronizing would-be saviors, but they have plenty of company. This cri de coeur from an expert with firsthand knowledge of what ails Haiti is a must-read. (Jan.)

The War Below: Lithium, Copper, and the Global Battle to Power Our Lives

Ernest Scheyder. One Signal, $30 (384p) ISBN 978-1-668-01180-5
Journalist Scheyder debuts with a thorny chronicle of domestic and international clashes over the mining of lithium, copper, gold, nickel, and other minerals key to shifting away from fossil fuels. As one company executive company remarks, “You can’t have green energy without mining.” But staving off the worst effects of climate change comes with its own scourge, as Scheyder makes clear through discussions of a series of ethically complex cases: Should lithium be mined on isolated Nevada hillscapes if the digging threatens a rare flower found nowhere else on Earth? How much more damage should Indigenous peoples endure to the Arizona lands they hold sacred? Can a North Carolina farming community hold off a company that intends to mine land adjacent to their properties if they refuse to sell? Well-acquainted with the finely tuned business calculations and relentless political jockeying that surround these mining operations, Scheyder explains how companies try to work with, and also outwit, environmental advocates, government whistleblowers, and locals trying to preserve their ways of life. David vs. Goliath battles butt up against very real planetary perils in this evocative account of the energy transition’s myriad complexities. (Jan.)

Narcotopia: In Search of the Asian Drug Cartel That Survived the CIA

Patrick Winn. PublicAffairs, $30 (384p) ISBN 978-1-541-70195-3
In this gripping history, NPR correspondent Winn (Hello, Shadowlands) follows the Wa people—a tribe situated along the Burma-China border and best known for head-hunting—over the last half-century as they established the United Wa State Army, an independent government in control of a 30,000-man fighting force and a colossal drug cartel that produced heroin and later switched to manufacturing methamphetamine. The book centers on several Wa figures, including Saw Lu, a Baptist who fought to unite and modernize his people (he led a successful campaign in the 1960s to get them to stop head-hunting) and to wean them off drug trafficking, all while serving as an informant for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration; and his nemesis Wei Xuegang, the secretive criminal genius who turned the UWSA into the dominant cartel in Southeast Asia’s Golden Triangle region. Stirring the pot is the feud between the DEA, which backed Saw Lu, and the CIA, which nurtured the drug trade and sabotaged Saw Lu’s efforts. Part gangster saga, part espionage thriller, and part liberation epic, Winn’s narrative alternates between rollicking adventure and harrowing violence conveyed in vivid, muscular prose. It’s a riveting portrait of how deeply the drug trade is embedded in Southeast Asia’s modernizing economies—and in America’s foreign policy. Photos. (Jan.)