Thoughts from Linda:
As school is beginning in America amid a pandemic, children are headed back to classrooms, in schools and in homes, in a wide variety of situations. Among many subjects, history is being taught. These two books offer interesting tools for parents and teachers to help in this effort!
We are profiling two books of history, two brilliant authors with similar motivations, but the books are differentiated by nearly 100 years.
This month we are featuring as ‘something new’ a book from 2020 by Richard Haass, a well-known author of 14 other books, diplomat and policy maker who is President of the Council on Foreign Relations. He served as a senior advisor to President George H. W. Bush on the Middle East and is the recipient of many awards, such as the Presidential Citizens Medal and the State Department’s Distinguished Honor Award.
The World--A Brief Introduction
Bringing a strong practical and academic background with a lifetime of global experience, Dr. Haass has written a terrific and current book which, as he notes, is intended to focus on essential history, what makes each region of the world “tick” and that should empower us to all better “manage the flood of daily news.”
His motivations for the book go to a conversation he had with the son of a fishing friend of his in a casual setting, where Dr. Haass asked the young Stanford University student, a computer science major, about the entire breadth of his studies. What other areas were included in his requirements for a degree from such an esteemed institution?
The answer shocked him.
This young man would graduate with a Bachelor’s Degree from Stanford with a very limited knowledge of the history, economics and politics of his own country much less that of others in the world! He went on to research other universities and found this to be common: it is possible today in America to graduate from nearly any 2-year college and/or 4-year university without gaining even a rudimentary understanding of the world.
His research found that in “over 1100 American colleges and universities…only 17% require students to take courses in US Government or history, while only 3% require them to take coursework in economics.” In high schools, it is even worse as many schools do not even offer basic courses in global issues or international relations. With one-third of Americans with a high school degree not attending any college and of those, only 40% completing the process, we are clearly in a situation where “an increasing number of young people…are essentially uninformed about the world they are entering.”
The World--A Brief Introduction is intended to provide people of all ages a non-politicized understanding of the essential issues and background so necessary to help us all interpret what we are hearing and reading for ourselves, with a well-informed understanding of the context and history of the moment.
Today, when even the wearing of face masks is politicized, it is more important than ever for us as citizens of the United States of America to be an informed populace. This book is a very valuable tool to help in that endeavor.
This book is divided into four parts, each with a theme:
Part 1 will cover the essential history leading up to our current period. As Mark Twain noted, “History does not repeat itself, but it rhymes.”
Part 2 examines the world today in six regions, with a quick historical perspective along with the key dynamics to better understand them.
Part 3 of the book, which is the longest, goes into the big global challenges of now.
Part 4 ends with a deep look into ‘world order’ including foundational concepts such as sovereignty, deterrence and alliances, democracy and international law.
An added plus of this book are the notes in the back including a section of “Where to Go for More.”
I like that Dr. Haass suggests reading the book in bits, and in fact, recommends beginning with the last part of the book (which I like to do myself with most books!)
However you read this book, I encourage you to read it and pass it on to others in your family, or order one for them for their own copy. This is an important book and one of the best I have read, written in current times.
As he notes, “Whatever route you decide to take (through the book) my goal is that you finish the book with a better grasp of how the world we live in came to be, how it works, and why it matters.”