2022’s Best Foreign-Policy Book Reviews

This year, as Foreign Policy expanded our Books section, we publish everything from essays on the latest titles examining US-China relations to analyzes of sociological tomes to meditations on newly released fairy-tale collections and novels.

Read on for some of our favorite reviews of 2022.


1. Who Got China Wrong?

by Bob Davis, April 24

This year, as Foreign Policy expanded our Books section, we publish everything from essays on the latest titles examining US-China relations to analyzes of sociological tomes to meditations on newly released fairy-tale collections and novels.

Read on for some of our favorite reviews of 2022.


1. Who Got China Wrong?

by Bob Davis, April 24

“[D]oes disappointment with the turn in US-China relations,” journalist Bob Davis asks, “meaning the strategy of engagement—wrapping China more closely to the United States in a web of economic and political ties—is fundamentally flawed?” Two new books—Getting China Wrong by political scientist Aaron Friedberg and The United States vs. China: The Quest for Global Economic Leadership by economist C. Fred Bergsten—offer very different answers to that question. In his deeply considered review, Davis examines the nuances of both arguments and the advice they hold for shaping the future of US-China relations.


2. Party Animals

by Jan-Werner Müller, Jan. 7

There is no shortage of books and essays diagnosing the decline of democracy worldwide. What we tend to lack, however, are potential solutions. Two recent books, writes political philosopher Jan-Werner Müller, help fill that gap.

the first, Thirteen Cracks: Repairing American Democracy After Trump By historian Allan J. Lichtman, identifies ways to repair, strengthen, and create new institutions to safeguard US democracy. It reads, in Müller’s words, “like an exercise in Trump detox”—sometimes to a fault. Meanwhile, Political Cleavages and Social Inequalities: A Study of Fifty Democracies, 1948-2020—a volume edited by economist Thomas Piketty, along with social scientists Amory Gethin and Clara Martínez-Toledano — looks beyond the United States to examine the state of democracy around the globe as well as the forces that have come together to uphold it (or not). ).

Both titles, Müller writes, leave the reader with the sense that “there’s no simple and quick fix”—yet both still offer insights into the kind of work that goes into creating and restoring a democracy that works.


3. Where the West and China Find Common Ground

by Maria Tatar, May 14

Fairy tales, according to folklorist Maria Tatar, “have a coefficient of weirdness so high that they can seem like one-offs, singular inventions rooted in one specific time and place.” Indeed, many of the classic anthologies were compiled in the 19th century as European scholars sought to strengthen national identities. But a new translation of Chinese fairy tales, The Dragon Daughter and Other Lin Lan Fairy Talesjust might change the English-speaking world’s understanding of the genre—and of the deep-rooted cultural connections between the East and West.

The stories, compiled under the pseudonym Lin Lan—a network of collaborators who have been called the “Brothers Grimm” of China—feature plots with striking similarities to Western tales like “Cinderella” and “Beauty and the Beast.” In reading them, Tatar writes, it becomes clear that European and Chinese culture, and their oral traditions, may be more intertwined than many have long believed.


4. Africa’s Stolen Art Debate Is Frozen in Time

by Nosmot Gbadamosi, May 15




Visitors view the Benin Bronzes exhibit at the British Museum.

Visitors view the Benin Bronzes exhibit at the British Museum in London on Feb. 13, 2020.David Cliff/LightRocket via Getty Images

Fifty years ago, African governments began calling for Western institutions to repatriate their looted African art. Yet while the discourse around decolonizing museums has grown, not much has changed today—most African objects have yet to be returned, and as a newly translated book by art historian Bénédicte Savoy reveals, Western institutions continue to use the same tactics they have for decades. to sidestep African countries’ demands.

Africa’s Struggle for Its Art: History of a Postcolonial DefeatFP’s Nosmot Gbadamosi writes, provides “a fascinating account of lies and disinformation from European institutions in the debate against restitution.” In centering the work of African scholars, Savoy “uncovers a discourse around restitution that is frozen in time”—one that, Gbadamosi argues, only clarifies the need to reject Western institutions’ tactics to retain their collections today and ensure that the world’s museums repatriate their stolen artifacts.


5. Only an Absolute Bureaucracy Can Save Us

by Blake Smith, Nov. 13

It’s not uncommon to hear snide or exasperated remarks on bureaucracy. But what if bureaucracy is more essential to the public’s security than we give it credit for—and if it functions better if it’s neutral, but also absolute?

That’s the argument sociologist Paul du Gay and his co-author, Thomas Lopdrup-Hjorth, put forth in their book, For Public Service: State, Office and Ethics. The problem, for Gay and Lopdrup-Hjorth, is that the “bureaucratic ethos” is facing threats from across the political spectrum. In his review, historian Blake Smith writes that in “renewing our attention to the importance of a neutral state, a competent bureaucracy, and the ethos of the bureaucrat, du Gay and his collaborators warn us of what we are in danger of losing”— namely, an institution truly devoted to the public good.

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