In the part two hundred years, multiple global powers have tried and failed to invade and occupy Afghanistan. As an intellectual whose family has lived in the country and served for several Afghanistan governments, the author takes a stand as an insider. The author tracked the recent history of Afghanistan and attempted to discover the common traits of why the country has always been pendulating between local and foreign powers, war and peace.
Throughout the human history, energy discovery and access has been a major source of human progress and conflict. Oil, because of its high energy density and relatively low cost of extraction, has been the object of competition among various countries. And the extremely uneven distribution of oil around the world has also made it an important factor influencing geopolitics. Daniel Yergin is global energy expert. His 2011 book, “The Price”, hailed as “the best history of oil ever written”, won him a Pulitzer Prize for his work.
The author begins the book with the “shale revolution” happened in the United States about a decade ago. because of the discovery of new oil fields on the North American continent and breakthroughs in technology that have dramatically reduced the cost of shale extraction, The United States has surpassed Russia and Saudi Arabia and become the number one producer of oil in the world. The reduced dependence on foreign oil has invariably increased the U.S.’s options and power on the global issues. Other key oil-producing regions of Russia, the Middle East and China have different histories and strategic choices in the formation of the new map. Readers can learn about the ins and outs of environmental groups’ opposition to the Keystone oil pipeline; Russia’s complex territorial border dispute with Ukraine and the relationship between energy supply; Europe’s conflict with the United States over the Russian pipeline; the competition and cooperation between OPEC and non-OPEC organizations when energy crises occur; the role of small countries like Kuwait and Bahrain in the geopolitics of the Middle East; and and the profound connection between China’s Belt and Road Initiative and national economic security. If the reader is very familiar with international politics, he or she may find that this book does not present any new and profound ideas; otherwise, this book connects many separate events from the perspective of oil to help the reader understand the history of oil-related technological and economic developments over the decades, as well as the geopolitical landscape of countries on energy and national security issues.
The use of renewable energy sources is a new prospect in the energy landscape. Wind and solar energy have become an important part of the energy supply, but because of the low energy density and the high cost of storage and transportation, without government subsidies, renewable energy is not yet widely accepted because of the high price. The author then shifts his topics from electric vehicles to artificial intelligence, which I think it loses focus and is unnecessary.
The main storyline of the book is about the author’s process of conducting a clinical trial of a new antibiotic. The author devotes a large portion of the book to the stories of several patients when he tried to qualify them for the trial, their backgrounds, how they acquired the disease and how they handle their situation. Intertwined with the introduction to basic immunology and the dilemma of antibiotic shortages facing modern medicine, this is the most fascinating aspect of the book.
The author sets off to answer one of the most challenging questions about human history, why did human civilizations become so diversified in their forms, and especially why did they develop in such different pace? Why is it countries in the Eurasian continent that dominated civilizations in other region? Dr. Diamond presents a lot of researches, data and diagrams to support his conclusion, however, this is more of a logic book than a historical book to me. I have never read a book with such a rigorous reasoning that demands a vast amount of critical thinking, at the same time keep me intrigued and reading more.
The conclusions should only be applied to the large scale, the entire history of human development in the past tens of thousands of years. It is certainly tempting to derive certain explanation based on the recent history of the last several hundred years, but the results will be far less convincing.
The author uses the first-hand materials and previous classified documents to outline a series of events between the failed coup in August 1991 and the collapse of the Soviet Union by the end of the year. He reveals that financial difficulties and independent movements were the major drivers that crumbled the empire in a unthinkable pace, and Bush’s administration was actually trying to keep the Soviet Union alive longer. Sometimes, the history just cannot be designed.