Book Summary

Book Summaries: Part 1

Citing a book (or books!) is one of the most impressive things you can do in an extemp speech. Beyond presenting an opportunity to cite distinguished scholars, books typically hold complex political, social, and economic theories that add sophistication to your speeches. Below is a list of a few books (with their summaries) you may want to cite in your next speech. Shout out to the camp enrollees of the Extemper’s Bible for contributing to the following summaries! If you like this series, please let us know. 

Diplomacy by Henry Kissinger: Main Takeaways 

  • World leaders are most effective when they find a balance between their own domestic needs and what benefits the international community.
  • Successful world leaders generally follow realpolitik. This is an approach to politics that emphasizes pragmatism above ideal theory.
  • Strong, clear, and moral foreign policy promotes good international relations.
  • The United States’ foreign policy has become contradictory. While the U.S. promotes liberty and freedom, it imposes those ideals onto countries that aren’t ready for them.
  • Europeans first shaped the modern political world. Specifically, Kissinger admires Otto von Bismarck for successfully uniting Germany. He views Bismarck as a symbol of success for separating nationalism and liberalism. He does not accept that Eastern cultures or politics played a role in this political revolution; readers criticize him for ignoring evidence to the contrary.
  • Europe was able to maintain relative stability due to the balance of powers between Germany, Austria, France, Russia, and Britain. However, once countries united into two sides, war became inevitable. 

The Lexus and the Olive Tree by Thomas Friedman: Main Takeaways 

  • The world is undergoing two struggles: the push for prosperity (symbolized by the Lexus LS) and the push for tradition (symbolized by the olive tree). 
  • Globalization is an international system that has replaced the Cold War system. It has its own rules & largely governs the contemporary world order. 
  • Friedman draws on Capitalist Peace Theory, which argues that capitalist nations are less likely to go to war with each other since they are more economically interconnected. As such, war would be too economically devastating for capitalist nations. 
  • Friedman also coins the term “Brazilification” in which globalization can accelerate income inequality and the loss of the middle class. 

The Conscience of a Liberal by Paul Krugman: Main Takeaways 

  • In the mid-20th century, the US underwent a “great compression” which widely decreased the income gap. However, by the 1980s, income inequality skyrocketed to levels higher than even in the 1920s. 
  • Krugman traces this rising inequality to conservatives, who through a mix of regressive tax policies, spending cuts on welfare programs, and attacks on unions destroyed the middle class. 
  • Krugman says by exploiting national security issues & using dog whistle politics, conservatives were able to win elections at the cost of people’s economic well-being. 
  • Krugman’s solution rests in a “new New Deal” which would spend more on social & medical programs like Universal Healthcare and less on national defense. He articulates that liberals must be partisan until their conservative counterparts accept the rationality of a “new New Deal.” 
  • The Nobel Prize winning economist ends on a hopeful note, expressing that demographic trends on race and culture will shift the United States leftward over time. 

The Post-American World by Fareed Zakaria: Main Takeaways 

  • The American political system struggles to cope with its growing short-term deficit
  • There can only be one dominant global power and, although the US holds that title today, Asian countries are rapidly catching up and undermining America’s stronghold.
  • This growth of other nations poses both a challenge and opportunity for the US. America’s economy would not be where it is today without the rise of other countries, but at the same time, the ascendance of other nations poses a threat to America’s global leadership.
  • The US leads the world in powerful, enterprise level companies, advanced industrialization, and entrepreneurship. This remains core to the country’s global dominance. However, countries are quickly catching up. The best of the best has shifted to other countries. The tallest building? Dubai. The biggest factory? China. The largest oil refinery? India.
  • Eventually, a “Post-American World” will come into focus. In this world, there will be a playing field of mainly equal countries. This rise of relatively equally-powered countries can be attributed to the fall of communism, rise of global markets, and political stability. 

By Ananth Veluvali

Founder, the Extemper's Bible.

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