Book Summary Extemp Content and Strategy

Book Summaries Part 5

Citing a book 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 you may want to cite in your next speech.

Citing a book 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 you may want to cite in your next speech.

All of the books on this list offer different perspectives on geopolitics. Like with all political science books, the conclusions these books reach should be treated as an opinion worth of consideration rather than an irrefutable truth. The purpose of this article is to point you in the direction of some interesting books you could cite in a future speech, not promote a certain ideology. Here are links for part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4 of this series.

Book #1: The Age of Walls by Tim Marshall 

This book catalogs major societal divisions and is informative and not very difficult to read.  

Author Qualifications: Tim Marshall is a British journalist who specializes in foreign affairs.  He has worked for the BBC and as an editor for Sky News.


  • People have a tendency to put up literal and metaphorical walls to keep the out group out.  Fear of  the changing, increasing globalized world is increasing the desirability of walls.
  • In China, western rural regions tend to be far poorer than coastal urban areas, but the hankao registration system disincentivizes mobility.  There are a lot of ethnic divisions and regions that are not Han-majority, like Xinjiang and Tibet, are subjected to oppression. 
  • In the United States, fear of immigration and non-whites making up a higher percentage of the population helped lead to the election of Donald Trump.  American society is also fragmented by race, political party affiliation, and religion. 
  • Israel and Palestine have a wall on their border.  In Palestine, the Gaza Strip is controlled by extremist Hamas and the West Bank is controlled by the more moderate Palestinian Authority, making negotiations with Israel more difficult. Within Israel, there is tension between the secular, moderately religious, and ultra-Orthodox.
  • In the Middle East, the split between Sunni and Shia Islam has lead to conflicts within and among nations. This has been made worse by the rivalry between the Sunni majority Saudi Arabia and Shia majority Iran. The Kurds, an ethnic group present in four countries, want their own state. Numerous other groups, like Christians and Druze, face discrimination.  
  • In South Asia, India is tired of immigrants, especially from the Muslim majority Bangladesh, and has put up a literal wall.  Climate change will increase the number of floods in Bangladesh, making this worse.  India and Pakistan have a border dispute and lots of walls in Kashmir.  Within India, the caste system causes social divisions.
  • Colonialism in Africa lead to borders that don’t match ethnic groups, leading to disunity, independence movements, and even genocide. Africa has a lot of economic inequality and rich people are increasingly moving to gated communities that further segregate them.  
  • East and West Germany still have cultural and economic differences after the Cold War.  Immigration from the poorer eastern European EU member states and the poor distribution of refugees has increased Euroscepticism and contributed to the rise in populist parties.
  • Within Britain, there are a lot of class divides and divisions between people who are rooted and people who are comfortable living anywhere.  There are also divisions between immigrants and native born British people that contributed to Brexit. 
  • Some people argue for open borders, but this goes against human nature.  Walls and borders are necessary, but efforts to build bridges are also important.

Book #2: Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall 

Author Qualifications: Tim Marshall is a British journalist who specializes in forign affairs.  He has worked for the BBC and as an editor for Sky News.


  • Geography greatly affects the foreign policy options available to countries, although technology is decreasing its importance.
  • Xingang and Tibet are ethnic minority dominated regions of China.  China wants these regions for security reasons and the number of members of the Han majority is gradually increasing.  China requires access to ocean shipping lanes to import oil and other goods, making it more likely to pursue an aggressive maritime foreign policy. 
  • Russia lacks a warm water port and invaded Crimea in part because it wanted one.  Russia has a lot of oil and regularly uses this as an instrument of foreign policy.  NATO expansion, especially in former East Bloc, angers Russia.  
  • The US has many navigable rivers, lots of arable land, and peaceful neighbors, making it unlikely that it will lose its superpower status.  US bases abroad increase the US’s ability to project its power, but constrain its ability to criticize certain nations.  The shale boom is reducing US dependence on foreign oil, reducing its interest in the Middle East.
  • Europe has a rivalry between France and Germany that is mostly constrained by the European Union.
  • Africa has terrible geography, with bad rivers and a climate conducive to disease. Like the Middle East, the European powers poorly drew borders in Africa.  The region has a lot of minerals, encouraging outside powers to get involved and exacerbate conflict. 
  • The borders in the Middle East were drawn by European powers who disregarded ethnic groups, contributing to today’s conflicts. The Kurds are spread across four countries, but Turkey and Syria are vehemently opposed to them getting their own state.  Palestinian and Syrian refugees make up a sizable portion of Jordan and Lebanon populations.
  • North Korea is a problem that no one knows how to solve.  Constitutionally, Japan isn’t supposed to have a military, but they are remilitizing.  South Korea and Japan dislike each other because of past conflicts.
  • India and Pakistan’s dislike of one other drives much of their foreign policy.  They are both ethnically diverse countries that struggle to keep all of their myriad ethnic groups united.  India and China have a rivalry that is constrained by the boundary the Himalayan mountains create. 
  • European colonists mostly developed Latin America’s coasts and the resultant economic disparity still exists.  Mexico’s terrible geography condemns it to always be in the US’s shadow.  Drug production brings economic opportunities, but also violence. Brazil is economically unequal and has terrible geography, but is still powerful.
  • The Arctic is warming, creating new shipping lanes and potential oil fields.  There will likely be territorial disputes and Russia has been developing arctic military capacity.

Book #3: Disunited Nations by Peter Zeihan 

This is a pretty standard book about international relations with lots of country specific information. 

Author Qualification: Peter Zeihan has been running his own geopolitical analysis firm, Zeihan on Geopolitics, for 8 years.  Before that, he worked for Stratfor Intelligence for 12 years.


  • During the Cold War, the United States created a network of alliances to help counter the Soviets.  This order still exists, but multiple administrations deprioritizing foreign policy is weakening it.
  • The US won’t lose its power to China because the US has a better navy, more efficient agriculture, better geography and fewer historical conflicts to get in the way of relations.
  • Countries with aging populations have trouble raising enough tax revenue to cover the costs of pensions and other expenses.  China’s economy might end up in peril because it’s population is rapidly aging and much of their growth is dependent on debt.  
  • Japan’s geography forced it to develop a powerful navy and it is dependent on trade for resources.  Japan has an aging population, but it is dealing with it well with technology.  
  • Russia has a large landmass with bad rivers and difficult to defend borders.  It’s life expectancy is low and Russia’s population is likely to decline in the near future.  There are myriad ethnic minorities who could conceivably attempt secession.  The economy is overly dependent on oil exports.  
  • Germany currently exports a lot of goods and has high savings.  It is likely to have an aging population in the near future that will emparil its economy and position in the EU.  Germany has trouble generating renewable power and is dependent on fossil fuel imports.
  • France has great geography.  It isn’t very trade dependent because of nationalism and has a stable demographic structure.  It does a poor job integrating minorities.
  • The European Union requires too much compromise to function well and the euro glued together economies that were too dissimilar.  The only reason the EU hasn’t been invaded is that the US provides much of its security.  
  • Iran has better geography than most of the middle east and has been able to craft an Iranian identity that is independent of ethnicity, giving them a stronger sense of unity.  Iran funds Shia groups like the Hezbollah and Houthi to project its power indirectly.
  • Saudi Arabia’s geography encouraged the creation of a ridiculously strict government.   Most of the people in Saudi Arabia work in cushy government jobs funded by the country’s main export: crude oil.  Saudi Arabia lacks a traditional military and is dependent on foreign mercenaries and proxy groups for military power.  Other countries ally with Saudi Arabia because of oil, but this is changing.  The Saudi leader, Mohammed bin Salman, has promised to make the country more open and less oil dependent, but has yet to deliver.
  • Within Turkey, there is an ongoing debate about weather the country wants to be modern, European and secular or Islamist.  Turkey has an uneasy alliance with the US because the US is allied with the Kurds, a minority group that Turkey has problems with.  Given that Syria has a civil war and insufficient land and oil to support its people, Turkey will likely continue to have a lot of refugees. 
  • Brazil lacks navigable rivers, leading to fragmentation.   Because the land is poor, agriculture is expensive and dependent on chemicals, foreign investment, and high demand.   The country has a lot of economic and racial inequality and lacks a strong middle class.
  • Argentina has lots of navigable rivers near Buenos Aires and the temperate land is good for agriculture.  Poor governance and Peronist ideology has prevented Argentina from reaching its potential. 
  • The US has too large a landmass for geography alone to determine behavior.  The populists are now a dominant faction in the Republican party and the Democrats bet on changing demographics isn’t paying off, leaving both parties in flux.  The US will likely stop intervening in the Middle East, which may be bad for US interests depending on who became the regional hegemon.  The US will likely continue helping combat terrorism in the Sahel and being involved in the rest of the Americas.

Book #4: The World: A Brief Introduction by Richard Haass

This book has a lot of background information, making it extremely useful for new extempers.

Author Qualifications: Richard Hass is the president of the Council on Forign Relations, a US-based think tank.  He has worked as director of policy planning for the Department of State.


  • The modern day system of international relations is based on ideas of sovereignty that were set out in the 1648 Peace of Westphalia.  World War I happened largely due to poor statecraft.  World War II was the result of the great depression, appeasement, and the onerous reparations Germany was forced to pay.  During the Cold War, most nations aligned with the US or USSR and the relatively even match between blocks and skilled diplomacy kept the conflict cold. 
  • The European Union has helped create lasting, but how much power the EU should have is still unresolved and the number of populist, anti-immigrant governments is increasing
  • Asia has experienced rapid economic growth in recent decades and national homogeneity largely prevents civil wars.  There are territorial disputes in the East and South China Seas
  • India experienced rapid economic growth, but is still poor.  India and Pakistan are nuclear armed adversaries.  Bangladesh is densely populated and prone to flooding and emigration.
  • The Middle East is prone to conflict, either because of poorly drawn post-colonial borders or culture. The Arab Spring led to hopes of democracy that never came to fruition.  The region has a lot of oil dependent economies and young people in need of employment.
  • Sub-Saharan Africa is the poorest region in the world.  Regional organizations and are weak, economies are still commodity dependent, and public health issues exist 
  • Geopolitics are largely absent from the Americas.  Governments grapple with gangs, drug trafficking, migration, and poverty, especially in Central America.  
  • Climate change, infectious disease, and financial issues respect no borders, but international cooperation on these issues is weak.
  • Non-communicable diseases, like heart disease and diabetes, are increasingly prevalent and under-prioritized by the global health community 
  • Trade can increase the number of jobs in export-oriented fields and reduce the cost of consumer goods, but displaces some workers. 
  • There is a growing consensus that terrorism is always wrong, but some governments act as state sponsors of terror when it is in their interests to do so. 
  • The international community has attempted to limit nuclear proliferation through security guarantees, treaties, and sanctions, but failed to prevent four additional nuclear-armed states 
  • Immigrants can increase innovation and starve of demographic decline, but they also change countries’ cultures and compete with native workers.  Refugees are immigrants fleeing persecution, but who qualifies is still a matter of debate.
  • The US has the world’s dominant currency, which makes its sanctions more effective, but makes US exports less competitive and gives the Federal Reserve more to worry about.
  • Developing countries can either embrace protectionist trade policies or open their markets.  The latter seems to work better.  Foreign development aid, especially when it is for education or healthcare, can aid development if well administered
  • The world order describes the system governing international relations.  When it breaks down, either because of a rising or falling power, war can erupt.
  • Sovereignty is the idea that states are free to act within their borders.  Some believe that sovereignty should be violated if the state can’t protect individuals’ rights
  • Wars within states are commonly the result of secessionist movements and organizations that wish to operate outside of established law. Foreign military aid makes civil wars worse.
  • Mature democracies and countries that trade a lot with each other are less likely to go to war with each other.
  • The liberal international order was founded based on international rules and was mostly led by the US.  The US’s deprioritization of foreign policy is causing it to fray.

Leave a Reply