Book Review: The Great Game

Updated 14 April 2018
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Book Review: The Great Game

While everyone knows about the Cold War of the 20th century, little is known about its 19th-century version — the battle between Tsarist Russia and Victorian Britain for supremacy in Central Asia, otherwise known as The Great Game. At stake was the jewel in the British Empire, India. Weary of Russian encroachment, the British set about mapping and gaining influence in the little-known hinterlands between the territories of the two great powers. When play first began, the frontiers of Russia and British India lay more than 3,000 kilometers apart; by the end, this distance had shrunk to 30 kilometers at some points.
In this book Peter Hopkirk brings to life the grand imperial struggle across great mountain ranges and vast deserts. He recounts colorful tales of espionage and treachery, of brave men from both sides taking part in barely believable adventures.
The tale is as good as any blockbuster movie. But while at its heart it is an exciting work of narrative history, it is also a hugely relevant for today’s geopolitics. It acts as a warning of what happens when mistrust between great powers goes unchallenged.


What We Are Reading Today: Reading Machiavelli

Updated 19 September 2018
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What We Are Reading Today: Reading Machiavelli

Author: John P. McCormick

To what extent was Machiavelli a “Machiavellian”? Was he an amoral adviser of tyranny or a stalwart partisan of liberty? A neutral technician of power politics or a devout Italian patriot? A reviver of pagan virtue or initiator of modern nihilism? Reading Machiavelli answers these questions through original interpretations of Niccolò Machiavelli’s three major political works— The Prince, Discourses, and Florentine Histories— and demonstrates that a radically democratic populism seeded the Florentine’s scandalous writings. John McCormick challenges the misguided understandings of Machiavelli set forth by prominent thinkers, including Jean-Jacques Rousseau and representatives of the Straussian and Cambridge schools.
McCormick emphasizes the fundamental, often unacknowledged elements of a vibrant Machiavellian politics: The utility of vigorous class conflict between elites and common citizens for virtuous democratic republics, the necessity of political and economic equality for genuine civic liberty, and the indispensability of religious tropes for the exercise of effective popular judgment.
Interrogating the established reception of Machiavelli’s work by such readers as Rousseau, Leo Strauss, Quentin Skinner, and J.G.A. Pocock, McCormick exposes what was effectively an elite conspiracy to suppress the Florentine’s contentious, egalitarian politics. In recovering the too-long-concealed quality of Machiavelli’s populism, this book acts as a Machiavellian critique of Machiavelli scholarship.
Advancing fresh renderings of works by Machiavelli while demonstrating how they have been misread previously, Reading Machiavelli presents a new outlook for how politics should be conceptualized and practiced.