As we begin 2013 in drizzly rain and chill temperatures (at least in the UK), we thought it would be a good time to share our thoughts on some of the best books we read in 2012 to help see you through to spring. The FT Weekend published its Books of the Year before Christmas, but let’s face it, you probably polished that list off over the festive break and are now, like us, desperately scrolling through amazon reviews to find your next tome. Call off the search! Here are some special recommendations from two of our regular bloggers. You’re welcome.

Gideon Rachman: As President Obama reshuffles his foreign affairs team, it makes sense to look back at the record so far. A good place to start would be “Limited Achievements: Obama’s Foreign Policy” by Zaki Laidi (Palgrave Macmillan). It’s a new study by a French scholar, based at Science Po in Paris. The conclusion is in the title, but this is a systematic and thought-provoking examination of the gap between aspiration and achievement in US foreign policy, dealing with all the major topics from the war on terror to the Arab Spring.

Lest this seem like a harsh verdict from France, its worth noting that a similarly cautious verdict is is reached by “Bending History” (Brookings), which came out last year. The muted verdict is notable because this is a study by three scholars at the Brookings Institution – a think-tank that has probably provided more foreign-policy officials to President Obama than any other. Read more

Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

Way back in June, Gideon offered the books below as his summer recommendations.

We thought it would be worth republishing his list, and also appealing to you, our cherished world blog readers, for additional recommendations as we pass the mid-point of August and move ever nearer (whisper it) to The End Of Summer.

So, what are the best non-fiction books that have kept you awake at night this year (in a good way)? Please let us know:

a) in the comments section below

b) by tweeting @fttheworld, or,

c) by writing on our facebook page,


Gideon’s picks: 

Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty, by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, Profile, RRP£25, 464 pages

A much-discussed and influential new study takes on one of the biggest and oldest questions in economics and politics. The authors start in Tahrir Square and reach conclusions that should be comforting to a crisis-hit Europe and an anxious America: sustained prosperity is much harder without strong institutions, nurtured by a democratic society.

Every Nation for Itself: Winners and Losers in a G-Zero World, by Ian Bremmer, Portfolio, RRP£14.99, 240 pages

Bremmer, a leading geopolitical analyst, tackles the issue of American global leadership. He argues that changing economics means the US and its key allies are less able to direct and control world affairs, but new powers are not ready to step up. As a result, we are facing a “leadership vacuum” – catchily defined as a “G-Zero world”. Read more