2020 saw some great books, TV series, podcasts, and even music released that helped us understand a turbulent year – or tell us something fresh and fascinating about the world. Here are some of the best new releases (and some classics) that were reviewed by Foreign Policy this year.
1. Why liberal internationalism is still indispensable and repairable
by Michael Hirsh, December 5th
To get an idea of what President-Elect Joe Biden's new team will be thinking about reshaping US foreign policy, G. John Ikenberry's A World Safe for Democracy is a must-read. In fact, a senior member of the Biden team told Michael Hirsh, Foreign Policy, that they paid close attention to the Princeton University scholar's ideas while preparing for office. Ikenberry rejects both the populist nationalism of the past four years and the naive globalism of previous governments, and makes it clear that a modest internationalism remains indispensable.
2. Feeling like an outcast
by Yashica Dutt, September 17th
In her bestselling book, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, Pulitzer Prize-winning Isabel Wilkerson argues that traditional definitions of racism are no longer sufficient to explain how the enduring hierarchy of the United States keeps black Americans at the bottom. Instead, it uses India's horribly discriminatory caste system as a new framework for understanding race. Writer and journalist Yashica Dutt – a Dalit, himself a victim of the Indian caste system – argues that the book is a brilliant rewording of US racism, even if it doesn't understand exactly how the system actually works as a starting point.
3. The Israeli TV spy thriller "Tehran" disregards stereotypes about Iran
by Jonathan H. Ferziger, September 24th
Israeli television producers have a knack for producing exciting spy thrillers like Homeland. The latest Israeli production released worldwide is Tehran, the story of a Mossad computer hacker sent to Iran to demolish its nuclear program. Much of Tehran's attraction to Israel has been to disregard stereotypes about Iran and to point out that Iran's rebellious youth culture is no different from Israel's. And in a year Israel made peace with some of its Arab neighbors, the show's popularity among Israelis is also linked to a newfound fascination for its former enemies.
4. Why does China have 1.4 billion people and no good bands?
by Lauren Teixeira, January 11th
What does the extraordinary global success of Mongolian rock bands like the Hu tell us – aside from the obvious fact that their music is extraordinarily good? Or, as our reviewer asks, "Why does Mongolian music beat so hard and Chinese music (with a few exceptions) sucks?" By immersing herself in the very different musical cultures of the two neighboring countries, she convinces the small Mongolia with only 3 million inhabitants and continues to rock her huge neighbor.
5. The FP Guide to Staying During a Pandemic
by Amy Mackinnon, March 20
With so many parts of the world locked down again – or if our readers crouch down another way and patiently wait to be vaccinated – we thought we'd revisit the foreign policy editors' recommendations to spend time at home. Our list of 12 things to read, watch, play, or listen to may have been compiled during the first phase of the lockdown in early 2020, but the choices are just as good today if you're not at Zoom and taking care of the kids, on ForeignPolicy.com surf or bake another loaf of sourdough.