Burleigh is my second-favorite living writer, after James C. Scott. In his latest book, he describes the historical transition from a multi-polar, Euro-centric political landscape to Cold War bi-polarity.

One of the most profound lessons of the book is how long the effects of history endure. For example, Dwight Eisenhower, Ho Chi Minh, and Mao Zedong were all born in the 1890’s but had dramatic impacts in the 1950’s and 60’s. Similarly, Western leaders in the post-WWII period feared repeating 1930’s-style appeasement and likely over-indexed on that lesson in deciding when and where to fight Communist uprisings. This is the “worm’s-eye view” that is Burleigh’s specialty.

The approaches taken in these post-colonial conflicts also informed one another. For example, the British experience in Malaysia and the French in Algeria were blueprints for Vietnam. Lessons from that era still guide counter-insurgency efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan today.

One sub-plot to look for in this book is how data analysis and visualization strategies evolved over time, beginning with strategies as primitive as thumb tacks on a bulletin board (p. 169).

The similarly-titled novel Small Wars is a nice companion to this book.