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Zero-Sum Future: American Power in an Age of Anxiety Hardcover – February 1, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


Advance Praise for


“With his inimitable combination of dry wit and analytical clarity, Gideon Rachman gives us the latest thirty years of world history in three distinct phases, from the genesis of the Eighties, through the hubris of the Nineties and early Noughties, to the nemesis of the

Great Recession. What makes this book so readable is the author’s keen eye for the microcosm: the individual who personifies a big theme. No one else can make a solemn subject like nuclear non-proliferation live and breathe the way Rachman can.”

--Niall Ferguson, author of Colossus: The Rise and Fall of the American Empire and High Financier: The Lives and Time of Siegmund Warburg

“Zero-Sum Future addresses the most important geopolitical issue today: whether the United States and Europe will be able to lead the world to a more prosperous and benign future through economic and political cooperation or whether they will lose confidence and fall victim to the fashionable myths of Asian ascendancy, counter-globalization, and the attempt to revive the market-defying State. Though Rachman writes with dispassionate clarity, his message is fundamentally a moral one. This is a superb book.”

--Philip Bobbitt, Herbert Wechsler Professor of Federal Jurisprudence at Columbia University Law School and author of Terror and Consent

“With Zero-Sum Future, Gideon Rachman has crafted a shrewd, comprehensive, beautifully written account of a world in quick transition. It’s an essential map that details where we are, how we got here, and where we’re headed. His account of American anxiety in an age of Chinese and Russian-style capitalist authoritarianism is dead on the money. The story is engaging, the arguments are persuasive, and the forecast is a must-read."

--Ian Bremmer, president of Eurasia Group and author of The End of the Free Market: Who Wins the War Between States and Corporations?

“The aftermath of the Great Recession highlights the new reality—a rebalancing not only of the global economy but also of world politics. That is the timely story that Gideon Rachman, the wise foreign affairs columnist of the Financial Times, so incisively tells—of how what was supposed to be a more open globalized world turned into a more fragmented one. Drawing on two decades of first-hand observation, he presents a vivid portrait of the rise of the Age of Optimism and how it gave way to this new and more-dangerous Age of Anxiety. He points to a constructive way forward. But, reflecting the realities of which he writes, his own optimism is laced with more than a little sobriety.”

--Daniel Yergin, author of The Prize: the Epic Quest for Oil, Money and Power and The Commanding Heights: the Battle for the World Economy --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Gideon Rachman is the chief foreign affairs commentator for the Financial Times. Before joining the Financial Times in 2006, he was a senior editor and correspondent for The Economist for fifteen years. He has worked as a foreign correspondent in Washington, Brussels, and Bangkok and has reported from all over the world, including recently from Russia, China, India, and Afghanistan. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (February 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1439176612
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439176610
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #948,080 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 28 people found the following review helpful By D.Sampson on January 31, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Rachman divides the last thirty years into three eras; the Age of Transformation (1978 - 1991), the Age of Optimism (1991 - 2008), and the Age of Anxiety (2008 - present), and in his account of each he captures the practical, philosophical and psychological changes that have brought us to where we are today: An age where new global powers are competing for primacy and positioning themselves to fill the void created by the contraction of US cultural influence and economic strength.

Leaving the perceived shift in power aside for a moment, what is more worrying for the West is that, in addition to the competition between these ascendant nations, there is a strengthening bond between authoritarian regimes like Russia and Iran on economic issues, a disturbing development that impinges on the spread of democracy and may even result in armed conflict.

The Zero-Sum Future of the book's title is a reference to the increasing likelihood that international relations in the coming years will be a zero-sum game; one where one country's gain is another's loss, resulting in a net-zero result overall. Rachman encourages our elected leaders to act now against such an outcome, and to focus on areas of common interest and cooperation in the hope that a better tomorrow will emerge from the uncertainty and anxiety of today. It is an urgent case, superbly made, and perilously ignored.
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Format: Hardcover
The book identifies historical events during the last thirty years that "count", according to the author. The focus is global and not the US as the book's subtitle states. Writing recent history is difficult and even more so in a globalised world. It is far too easy to be influenced by one's own particular experience. Furthermore, many archives are not yet open so a lot of relevant information is not available. And finally, there are competing narratives about what has happened, especially so since it is still in the interest of the actors to try to influence how history will be written. If you didn't live through the era, you'll gain a lot of facts from reading this book, but I would definitely recommend that you read work from a historian instead.

The solution to the what-to-read problem is clear; you need to read several works from different authors. Their authors should be journalists, academics, and participant actors. All three perspectives fill a role. In this book, Gideon gives one journalist's account. As such the book is heavy on description and very weak on analysis. The author is in his mid forties and does not (yet) have the gravitas of a more seasoned journalist. If you lived through the last couple of decades a lot in this book is familiar and can be seen as a refresher and probably also a reminder of certain aspects that you never paid attention to at the time. I often read Gideon's column in the Financial Times and most of the chapters in this book reads like extended columns. I am also quite surprised by the extreme shallowness and basic nature of most of the text. While I do like his columns, I would really have liked to see a much stronger narrative in his book. Gideon's current narrative is that in the 80s we had transition and in the 90s and 00s we had progress.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Robert David STEELE Vivas HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on June 9, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I was expecting so much more from this book, it is almost a three in relation to disappointment, but assuredly a solid four as far as it goes. This is a very good review of politics at the top personality level, but devoid of any discussion at all of corruption, government ineptitude, and so on. The index stinks, mostly a name index, but that sums the book up--names, not root cause and effect.

Part I is about deng, thatcher, Reagan, Gorbechev, Eastern Europe coming free, Latin America moving to the center, and India awakening.

Part II is about Fukuyama, Greenspan (before he was striped naked), Bill Gates, Bill Clinton, Asia rises, and in a most interesting but all too short section: the role played by the anti-globalization advocates and the neo-conservatives.

Part III offers three scenarios, the world as Europe, the world as China and Russia, and the world as Pakistan.

In relation to my broader reading habits the book is disappointing. It is a journalism story not at all illuminating. Particularly annoying to me, and especially so noting the financial reporting capabilities of the author, is the absolute refusal to call a spade for what it is: a spade. The destruction, de-construction, corruption, and flat out fraud that permeated all of the governments under the varied leaderships discussed by the author do not exist within the jacket of this book.

At a simplistic level there is certainly value to the book, but it ignores so much I was constantly resisting the urge to simply put the book down and move on.

The author concludes that there are three sources of zero sum thinking:

1. Slower economic growth

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Format: Hardcover
Rachman shows well how inability of governments to cope with resource limitations and population growth creates a zero-sum logic that threatens the future well being of the US and the world. The most important consideration for the future of the world economy is how America reacts. He divides recent history into an Age of Transformation (1978-1991) where nations groped to cope with an era of fiat currency. 1980 brought a free market tidal trend. The British 30 year experiment with socialism failed.

His second era begins with the breakup of the Soviet Union signaled by the fall of the Berlin wall that initiated an Age of Optimism (1991-2008) that lasted until the financial meltdown of 2008, giving way to the current Age of Anxiety (2008- ). There's only a minimal citation of the background of Bretton Woods era that gave way to the Great Society era that did so much damage in setting the stage for the modern era of scarcity. There's a good economic history of world for the recent past. The Japanese stock market peaked in 1989. The British 30 year experiment with socialism ended in failure. There was a RE boom in Britain 1985-9. Anti inlation policy caused a recession (as in the USA). In 1980 the US, fed up with useless programs, turned to Reagan. Hungary opening in 1988 and the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia. GWH Bush thought that we had "kicked the VN syndrome."

The Age of Transformation (1978-1991) was dominated by Reagan, Thatcher, and Gorbachev. The Age of Optimism (1991-2008) involved a false sense of security in the West after the fall of he Soviet Union. The Age of Anxiety (2008- ) shows the concern about economics and globalization that set in after the reality of the severe world downturn in 2008.
In China kids are taught that war with the US is invitable.
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