The FP Global Thinkers Book Club

What the smart set is reading.

Looking for gift ideas for the budding global thinker on your list? Want to be as well-informed as FP's top 100? Here are the top 142 books on their shelves, from wonky policy briefs to biographies to children's books to fantasy novels, plus detailed recommendations from some of the smartest people on the planet.

Plus, catch up on your reading with excerpts from some of our Global Thinkers' favorite books:

Helene Gayle recommends economist and fellow FP Global Thinker Nicholas Stern's recent book, The Global Deal, a pragmatic look at how the world can come together to mitigate the effects of climate change: "The cost of action is much lower than the cost of inaction -- in other words, delay would become the anti-growth strategy.

Robert Wright's recommended book, Zachary Karabell's Superfusion, examines America's new relationship with China and what it means for the country's future.

Fareed Zakaria suggests a book on the crucial figure looming over last year's recession, John Maynard Keynes. Robert Skidelsky's 2008 biography, Keynes: The Return of the Master, reveals much about the man who changed the way the world thought about economics.

Willem Buiter and Mohamed El-Erian both recommend a book that delves into the historical record to show how common financial crises are, and how universal the human impulse to find each one scarily new: This Time Is Different, by economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff.

Paul Collier recommends Global Thinker Robert Shiller's book Animal Spirits, coauthored with George A. Akerlof, about how the quirks of human psychology (the tendency to find narrative in random sequences of events, for example) shape world events and economies.

Take a look, and take a page.  

1453 by Roger Crowley (Recommended by Robert Zoellick, No. 33 on the FP 100)

The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich (Emily Oster, 99)

After Nature by W.G. Sebald (Paul Collier, 36)

After Tamerlane by John Darwin (Niall Ferguson, 56)

The Age of the Unthinkable by Joshua Cooper Ramo (Jamais Cascio, 72)

Alliance: How Roosevelt, Stalin, and Churchill Won a War and Began Another by Jonathan Fenby (Fernando Henrique Cardoso, 11: "Fenby reconstructed in a splendid way the daily unfolding of the great debates among the allies in their conduction of the Second World War. Thanks to this book we do have a keen view of the challenges, hesitations, and purposes of the Three Great Powers.")

America's Prophet: Moses and the American Story by Bruce Feiler (Robert Wright, 27)

Angels and Ages by Adam Gopnik (Michael Ignatieff, 64: "An absolutely wonderful book about the liberal temperament.")

Angels in my Hair by Lorna Byrne (Tariq Ramadan, 49)

Animal Spirits by George Akerlof and Robert Shiller (Paul Collier, 36)

Read an excerpt

Arabian Sands by Wilfred Thesiger (Mohamed El-Erian, 16)

The Baha'i Sacred Anthology (Xu Zhiyong, 62)

The Believers by Zoë Heller (Karen Armstrong, 87)

A Biographer's Tale by A.S. Byatt (Esther Duflo, 41)

The Black Diaries by Roger Casement (Mario Vargas Llosa, 63)

Blue Ocean Strategy by Chan Kim (Ashraf Ghani, 20)

The Bottom Billion by Paul Collier (David Kilcullen, 44)

The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz (Paul Farmer, 83)

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (Ayaan Hirsi Ali, 48)

Butcher and Bolt by David Loyn (David Petraeus, 8)

Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy by Joseph Schumpeter (Francis Fukuyama, 65: "I'm teaching a course at SAIS called "Ideas in Development" and I re-read these books every year as classics in thought about political economy. These books are classics because they ask large questions about the nature of the economic and political order. There has been a steady narrowing of focus in the social sciences over the past 200 years, from political economy to classical to neo-classical economics, and then to the narrow disciplinary balkanization that is typical of research today. These authors by contrast agree with one another only insofar as they address questions like the nature and legitimacy of both capitalism and democracy.")

The Caryatids by Bruce Sterling (Jamais Cascio, 72)

The Case for God by Karen Armstrong (Jaqueline Novogratz, 85)

The Challenge for Africa by Wangari Maathai (Helene Gayle, 52)

The Clinton Tapes by Taylor Branch (Minxin Pei, 90)

The Collected Poems by John Keats (Bill Easterley, 39)

Colomba by Dacia Maraini (Jared Diamond, 42)

A Concise Economic History of the World by Rondo Cameron (Karen Armstrong, 87: "I am thinking of writing a book about God and money. Cameron's is just one of the economic histories that I have been reading lately. I am struck by the fact that the desire to accumulate wealth and improve our material circumstances may be one of the most basic human imperatives, second only to sex. What does that tell us about our species? I am also intrigued by the fact that every single one of the major faith traditions practiced by human beings today had its roots in an early market economy and developed in a symbiotic relationship with early capitalism, trying in some way to mitigate the ill-effects of our aggressive acquisitiveness, either by such disciplines as yoga (which originally tried to mitigate the roots of greed and 'grasping' in the human psyche) or by trying, as in the three monotheisms, to mitigate the social ills attendant upon capitalism.")

Constantine and the Bishops by H.A. Drake (Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, 60)

Contemporary Chinese Philosophy edited by Chung-Ying Cheng and Nicholas Bunnin (Tariq Ramadan, 49)

Crossing the Energy Divide by Robert U. Ayres and Edward H. Ayres (Rajendra Pachauri, 5)

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese (Esther Dyson, 70)

Cybernetics by Norbert Weiner (Ray Kurzweil, 71: "A book I've returned to many times. The mathematics in the book may cause many readers to return it to its shelf, but it is surprisingly readable, and one of the most influential books of the century.")

Dead Aid by Dambisa Moyo (David Kilcullen, 44)

The Deutsche Bank: 1870-1995 by Lothar Gall (Robert Shiller, 22)

Descartes' Bones by Russell Shorto (Mario Vargas Llosa, 63)

The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri (Jared Diamond, 42)

Dreams from My Father by Barack Obama (Rajendra Pachauri, 5)

The Dutch East India Company: Expansion and Decline by Femme S. Gaastra (Robert Shiller, 22)

Dynamic Governance by Neo Boon Siong and Geraldine Chen (Clare Lockhart, 20: "A lively account of what makes Singapore tick, taking the reader through Singapore's early transition to its current deliberations as it confronts future trends. The book examines the interplay of the moral authority of individual leaders, the systems and policies they create, and their cultural context. It provides an invaluable handbook for public sector leaders in any context.")

Eastern Approaches by Fitzroy MacLean (David Petraeus, 8)

Eating the Sun by Oliver Morton (Chris Anderson, 24)

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery (Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, 60)

The Emperor by Ryszard Kapuscinski (Esther Duflo, 41)

Enduring Love by Ian McEwan (Niall Ferguson, 56)

Fearful Symmetry: The Rise and Fall of Canada's Founding Values by Brian Lee Crowley (Michael Ignatieff, 64: "It's an attack on everything I believe, so it's very bracing and interesting.... He's saying that Canadian liberalism has damaged Canada, and as the Liberal Party leader I have to disagree. But it's very intelligent and it's very important to take your adversaries seriously, so I'm taking him seriously.")

Fool by Christopher Moore (Peter W. Singer, 82: "People often list the latest non-fiction books designed to make them look good, but in reality I am reading a mix of novels, when I'm stuck on planes, and kids' books to my son.")

Forces of Fortune by Vali Nasr (Thomas Friedman, 21)

Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner (Salam Fayyad, 61)

Free by Chris Anderson (Fareed Zakaria, 37)

Garibaldi and His Enemies by Christopher Hibbert (John Arquilla, 81)

The Global Deal by Nicholas Stern (Helene Gayle, 52)

Read an excerpt.

Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown (Peter W. Singer, 82)

The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire by Edward N. Luttwak (Richard Haass, 75)

The Great Experiment by Strobe Talbott (Anwar Ibrahim, 32)

The Great Transformation by Karl Polanyi (Francis Fukuyama, 65)

Grown Up Digital by Don Tapscott (Fernando Henrique Cardoso, 11: "Tapscott's book is full of insights about the horizons opened by the new information technologies that are reshaping the patterns of social organization and action.")

Gut Feelings by Gerd Gigernzer (Bill Easterley, 39)

Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn (Paul Farmer, 83; Helene Gayle, 52; Valerie Hudson, 97; Jaqueline Novogratz, 85; Emily Oster, 99)

Hamlet by William Shakespeare (Nick Bostrom, 73)

Harold Macmillan by Charles Williams (Robert Zoellick, 33)

A History of Chinese Philosophy by Fung Yu-Lan (Xu Zhiyong, 62)

The Honored Society by Norman Lewis (Niall Ferguson, 56)

The Hooligan's Return by Norman Malea (Enrique Krauze, 95)

House of Cards by William D. Cohan (Richard Thaler, 7)

The Household and the Making of History by Mary S. Hartman (Valerie Hudson, 97)

The Idea of Justice by Amartya Sen (Anwar Ibrahim, 32)

In Xanadu by William Darlymple (Esther Duflo, 41)

Innovation Nation by John Kao (John Holdren, 34)

Keynes: The Return of the Master by Robert Skidelsky (Fareed Zakaria, 37)

Read an excerpt.

Law, Legislation, and Liberty by Friedrich Hayek (Francis Fukuyama, 65)

Le Japon n'existe pas by Alberto Torres Blandina (Jacques Attali, 86)

A Life Decoded by J. Craig Venter (John Holdren, 34)

Lords of Finance by Liaquat Ahamed (Richard Haass, 75)

Macroeconomics of Self-Fulfilling Prophecies by Roger Farmer (Robert Shiller, 22)

Makers by Cory Doctrow (Chris Anderson, 24)

Making Globalization Work by Joseph Stiglitz (Esther Dyson, 70)

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen (Karen Armstrong, 87: "I try to reread at least one Austen novel every year as a challenge, because she is a stark reminder in what is involved in writing a good book. I am unusual in thinking that this is one of her most interesting works. It is a celebration of integrity, the holding to a standard of morality and behavior through thick and thin, even in an inimical environment; it reminds us that charm, seductive as it is, is not enough; and that the sentimental past one imagines may be a delusion. It is a difficult book but a masterpiece.")

Marx's General by Tristam Hunt (Enrique Krauze, 95)

Military Nanotechnology by Jurgen Altmann (Nick Bostrom, 73)

Moby Dick by Herman Melville (Clare Lockhart, 20)

The Mystery of Economic Growth by Elhanan Helpman (Nicholas Christakis, 50)

Myth of the Rational Market by Justin Fox (Richard Thaler, 7)

New Guinea: What I did and what I saw by Luigi d'Albertis (Jared Diamond, 42)

No Enchanted Palace by Mark Mazower (Bill Easterley, 39)

Nonzero by Robert Wright (Bill Clinton, 6: "[This book] had a huge effect on me as the president.... [H]is argument in Nonzero [is] essentially that the world is growing together, not apart. And as you have wider and wider circles of interconnection -- that is, wider geographically, encompassing more people, and wider in bandwidth, encompassing more subject areas -- you begin with conflict and you end with some resolution, some merging.... In Nonzero he argues that ever since people came out of caves and formed clans, people have been bumping up against each other, requiring expansion of identity, subconscious identity.")

Not by Genes Alone by Peter J. Richerson and Robert Boyd (Nicholas Christakis, 50)

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Ray Kurzweil, 71: "As I think about our thinking, its most unique characteristic is our ability to think in hierarchies. In our neocortex -- incidentally only mammals have a neocortex, and ours is the largest, being the size of a table napkin -- we are able to create elaborate hierarchies of symbols and call them ideas, knowledge, inventions, and sentences. If you want to see the most extraordinary examples of sentences representing fantastic hierarchies of images, ideas, and thoughts, then read the page-long sentences in Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude.")

Operation Shylock by Philip Roth (Jacques Attali, 86)

The Origins of Virtue by Matt Ridley (Bill Clinton, 6: "Another person I think has written some very interesting books on the ultimate imperative of cooperation ... is Matt Ridley. The one that had a pretty good influence on me is The Origins of Virtue. And by virtue he doesn't mean, I never take a drink, even on Saturday night. He means civic virtue. How do we treat one another in ways that are constructive, and work together? ... At this moment in history, we need people who have a unique understanding of both how the world works and how it might be better, might be more harmonious.")

The Origin of Wealth by Eric Beinhocker (Andrew Mwenda, 98)

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell (Bill Clinton, 6: "I think Malcolm Gladwell has become quite important. The Tipping Point was a very good observational book about what happened and how change occurred. But I think his last book, Outliers is even more important for understanding how we all develop and for making the case that even for people we view as geniuses, life is more of a relay race than a one-night stand by a one-man band or a one-woman band. I thought it was a truly exceptional book.")

Over Here by David Kennedy (Robert Kagan, 66: "A brilliant account of domestic politics and policies during World War I. The Wilson administration's infringements on civil liberties, especially the suppression of free speech and persecution of German-Americans, during the war makes George W. Bush look like Martin Luther King.")

Palestinian Walks by Raja Shehade (Salam Fayyad, 61)

The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz (Esther Dyson, 70)

Paris 1916: Six Months that Changed the World by Margaret MacMillan (Nick Bostrom, 73)

The Parity of the Sexes by Sylviane Agacinski (Valerie Hudson, 97)

A Peace to End All Peace by David Fromkin (Hans Rosling, 96)

Phantoms of the Brain by V.S. Ramachandran and Sandra Blakeslee (Ray Kurzweil, 71: "Told as a series of engaging stories about patients with brain injuries and diseases and experiments with cognitive function, this book provides many tantalizing clues as to how the brain works. The authors also discuss the elusive and thousand-year-old problem of dealing with the apparent gap between the brain's objective processes and our subjective experience, or ‘qualia.' Do I see the same thing that you see when I see ‘red'? Maybe my experience of red is the same as your experience of blue? How can we resolve such dilemmas? They offer an interesting mental -- and eventually, real -- experiment involving direct mental connections to try to resolve this.")

Prezza: My Story by John Prescott with Hunter Davies (Rajendra Pachauri, 5)

Prisoner of the State by Zho Ziyang (Fernando Henrique Cardoso, 11: "The journal of the Chinese Prime Minister and Communist Party Chairman Zhao Ziyang at the time of the events at Tiananmen Square is vital for understanding the decision-making processes inside China.")

The Quran (Xu Zhiyong, 62)

The Reckoning by Charles Nicholl (Mario Vargas Llosa, 63)

Replenishing the Earth by James Belich (Paul Collier, 39)

The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers by Paul Kennedy (Andrew Mwenda, 98)

Science, Truth, and Democracy by Philip Kitcher (John Holdren, 34)

Sharpe's Battle by Richard Cornwell (Peter W. Singer, 82)

South of Broad by Pat Conroy (Thomas Friedman, 21)

Spain, Europe, and the Wider World by J.H. Elliott (Enrique Krauze, 95)

Spent by Geoffrey Miller (Andrew Mwenda, 98)

Spirit Gate by Kate Elliott (Willem Buiter, 91)

A Splendid Exchange: How Trade Shaped the World by William Bernstein (Rizal Sukma, 92)

Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel's Economic Miracle by Dan Senor and Saul Singer (Richard Haass, 75)

Stirring It Up: How to Make Money and Save the World by Gary Hirshberg (John Holdren, 34)

Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert (Nicholas Christakis, 50: "In a speech delivered on January 4, 1968, Robert F. Kennedy famously and poetically noted that the U.S. GNP ‘measures everything except that which makes life worthwhile, and [tells] us everything about America, except why we are proud to be Americans.' Many governments and individuals focus on money as a measure of the return on our efforts, but the real reason that people strive to do anything is their accurate and -- here is where Harvard professor and psychologist Daniel Gilbert is especially brilliant -- inaccurate perceptions of what will make them happy. Stumbling on Happiness is trenchant, illuminating, humorous, creative, novel, and important. As Gilbert argues, ‘The production of wealth does not necessarily make individuals happy, but it serves the needs of an economy, which serves the needs of a stable society, which serves as a network for the propagation of delusional beliefs about happiness and wealth. Economies thrive when individuals strive, but because individuals will only strive for their own happiness, it is essential that they mistakenly believe that producing and consuming are routes to personal well-being.' This book has changed the way I see the world. Jeremy Bentham long ago argued that humans serve ‘two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure.' Gilbert shows how these masters have their power, and how individuals and societies might really come to be happy.")

The Sum of All Heresies by Frederick Quinn (Tariq Ramadan, 49)

Summer Farms in Sweden, 1550 to 1920 by Jesper Larsson (Hans Rosling, 96)

Superfusion by Zachary Karabell (Robert Wright, 27)

Read an excerpt.

TalBotvinnik by Mikhail Tal (John Arquilla, 81: "Ostensibly a chess book, [this] is really an allegory about the enduring tension between art and science.")

Talking to Terrorists by John Bew, Martyn Frampton, and Inigo Gurruchaga (David Kilcullen, 44)

Terrorism: How to Respond by Richard English (John Arquilla, 81: "The clearest thinking on this scourge to have come along in many years.")

The Theological Aspect of Reformed Judaism by Max Margolis (Abdolkarim Soroush, 45)

This Time Is Different by Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff (Willem Buiter, 91; Mohamed El-Erian, 16)

Read an excerpt.

A Thousand Hills by Stephen Kinzer (Robert Zoellick, 33)

To Live or to Perish Forever by Nicholas Schmidle (David Petraeus, 8)

Traffic by Tom Vanderbilt (Chris Anderson, 24)

Tribes by Seth Godin (Jaqueline Novogratz, 85)

True Compass by Edward M. Kennedy (Anwar Ibrahim, 32)

Turbulence by Giles Foden (Clare Lockhart, 20: "A novel that tells the story of the art and science of weather prediction during World War II. Books such as these that explain how people have solved problems and set about understanding the world about them -- with the right mixture of humility and imagination -- I find enormously useful in my own work. As our world becomes more interconnected and seemingly complex, this ability to see and comprehend patterns without losing sight of the humanity of our condition is enormously valuable. Literature that conveys the alienation, disorientation and frustration of enormous swathes of people confined to lives of poverty and exclusion by dint of the nature of their leaderships or their geographic positions, is important as it makes personal and human what otherwise can often appear to policy makers merely as numbers. Finally, accounts of remarkable individuals -- whether fictional or real -- and their struggles to transcend their inheritance to live wisely, make fair decisions, and make an impact whether in large scale or very local terms, serve as an inspiration and guide.")

Unscientific America by Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum (John Holdren, 34)

Verzamelde Gedichten by Hendrik Marsman (Willem Buiter, 91)

Waiting by Ha Jin (Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, 60)

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (Ayaan Hirsi Ali, 48)

Wars, Guns, and Votes by Paul Collier (Hans Rosling, 96; Rizal Sukma, 92)

The Weary Titan by Aaron Friedberg (Robert Kagan, 66: "One of the best books ever written about the decline of a great power, in this case Great Britain at the end of the 19th century. It is instructive in the ways the United States of today may be like but also strikingly unlike Britain.")

When China Rules the World by Martin Jacques (Rizal Sukma, 92)

Who Are We? The Challenges to America's National Identity by Samuel P. Huntington (Ayaan Hirsi Ali, 48)

A Whole Mind, by Daniel Pink (Ashraf Ghani, 20: "A very interesting book. It is about the whole divide between the right-brain- and left-brain-dominant people, and how new technology will shift power to the right-brain, more creative people.")

Wired for War by Peter W. Singer (Jamais Cascio, 72)

Woodrow Wilson: A Biography by John Milton Cooper (Robert Kagan, 66: "A scholar who has in the past written the most incisive and balanced studies of Wilson's presidency.")

The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman (Salam Fayyad, 61)

Zen and the Art of Archery by Eugen Herrigel (Abdolkarim Soroush, 45)


Putting Your Big Think on the Map

A how-to guide.

China was cracking down in Tiananmen Square and the Berlin Wall still had a few months left to stand when 36-year-old Francis Fukuyama published a wonky essay in the summer of 1989 proclaiming the triumph of democracy and free markets. “I thought it would be read by a few friends,” Fukuyama recalled. "People who were interested in political theory and international relations -- a pretty narrow group."

It's hard to blame him. The 10,000-word tract in the National Interest ruminated about a "universal homogenous state" that existed only in "the realm of human consciousness." Even today, it's hard to get through the whole thing.

But Fukuyama also put forth an idea that, two decades later, won't go away: "What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of postwar history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind's ideological evolution."

Once you declare the end of history, well, the rest is history. Fukuyama's essay became a manifesto for the post-Cold War world, going viral even in that benighted pre-Web age. Yet, almost as quickly as the idea gained fame, it lost credibility. To this day, whenever something big and bad happens -- the Asian financial crisis of the 1990s, the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the past year's Great Recession -- Fukuyama is dragged out for ritual flogging. He'll never escape the end of history. We won't let him.

"I'm afraid that is going to be my fate," Fukuyama told me. "From the moment the article appeared I've been running away from it. ... I am now resigned to the fact that it will be very hard to do that."

Just as Fukuyama remains forever linked to this one big idea, several other grand theories soon followed, with various thinkers peddling sweeping visions of what the world after the Cold War would -- or should -- become. And so Fukuyama's "End of History" was followed by Samuel Huntington's "Clash of Civilizations," Joseph Nye's "Soft Power," John Williamson's "Washington Consensus," and even Robert Kagan's "Americans Are from Mars, Europeans Are from Venus" before arriving, perhaps inevitably, at Fareed Zakaria's "Post-American World."

Each in its own way has come to define the geopolitics of the past two decades, serving as shorthand for everything from the rise of American neoconservatives to the ebb and flow and ebb again of American global power. And though few readers may have slogged all the way through most of these treatises, each one has earned widespread name recognition today. (Being right, as Fukuyama showed, is certainly no prerequisite for success in the marketplace for big ideas.)

So how did they do it? For all their differences, these six big ideas follow a basic set of rules that have helped them outlast their rivals in the battle for big-think bragging rights. How well does the world remember Naomi Klein's No Logo or G. John Ikenberry's "Myth of Post-Cold War Chaos" today? Then again, talk to the authors and you realize pretty quickly that none of these ideas was preordained for stardom; rather than declaring history's end, they could just have easily ended on history's trash heap.

Herewith, their playbook.


Make It Catchy

Robert Kagan did not intend to launch a passionate debate over what it means to be European versus American in the 21st century. Nor, he says, did he mean to insult Europe's collective manhood.

But he did, and you can pretty much blame his wife.

Kagan found himself living in Brussels when his spouse, a U.S. diplomat, took a nato post there. Washington was still supposedly basking in post-9/11 support, but living among the natives, Kagan heard what European thinkers really thought of Washington, and it wasn't pretty. "When the Americans were not in the room," he told me, "it was a different conversation."

Some 11,000 words later came Kagan's "Power and Weakness," published in Policy Review in 2002. He argued that the force-wielding United States and peace-loving Europe had grown estranged, no longer agreeing on key strategic matters or even on the nature of global threats. The irony, to Kagan, was that Europe could enjoy its peaceful paradise only because America guarded it. "The United States, with all its vast power, remains stuck in history, left to deal with the Saddams and the ayatollahs, the Kim Jong Ils and the Jiang Zemins," he wrote, "leaving the happy benefits to others."

Kagan's essay sparked fierce debate, but it likely never would have exploded without a memorable line from its opening paragraph: "On major strategic and international questions today," he wrote, "Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus."

The play off the best-seller, Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus, seemed to contrast brawny Americans with Euro girly-men, and it made Kagan a star. "The Mars-Venus line was not one I was most proud of," Kagan said, but he understood its power. "To come back and sell the book, to get on TV shows, the line was all you needed."

Yet the line almost never was. He'd written the essay without it, but his wife told him that he needed something grabby to persuade readers to endure such a lengthy article. Had he meant to suggest Europe was a bastion of effeminate metrosexuals? "That was a total mistake," Kagan claimed when we talked. "I feel like an idiot.... I was not thinking about men versus women. I was thinking about people talking past each other."

No matter. The line stuck, proving that the unforgettable catchphrase is a key element of a winning foreign-policy idea. It needn't even be entirely original to be effective. Fukuyama, for one, doesn't claim "The End of History" as his own. It was "not a very novel idea," he told me. "It was derivative from Hegel, and anyone who had read him understood that." (Of course, if Fukuyama had called his essay "Hegel Revisited: The Recurring Ascent of Market Liberalism," we wouldn't be discussing it today.)

Huntington's famed 1993 Foreign Affairs essay "The Clash of Civilizations?" didn't have all that original a line, either. As Huntington noted in the piece, historian Bernard Lewis had used the "clash" phrase in The Atlantic three years earlier. The title of that piece? "The Roots of Muslim Rage."

Then again, Polish historian Leszek Kolakowski was railing against Soviet totalitarianism and warning of a "clash of civilizations" in the mid-1980s. But history has given the line to Huntington.

When it came to civilizations, the third clash was the charm.


Everybody Loves a Critic

As a group these authors can be unsparing in their criticism of each other; intellectual combat does wonders for buzz and book sales.

When Fukuyama's "The End of History?" came out, Huntington was quick to respond with a broadside about the "errors of endism." When he published "The Clash of Civilizations?" four years later, the two pieces became forever paired as dueling visions of the coming world order.

Kagan, in his 2008 book The Return of History and the End of Dreams, criticized the undue optimism that followed the end of the Cold War, as embodied in the "End of History" argument. In our interview, Kagan took shots at other would-be big ideas. Zakaria's The Post-American World and Thomas Friedman's The World Is Flat are simply "a businessman's perspective," Kagan told me. "They see the world as a series of hedge fund opportunities."

Zakaria, for his part, told me he viewed Kagan's Mars-Venus argument as "spirited and elegantly written," but said that "by the end of the book it seems he is disagreeing with himself." Meanwhile, Fukuyama dismissed Kagan's latest book as intellectually "incoherent."

It's like Foreign Affairs meets Mean Girls.

Then again, enemies aren't necessarily a problem; few might ever have heard of John Williamson's Washington Consensus if not for the opposition it generated.

In late 1989 the British economist authored an obscure paper -- "What Washington Means by Policy Reform" -- for a Washington conference on economic development in Latin America. In dry prose never intended for a mass audience, Williamson laid out 10 economic policies "about whose proper deployment Washington can muster a reasonable degree of consensus." He asked conference participants to comment "on the extent to which the Washington consensus is shared."

The policies he outlined for developing countries included fiscal discipline, fewer subsidies, tax reform, free trade, privatization, market interest rates, deregulation, and openness to foreign investment. To Williamson, they seemed uncontroversial. But the "Washington Consensus" quickly became shorthand for the dictates that the International Monetary Fund imposed on poor countries, for globalization and untrammeled capitalism. Williamson went from Washington wonk to worldwide whipping boy, pummeled by anti-globalization protesters and Third World politicians. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown was still attacking the concept at this spring's G-20 summit in London, declaring the "old Washington Consensus is over."

Yet, it is precisely the relentless critics, many of whom exaggerate the Washington Consensus's scope, who have kept the controversy alive. For a true blockbuster idea, it's indispensable to have a reliable nemesis, the more high-profile the better.

When asked to name the "worst distorter" of the Washington Consensus, Williamson pointed to Columbia University economist and Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz, who attacked the Washington Consensus as "market fundamentalism" in his 2002 best-seller Globalization and Its Discontents. "Joe is guilty there," Williamson said. "I'm a good friend of Joe, but he says anyone who believes the Washington Consensus must think all markets are perfect. And that's nonsense."

Yet the authors can also internalize the critics. Williamson told me that Harvard University economist Dani Rodrik, a frequent Consensus-basher, had made him realize there are times when a conservative fiscal policy doesn't make sense. When I reminded him that he'd made the same point himself in the original paper, Williamson seemed surprised. "Really?" he replied. "Guess I haven't read it in a while."


Timing Is (Almost) Everything

No one could accuse Joseph Nye of not revisiting his own writing often enough. The Harvard political scientist is best known for "soft power," a notion he unveiled in Foreign Policy in 1990 and one he has since refined endlessly in essays, speeches, and books. Even Nye's 2004 novel, The Power Game, features a State Department official who faces moral dilemmas, sleeps around, and calls for soft power-type strategies.

Soft power, as Nye defined it initially, involves one country's ability to get other countries to want what it wants, in contrast to ordering or forcing others to do what it wants. The tools of soft power, he explained, include a country's culture, ideology, and institutions. As with the other big ideas, Nye doesn't claim he's the first to imagine it. "There is nothing new about the power of seduction," he told me. "Philosophers have known this forever, but I found a way to encapsulate it."

Seductive or not, soft power "took off slowly," Nye recalls. At first, the timing wasn't right. The end of the Cold War already seemed to signal the triumph of American ideology; soft power may have seemed redundant. The world wanted to know what came next, so arguments like "Clash of Civilizations" and "End of History" won more attention.

Indeed, to attain rapid blockbuster status, the right moment is critical. "The extent to which something has an impact," Huntington told an interviewer in 2006, "depends overwhelmingly on timing.... If you set it forth five years too early, or five years too late, nobody pays attention."

For Nye, it took more than a decade -- and a major U.S. foreign-policy blunder. The Iraq war, launched in 2003, was largely a hard-power, shock-and-awe U.S. show. Then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld even publicly admitted his ignorance of soft power: "I don't know what it means," he said in the early months of the war. But as Iraq descended into chaos and Rumsfeld was sent packing, the limits of hard power became clear. In a 2007 speech, Rumsfeld's successor, Robert Gates, decried the "gutting" of U.S. soft power, and in his 2008 National Defense Strategy, Gates invoked soft power five times.

So, very belatedly, soft power had finally arrived, officially enshrined in U.S. military strategy, and a recent survey of more than 2,700 international relations scholars rated Nye as the scholar with the most influence on U.S. foreign policy over the past two decades.

Fukuyama is still hopeful a similar twist could vindicate his end of history, telling an audience in 2007 that it would take another two decades to see if he was right.

When I asked Fukuyama why we needed to wait that long, he cited China. "I believe there will be pressure in China to open up their political system as they get richer," he said, "but it has not happened yet."

After all, he reminded me, "There was always that question mark at the end of the title."



As the Cold War came to a close, old notions of American exceptionalism and Pax Americana made a comeback -- and no surprise, this "America first" attitude permeates the big ideas of the past two decades.

Early in his "Soft Power" essay, for instance, Nye criticized arguments that America was in decline. In our interview, he even cited Paul Kennedy's 1987 The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers as counterinspiration, "but Paul got all the royalties," he quipped. Williamson's "Washington Consensus" was by definition an effort to share America's wisdom with the world. And in Kagan's view, a united Europe also resulted in part from farsighted U.S. policy.

At first glance, Zakaria's latest book seemed to take the opposite approach. Published in 2008, just as the global financial crisis was making American-style capitalism seem vulnerable, Zakaria's The Post-American World looked particularly prescient.

Although the United States remains the world's dominant political and military force, Zakaria wrote, "in every other dimension -- industrial, financial, educational, social, cultural -- the distribution of power is shifting, moving away from American dominance."

Subsequent events appeared to confirm his views. Although Zakaria largely missed the coming global financial turmoil (proclaiming, in fact, that "global growth is the big story of our times"), the emergence of the G-20 to tackle the crisis is a clear instance of Washington sharing power with China, India, and others.

The irony, though, is that the notion of the post-American world is a bit of a misnomer because the world Zakaria describes is in fact a creation of Washington. "For sixty years, American politicians and diplomats have traveled around the world pushing countries to open their markets, free up their politics, and embrace trade and technology," Zakaria wrote. "And it worked: the natives have gotten good at capitalism."

If so, then what separates a post-American world from a most American one? Zakaria himself still bets on the United States to lead. "I am optimistic about America and American power," he told me. "If I had anyone's cards to play in this world, I would pick the United States'."

Zakaria makes the argument with a sort of big-think medley. Like Fukuyama, he thinks that the Soviet collapse left but a single path forward. "Suddenly, there was only one basic approach to organizing a country's economy," he wrote. (Washington Consensus, anyone?) And though Zakaria rejects the premise of "The Clash of Civilizations?" his rise-of-the-rest predictions offer a benign version of Huntington's "West versus the rest" warning. Finally, his belief that America should become a global chairman of the board -- setting agendas and mobilizing coalitions -- smacks of soft power. "Washington needs to understand that generating international public support for its view of the world is a core element of power," Zakaria wrote. Nye would be proud.


Second Thoughts

For all their apparently definitive pronouncements, many of the authors seem to fear that they might be wrong after all. So they hedge their arguments, concluding their landmark works with odd contradictions.

In the last and strangest paragraph of his essay, Fukuyama speculated that the end of history would be a sad time, devoid of art or philosophy. "Perhaps this very prospect of centuries of boredom at the end of history will serve to get history started once again," he concluded.

In the final passages of "The Clash of Civilizations?" Huntington called for common ground and deeper cross-cultural understanding -- the only hopeful notes in an essay that makes a persuasive case to the contrary. At the conclusion of his piece, Kagan acknowledged that the United States and Europe share similar aspirations and that "a little common understanding could still go a long way." And throughout his paper, Williamson emphasized his differences with the very consensus he identified. "Is the Washington Consensus, or my interpretation of it, missing something?" he asked.

So, maybe history never ends; maybe civilizations don't have to clash; maybe post-America fails to arrive; maybe the United States and Europe work it all out; and maybe Washington never really agrees on anything! But such caveats have done little to change how we regard these ideas, notions so powerful they still mark the intellectual tides since the end of the Cold War.

The George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton years can be thought of as the End of History/Washington Consensus era, with visions of benign world orders and free markets dominating foreign policy. George W. Bush's administration had more of a Clash of Civilizations/Mars-Venus flavor after 9/11, forged by wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention Rumsfeld's barbs against "old Europe." And the current administration seems more of a Soft Power/Post-American World crew. (A Nobel Peace Prize certainly suggests some soft power, and Barack Obama was caught toting around Zakaria's book during the campaign.)

Despite such influence, several of these writers -- like Fukuyama still trying to outrun "The End of History?" -- profess serious second thoughts. Zakaria speaks wistfully of his prior book The Future of Freedom, "a more serious book, to be honest," than the best-selling The Post-American World. Williamson jokes that the Washington Consensus is his illegitimate child and admits he's not sure it accomplished what he had hoped. "The plus is that, of course, it's made me famous," he said. "The minus is that I'm not sure the phrase really was conducive to promoting reform, which was the object of the exercise."

Or, as Kagan put it about the Mars-Venus essay: "I was arguing contrary to desire. I wanted Europe back in the power game. Part of me is always hoping to be wrong."