How Emerging Powers are Redefining Global Competition in the 21st Century

“A savvy, streetwise primer on dozens of individual countries that adds up to a coherent theory of global politics.”

- Robert D. Kaplan -


Grand explanations of how to understand the complex twenty-first-century world have all fallen short—until now. In The Second World, the brilliant young scholar Parag Khanna takes readers on a thrilling global tour, one that shows how America’s dominant moment has been suddenly replaced by a geopolitical marketplace wherein the European Union and China compete with the United States to shape world order on their own terms. 

This contest is hottest and most decisive in the Second World: pivotal regions in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, South America, the Middle East, and East Asia. Khanna explores the evolution of geopolitics through the recent histories of such underreported, fascinating, and complicated countries as Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Colombia, Libya, Vietnam, and Malaysia—nations whose resources will ultimately determine the fate of the three superpowers, but whose futures are perennially uncertain as they struggle to rise into the first world or avoid falling into the third.

Informed, witty, and armed with a traveler’s intuition for blending into diverse cultures, Khanna mixes copious research with deep reportage to remake the map of the world. He depicts second-world societies from the inside out, observing how globalization divides them into winners and losers along political, economic, and cultural lines—and shows how China, Europe, and America use their unique imperial gravities to pull the second-world countries into their orbits. Along the way, Khanna also explains how  Arabism and Islamism compete for the Arab soul, reveals how Iran and Saudi Arabia play the superpowers against one another, unmasks Singapore’s inspirational role in East Asia, and psychoanalyzes the second-world leaders whose decisions are reshaping the balance of power. He captures the most elusive formula in international affairs: how to think like a country.

In the twenty-first century, globalization is the main battlefield of geopolitics, and America itself runs the risk of descending into the second world if it does not renew itself and redefine its role in the world.  Comparable in scope and boldness to Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man and Samuel P. Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, The Second World will be the definitive guide to world politics for years to come.

Read Parag's cover story from The New York Times titled "Waving Goodbye to Hegemony" (27 January 2008)

Click here to download (PDF)

Interview with Charlie Rose on PBS (15 May 2008)

Interview for Wall Street Journal's "Portfolio of Ideas" ( 28 September 2008)


A savvy, streetwise primer on dozens of individual countries that adds up to a coherent theory of global politics.

– Robert D. Kaplan Author of Eastward to Tartary and Warrior Politics

A panoramic overview which boldly addresses the dilemmas of the world that our next president will confront.

– Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski Former National Security Advisor

Parag Khanna’s fascinating book takes us on an epic journey around the multipolar world, elegantly combining historical analysis, political theory, and eye-witness reports to shed light on the battle for primacy between the world’s new empires.

– Mark Leonard Executive Director, European Council on Foreign Relations

Khanna is something of a foreign policy whiz kid.

– Ray Bonner The New York Times Sunday Book Review

He strides the world in seven-league boots, armed with a powerful thesis: in the postcolonial, post-cold-war era, three superpowers have emerged with a ravenous appetite for energy and natural resources….The Second World is rewarding simply as a primer on contemporary geopolitics. Anyone curious about the lay of the land in Algeria or Tajikistan can get answers, and a dash of local color, in Mr. Khanna’s succinct chapters, which envelop the reader in a whirlwind of facts and figures….

– William Grimes The New York Times

Khanna is nothing if not ambitious...The expression “a young man in a hurry'' was made for him...While his contemporaries busied themselves with macroeconomics, democratic peace theory or counterinsurgency doctrine, Khanna was devouring such dusty old tomes as Toynbee's 12-volume A Study of History and the geopolitical theories of Halford Mackinder and Nicholas Spykman. I can think of much worse preliminary reading for a world tour....The best thing about The Second World is that it takes us to a whole series of important places we might be disinclined to visit for ourselves and gives us glimpses of life on that messy borderland between the second world and the first. There are some wonderful vignettes: the gleaming statue of Bruce Lee in Mostar; the mis-spelling of the word “bank'' on Kazakhstan's 2006 banknotes; the uneasy ethnic mix in Uzbekistan's Ferghana Valley; the “narcotecture'' along the road from Kabul to Herat. Khanna is especially good on pipelines, the vital conduits of imperial energy, such as the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, for example, or the Eastern Siberia-Pacific Ocean pipeline. Highways, tunnels, bridges, refineries, canals and liquid natural gas terminals also catch his eye. And he has a keen eye for the new acronyms of which we shall doubtless hear much more in the future such as SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organisation). It is this kind of thing that lends credibility to his case for relative American decline and rapid Chinese advance. There seems little doubt that Beijing is doing a much better job than Washington of cultivating second world energy exporters. And in a world where economic growth is out-stripping fossil fuel production, that may well pay off in future.

– Niall Ferguson The Financial Times

Khanna is a serious scholar. He has read widely. He correctly calls attention to our growing inability to convince or cajole even as we continue to warn and intimidate.

– Charles Gati The Washington Post

A thrilling tour d'horizon...which interior of this book accomplishes magnificently: giving the reader a series of witty, intelligent, insightful portraits of regions and countries struggling to find their way amid globalization's explosive advance.

– Thomas Barnett The National Review

As a primer on many of the globe’s most important yet distant places, one will find it hard to read this book and not come away enlightened.

– Derek Chollet Democracy: A Journal of Ideas

George Orwell was right: The future will see three contending world powers, their alliances and rivalries with one another ever shifting, and scarcely any peace. So says think-tanker Khanna, a fellow at the New America Foundation, who posits that the world turns on three empires: the United States, the European Union and China. “Big is back,” he writes. “It is inter-imperial relations—not international or inter-civilizational—that shape the world. Empires—not civilizations—give geography its meaning.” These great superpowers, he adds in a somewhat questionable metaphor, are like bumper cars, sure to careen into each other at some point but without any knowledge of how fast they’ll be hit. History tells us that empires are transitory things, while the poor will be with us always. Somewhere in the middle are the states of the “second world,” which “are frequently both first- and third-world at the same time,” mostly without a middle class but frequently with plenty of wealth and resources. Khanna, in the manner of Robert Kaplan, travels widely in these pages, visiting and writing about such far-flung places as Xinjiang, Chile, Iran and Belgium, as well as the capitals and principal cities of the empires. The second-world states, he suggests, will, like Turkey, find it expedient to maintain relations with all three. Turkey, for instance, will seek ties with Russia and China while seeking partnership in the EU and American-led alliances alike. Thanks to the Iraq War, he notes, the scale is being tipped around the world between the “two Wests” in the EU’s favor, while China is extending its international influence to places such as Hugo Chávez’s Venezuela, which “now resembles Iran prior to the overthrow of the Shah.” The near future, Khanna provocatively writes, will see more seesawing. But, he adds, “the tripolar world should be thought of as a stool: With two legs it cannot stand long; with three it can be stable.

– Kirkus Reviews

Khanna, a widely recognized expert on global politics, offers an study of the 21st century’s emerging “geopolitical marketplace” dominated by three “first world” superpowers, the U.S., Europe and China. Each competes to lead the new century, pursuing that goal in the “third world”: select eastern European countries, east and central Asia, the Middle East Latin America, and North Africa. The U.S. offers military protection and aid. Europe offers deep reform and economic association. China offers full-service, condition-free relationships. Each can be appealing; none has obvious advantages. The key to Khanna’s analysis, however, is his depiction of a “second world”: countries in transition. They range in size and population from heavily peopled states like Brazil and Indonesia to smaller ones such as Malaysia. Khanna interprets the coming years as being shaped by the race to win the second world—and in the case of the U.S., to avoid becoming a second-world country itself. The final pages of his book warn eloquently of the risks of imperial overstretch combined with declining economic dominance and deteriorating quality of life. By themselves those pages are worth the price of a book that from beginning to end inspires reflection.

– Publishers Weekly

Among the most readable of the new books on this continuing competition is Parag Khanna's The Second World.....The sketches that he draws are useful, streetwise, and sometimes very funny; if I were undertaking a geopolitical world tour, I would want him as my guide.

– Colin Dueck Claremont Review

Second World was a bracing, energetic, provocative piece of reporting and thinking that has deeply influenced American discourse about the kind of world the next president will inherit. Parag is the sort of writer who is not afraid to challenge conventional wisdom or to change his own mind; at a time when too much of our foreign policy thinking is rooted in frameworks from the past, he has proved himself to be an essential new voice.

– Steve Coll Dean, Columbia Journalism School

A fascinating, colorful, and always intelligent tour through a new world.

– Fareed Zakaria



Other Books By Parag

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