Niall Ferguson

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.

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