Book Review: Thieves of State

Thieves of State by Sarah Chayes is informative, thought-provoking, very interesting and concisely written. Published this year, the book is about corruption and its devastating effects.

A former journalist, entrepreneur and government advisor who now works at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Chayes spends most of her time discussing Afghanistan and the recent U.S.-led efforts there; she also has chapters that deal with the Arab Spring, Egypt, Tunisia, Uzbekistan and Nigeria. She even includes some older European and American history. The argument she's making is made more convincing by the fact that she incorporates so many discrete examples into the text.

Through personal experience and her own research, Chayes makes a simple yet profound argument: corruption fuels extremism and violence -- hardly a new phenomenon.

Chayes writes well and has written a book that is very timely. This issue should be of interest to both general readers and policymakers. In the book's penultimate chapter, she provides a range of diverse remedies for combating corruption.

Thieves of State is a compelling, fascinating read, but it is also a call to action. Corruption, to some extent, permeates all corners of the globe, which means that the argument Chayes makes in her book is one we cannot afford to ignore.

In her final chapter, Chayes devotes a bit of attention to the West and the recent global financial crisis. Speaking about American governance, Chayes says that "It is not potential improvements to its workings that we lack. It is clear-sightedness about the gravity of the danger we court, and the courage to dare to design them."

Even if the commensurate political will were there, combating corruption in any country, especially a place like Afghanistan, would not be easy. Chayes' persuasive book clearly explains why this topic merits greater attention -- from both foreign policy professionals and the general public.