The 21st century has brought a powerful tide of geopolitical, economic, and democratic shocks. Their fallout has led central banks to create over $25 trillion of new money, brought about a new age of geopolitical competition, destabilised the Middle East, ruptured the European Union, and exposed old political fault lines in the United States.
Disorder: Hard Times in the 21st Century is a long history of this present political moment. It recounts three histories – one about geopolitics, one about the world economy, and one about western democracies – and explains how in the years of political disorder prior to the pandemic the disruption in each became one big story. It shows how much of this turbulence originated in problems generated by fossil-fuel energies, and it explains why as the green transition takes place the long-standing predicaments energy invariably shapes will remain in place.
1. Eurasian limits
2. The impossible oil guarantee
3. Eurasia remade
4. Our currencies, your problem
5. Made in China, need dollars
6. We are not in Kansas any more
III. Democratic politics
7. Democratic time
8. The democratic tax state
9. Whither reform
Conclusions: The more things change
Helen Thompson is a Professor of Political Economy at Cambridge University. She is the author of Oil and the Western Economic Crisis (2017); China and the Mortgaging of America (2010); and Might, Right, Prosperity and Consent: Representative Democracy and the International Economy (2008). Since 2015, Helen has been a regular contributor to the podcast Talking Politics and has written articles for the London Review of Books, The New York Times, and The Financial Times.
"Helen Thompson's book stands tallest among the recent titles that attempt to make sense of our age of crises. Disorder is a singular work owing to the skill with which Thompson maps the intersecting relationships between energy, global monetary policy, and the state of liberal democracy."
– New Statesman
– Simon Nixon, The Times
"A stimulating read."
– Howard Davies, Literary Review
– Gavin Jacobson, New Statesman
– Peter Franklin, Unherd
"Bold and brilliant, studded with insights [...] one of the year's most essential books."
– Christopher Bray, The Tablet
"A powerful guide to modern Hard Times [...] any reader will finish it with a deeper understanding of our contemporary challenges."
– Paschal Donohoe, Irish Times
"Most of us struggle to keep up [with the news], but not Helen Thompson – she doesn't merely grip each strand, but ties them together."
– Tom Clark, Prospect
"Bursting with ideas."
– James Barr, The Critic
"[Disorder is] as disturbing as it is thought-provoking."
– Martin Wolf, Financial Times, Summer Books 2022: Economics
"If you are looking for a well-developed and convincing theory of our time, I advise you to start here."
– Gilles Gressani, Le Grand Continent, 'What to read this summer'
"We are on the verge of a fascinating epoch that Thompson might write about in a second volume, but that doesnt invalidate her first. Instead, it underscores her larger point that energy and finance are often at the heart of geopolitics."
– Tony Yates, Chatham House
"Disorder is a brilliant extended essay on the troubles of the era in terms of energy, global finance, governance and democracy [...] So much of this tortuously fascinating book gives the background to the global crisis now upon us, specifically in energy and governance."
– Robert Fox, Reaction
"If you want to understand why Russia invaded Ukraine then this book will help."
– Richard Lofthouse, QUAD
"Deftly weaving together the history of energy, economics, and politics, Disorder restores depth to contemporary history. Refusing familiar stereotypes, Thompson offers a truly eye-opening account of our current predicament and points the way to a deeper understanding of the energy transition that lies ahead. Challenging and essential reading."
– Adam Tooze, Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Professor of History, Director of the European Institute, Columbia University
"A remarkable history of the complex ways in which the global energy economy has shaped the wealth and politics of nations. Helen Thompson's command of her subject is second to none. Disorder is revelatory, sobering, and indispensable."
– Gary Gerstle, author of The Rise and Fall of the Neoliberal Order: America and the World during the Free Market Era
"To read Thompson on the history of the past century is to see it in a sudden sharp definition. It is akin to looking through glass after the window-cleaner has been."
– Tom Holland, bestselling author and co-host of The Rest is History podcast
"There could be no better guide than Helen Thompson to the turbulence of the 21st century, with its successive disruptions, from financial crisis to energy transition, from Brexit to emerging geopolitical conflicts. When history seems to have come for us with a vengeance since the turn of the millennium, this magisterial book brings into focus the key structural forces driving, not only recent events, but also the inevitable changes still to come."
– Diane Coyle, Bennett Professor of Public Policy, University of Cambridge
"In this absorbing and wide-ranging study Helen Thompson unravels the complex intersections of oil, money, and democracy for understanding the politics of the last century. She provides an indispensable and illuminating guide to our current predicaments."
– Andrew Gamble, Professor of Politics, University of Sheffield