Book Review – 2034: A Novel of the Next World War

Authors: Elliot Ackerman & James Stavridis

Publication Date: March 9, 2021

Length: 320 pages

Read Date(s): April 18, 2021 – April 20, 2021


Goodreads Synopsis

From two former military officers and award-winning authors, a chillingly authentic, geopolitical thriller that imagines a naval clash between the US and China in the South China Sea in 2034–and the path from there to a nightmarish global conflagration.

On March 12, 2034, US Navy Commodore Sarah Hunt is on the bridge of her flagship, the guided missile destroyer USS John Paul Jones, conducting a routine freedom of navigation patrol in the South China Sea when her ship detects an unflagged trawler in clear distress, smoke billowing from its bridge. On that same day, US Marine aviator Major Chris “Wedge” Mitchell is flying an F35E Lightning over the Strait of Hormuz, testing a new stealth technology as he flirts with Iranian airspace. By the end of that day, Wedge will be an Iranian prisoner, and Sarah Hunt’s destroyer will lie at the bottom of the sea, sunk by the Chinese Navy. Iran and China have clearly coordinated their moves, which involve the use of powerful new forms of cyber weaponry that render US ships and planes defenseless. In a single day, America’s faith in its military’s strategic pre-eminence is in tatters. A new, terrifying era is at hand.

So begins a disturbingly plausible work of speculative fiction, co-authored by an award-winning novelist and decorated Marine veteran and the former commander of NATO, a legendary admiral who has spent much of his career strategically out maneuvering America’s most tenacious adversaries. Written with a powerful blend of geopolitical sophistication and literary, human empathy, 2034 takes us inside the minds of a global cast of characters–Americans, Chinese, Iranians, Russians, Indians–as a series of arrogant miscalculations on all sides leads the world into an intensifying international storm. In the end, China and the United States will have paid a staggering cost, one that forever alters the global balance of power.

Everything in 2034 is an imaginative extrapolation from present-day facts on the ground combined with the authors’ years working at the highest and most classified levels of national security. Sometimes it takes a brilliant work of fiction to illuminate the most dire of warnings: 2034 is all too close at hand, and this cautionary tale presents the reader a dark yet possible future that we must do all we can to avoid.

My Review

I picked this book up on a whim while browsing the new release shelves at Barnes & Noble. I was drawn in by the bold coloring and in-your-face style of the title on the cover, and the blurb intrigued me. I thought this would be a war book depicting a potential future skirmish (and in some ways it was exactly that), but it ended up being a character-driven book about the politics behind such a war.

From the beginning of this book, I was hooked. The first two chapters were filled with suspense and the pacing was great. I enjoyed getting to meet the four main characters, and the situations in which they found themselves were all interesting. I liked getting to see the perspectives and struggles of the different individuals as they navigated very different aspects of the snowballing crisis. Then, as the story continued, the pacing bogged down considerably. The plot also became somewhat stale with repeated attacks and counterattacks in what seemed like a never-ending cascade of one-upping between the major players. The logic behind the escalating attacks also fell flat and did not make much sense, but maybe that was the point. It mostly boiled down to each side needing to attack again and again with growing ferocity to make sure they looked the strongest. If anything, the book gives a dire warning of the potential impacts of escalation rather than diplomacy.

I enjoyed all four of the main characters throughout the book. They all had well-established arcs that ended in satisfying ways. However, the focus on these four characters is one thing that could be considered a drawback about the book. For a book about war, there really aren’t that many descriptions of battle because most of the main characters are involved in strategizing rather than the fighting. The authors also skipped over describing some of the most impactful moments of the war and chose to briefly describe them via news headlines seen by the main characters instead of showing them in-depth while they were happening.

The thought-provoking hypotheticals about the waning influence of the United States were very interesting. The book really made me think about what the impacts of hyper-polarization in the post-Trump age will be for the United States’ standing on the world stage. Is the United States still the country that demands the respect of the world and ends conflicts decisively? Or is it being consumed from the inside by partisan politics and diminishing its impact by spreading military throughout the world in conflicts that cannot be won? These are all important questions the book attempts to point out.

Overall, 2034: A Novel of the Next World War was an interesting, character-driven what-if story about the politics and blunders that could lead to a third world war. It also provides a grim warning to individuals of the United States and poses interesting questions about the current state of American politics. If you are looking for a war story with details about battles, this is probably not the book for you. However, if you want an interesting story following four well thought out characters involved in the politics behind escalation, this book might be for you. I enjoyed the story for what it was and found the thought-provoking content to be interesting, but I wasn’t a fan of the telling rather than showing used throughout the book or the somewhat boring and repetitive plot after the suspense of the beginning was spent. Therefore, I rate this book 3 out of 5 stars and am glad I picked it up on a whim.

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