The big, comprehensive, and recurring reference work is a classic Government publication type. One of my favorites of this kind is the CIA’s annual World Factbook. Since 1980, this massive volume has been a mainstay for anyone interested in the various countries of the world.
Although the Factbook has all kinds of information about a country’s geography, people, government, economy, population, communications, transportation, and military, plus both inset and foldout maps, the section that always draws my attention is “Transnational Issues.” If, as Thomas Carlyle said, “Happy the people whose annals are blank in history,” then happy is the nation whose World Factbook profile has nothing under that heading. The subheads include “Disputes – International,” “Refugees and internally displaced persons,” “Illicit drugs,” and “Trafficking in persons.” It’s amazing how few countries meet this definition of happiness. Of course, many underdeveloped or newly formed nations, like Chad and Moldova, suffer from these ills, but so do Denmark (disputes with Iceland and the UK over the Faeroe Islands continental shelf; Faeroese interest in full independence), New Zealand (territorial claim in Antarctica; amphetamine use), and Portugal (“Portugal does not recognize Spanish sovereignty over the territory of Olivenza based on a difference of interpretation of the 1815 Congress of Vienna and the 1820 treaty of Badajoz”; gateway for the international drug traffic).
Of course, a peaceful disagreement between Spain and Portugal is a long way from the simmering armed conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia, but boundary disputes and international crime are, unhappily, common currency in the world – and what better place to find out about them, and a host of other developments, than the World Factbook? The CIA maintains the Factbook here, or you can get your own copy here.