I don’t know about anyone else but, for me, a new Country Studies volume is always a welcome sight. These handsome white hardbacks with the really striking black and red cover graphics are easy on the eyes and first-rate mental nourishment for fact seekers everywhere. The latest one, on Colombia, caught my eye and made me dig around a little for some background on the rest.
The Country Studies/Area Handbooks series, to give it a more official ring, has been funded over the years by the Department of the Army and, since FY 2004, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Strategic Plans and Policy Directorate (J-5 to those in the know). Since 1988, the Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress has prepared these excellent books. I haven’t been able to run down how far back in time the series extends, but it’s been around for more than 30 years – first as Area Handbooks (when the volumes had green covers) and then Country Studies.
Country Studies present “a description and analysis of the historical setting and the social, economic, political, and national security systems and institutions of countries throughout the world.” They originally were intended to focus primarily on lesser-known areas of the world or regions in which U.S. forces might be deployed, so not every nation is included. For more about the series, go here.
Like all of these books, the Colombia volume presents a concise history of the country, followed by sections on geography, population, religions, education, and social movements. Economic structure, transportation and communications, financial regulations and markets, government and politics, the military and national security – you name it, and the subject is covered, and covered well. Of particular interest are a brief section on Illegal Drugs and a historical and political overview of social violence and the development of insurgencies in modern Colombia. I can’t think of a better serious introduction to the problems and prospects of this key Latin American country than this book.
Although most of the Country Studies series done in the past 25 years or so are available online only, printed copies of Colombia, North Korea, Iran, and Cuba are still available. You also can find these and other Country Studies in libraries (WorldCat is a good search tool) and via various bricks and mortar and online used book outlets.