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Before settling in for pleasurable summer books, read Graham Allison’s “Destined for War: Can America and China escape Thucydides’s Trap?” A warning label: It’s going to scare the hell out of you.

It starts with the Athenian historian’s chronicle of the conflict between Sparta and Athens in the fifth century B.C. as a way to tackle the larger question of whether war can be averted when an aggressive rising nation threatens a dominant power. Allison, a renowned Harvard scholar and national security expert, studied 16 such cases over the past 500 years; in 12 there was war.

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