For what it's worth -- a quick reading list that I put together last year for a few colleagues working on stabilisation strategy in Central Africa.
Herbst J, States and power in Africa: Comparative Lessons in Authority and Control
- Probably the best-known study of how statebuilding on the African continent has dealt with the challenges of distance.
Scott JC, The art of not being governed: An anarchist history of upland Southeast Asia
and Seeing like a state: How certain schemes to improve the human condition have failed
- Companion volumes. The first tackles the difficulties of understanding human geography and factoring it into policy. The second looks at how these difficulties enable resistance, co-optation or avoidance of attempts to govern.
Galula J, Counter-insurgency warfare: Theory and practice, etc, with maps
- All in the title. One of the classic texts of counter-insurgency, notable for its heavy emphasis on geography. Striking how closely the conditions he describes correspond to those of many contemporary fragile states.
Ghemawat P, Redefining global strategy: Crossing borders in a world where distance still matters
- Sets out an analytic framework for describing how distance matters in terms of culture, administration, physical geography and environment. Intended for business but equally applicable to public functions.
Luttwak EN, The grand strategy of the Byzantine Empire
- Perhaps the classic examination of how weak states project power over long distances. Brings to life the mixed-sovereignty arrangements that were the rule for much of human history.
Boone C, Political Topographies of the African State: Territorial Authority and Institutional Choice
- Study of centre-periphery political relationships in Senegal, Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana, and the fundamentally “uneven political topography” that has resulted.
The urban / rural divide
Kilcullen D, Out of the mountains: The Coming Age of the Urban Guerrilla
- Elaborates some basic distinctions between rural and urban environments, and connects with “big trends” that are now re-shaping the developing world
Sanders D, Arrival city: How the Largest Migration in History is Reshaping Our World
- Links between the rural and the urban at the household level. How geographic space in even the poorest regions is overlaid with a complex web of economic and social relationships.
Bates R, Markets and states in tropical Africa: The political basis of agricultural policies
- Another perspective on links between rural and urban, at the level of government policy. An introduction to how rural interests can be distorted and manipulated in national capitals.
Useful case studies
Quick ID, Follies in fragile states: How international stabilisation failed in the Congo
- Ground-level account of how efforts to reform and strengthen the national government struggled with long distances and huge variation.
Callaghy T, The state-society struggle: Zaire in comparative perspective
- Detailed study of the experience of sub-national government, and the day-to-day of managing these relationships.
Malkasian C, War comes to Garmser: Thirty years of conflict on the Afghan frontier
- Remarkably thorough look at district-level political geography in Afghanistan, and how control has ebbed and flowed over the decades.
Barfield T, Afghanistan: A Cultural and Political History
- A comparative history of governance approaches within Afghanistan, with the argument that the “swiss cheese model” was the most effective.
Levine RM, Vale of Tears: Revisiting the Canudos Massacre in Northeastern Brazil, 1893-1897
- Fascinating account of rural political economy, and the drivers and difficulties of back-country unrest
Thomas E, South Sudan: A Slow Liberation
- Review of the politics of Jonglei state in South Sudan, riven by both internal tensions and shifting relationships with the two capitals of Khartoum and Juba.