Recommended Reading

Victor Cha's highly readable and entertaining book offers a fascinating look into the geo-political oddity that is North Korea. Cha writes about North Korea in a way which cuts through the standard 'North Korea as-impenetrable-enigma' view which the public is generally presented with. Rather North Korea is shown to be ruled by ordinary humans like any state, fully aware of the contradictions and absurdities which define their country. The book shows North Koreans reacting to the West, China and Russia - rather than the familiar 'us-responding-and-shaking-our-heads' perspective which constitutes the vast majority of our exposure to North Korea.

Out of Mao's Shadow takes a different look at the paradigm shift and subsequent rapid economic growth which has occurred in China since Deng Xiaoping. Philip P. Pan presents the human face of the socio-political and economic upheaval of the last thirty years. Pan tells the tales of individuals caught up in the changing landscape and how they seek to reconcile the past, present and future. The author introduces readers to a host of characters from the Rich Wife, and Party Boss to the Newspaperman, and Honest Doctor. These characters together with visits to old towns, cemeteries and urban highrises go beyond GDP values and production figures to paint a more personal and empathetic picture of the new China. 

Robert Kaplan's fascinating book is divided into three parts with the first discussing theories of space and power, the rise and fall of nations and the role of geography in framing the evolution of states and their foreign policies. The second section goes into detail on the histories of China, India, Russia, Central Asia, Iran and Turkey. For each country Kaplan charts the evolution of the respective polities and societies from antiquity to the present. The main focus is on the way geographical obstacles and advantages greatly influenced the creation of countries in Asia. Due to the primacy of geography, differing and successive regimes and societies have in the end held similar views of the continent.

Stanley Wolpert's India provides readers with a wide-ranging introduction on a myriad of topics pertaining to the country. With sections ranging from the environment, philosophy, society, to foreign policy, and arts and science, the book gives the reader a holistic glance at one of Asia's oldest civilizations and second biggest polity. Divided into short essays, Wolpert employs an informal, at times almost lyrical style which draws the reader in and provides a flavour of the subcontinent unlike many more prosaic books. Of note is the way the book is organized, so each section informs the following one; India's pre-Raj historical trends re-emerge in the Nehru-Gandhi years, Sanskrit epics sit with Five Year Plans.

How Asia Works looks at how Japan, China, South Korea, Taiwan, Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Thailand have implemented agricultural, industrial and financial policies which have either propelled them towards rapid development and maturation or mired them in dysfunctional systems. Studwell documents how North Asian countries achieved high growth and entered the 21st century as democracies by combing high labour intensity agriculture, industrial subsidies rooted in export results, and a firm hand on the financial sector. Conversely, South Asian countries have been hampered by high tenancy rates, and lack of cohesion between industry and finance.

In The Emperor Far Away David Eimer travels to Xinjiang, Tibet, Yunnan, Heilongjiang, Liaoning, and Jilin. Eimer documents the often tense relationship between Han China and its 55 recognized minorities. A book is a highly enjoyable collection of travel writings in which Eimer interacts with ordinary individuals caught up in the wake of Beijing-ethnic politics. From the Uighurs in the east to China's ethnic Koreans in the west, Eimer seeks to understand how China's non-Han populations are dealing with the country's rapid transformation, documenting their experiences with the "Chinese Dream".

Asia's Cauldron provides a concise and very insightful description of the various economic and political forces shaping South-East Asia. Specifically Kaplan does an admirable job of demonstrating how divergent nation building endeavours impact assertiveness on the international stage. Moreover, the manner in which Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines and other states react to Chinese encroachment is varied and nuanced. The book is very readable, blending history, realpolitik and economics to highlight the complex web of overlapping territorial claims in the region.

Tim Clissold's new book tells the whirlwind story of his efforts in the nascent carbon trading sector in China in during the mid 2000s. Clissold details the various labyrinthine rules, norms and headaches that accompanied doing business in China. The clash of Western and Chinese business culture is entertainingly detailed. The author weaves proverbs and wisdom from various Chinese sages into the 21st century business world to show some of China's fundamental rules. High stakes business adventures are interspersed with Chinese history and advice from Mao, Deng, Sun Tzu and others.

 Mishra's book brings to light the common treads in the various anti-Western awakenings throughout Asia. Moreover, the book demonstrates to Western readers that Asian responses to Western dominance were varied, subtle, and not merely reactionary. Another asset of Mishra's work is to highlight various Asian anti-colonial luminaries who are less well known in the West. From Ottoman Turkey to Meiji Japan, the book offers a whirlwind regional tour of great depth and clarity.

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