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Reviews


Palestine seen through a South African lens
Crimes, Victims and Witnesses - Apartheid in Palestine
by Mats Svensson

A sad, reflective work on the how physical and legal barriers in Palestine resemble apartheid-era South Africa, this book uses compelling photography and cryptic anecdotes to illustrate the destruction of the land and its culture. Written by a Swedish United Nations staffer who worked on the Israel-Palestine morass, it acknowledges is that diplomats are simply playing a game, unable to truly help. - Jim Miles (Aug 4, '14)


Pakistan's proclivity for war
The Warrior State: Pakistan in the Contemporary World
by T V Paul

Author T V Paul adds to the numerous unflattering descriptions of Pakistan with his depiction of a "warrior state" whose security forces have outgrown all other institutions and activities and where radical Islamization and its attendant obscurantism have been the consequences of state policy. His explanation for why this continues is elaborate and thought-provoking. - Ehsan Ahrari (Jul 28, '14)


The US-Pakistan ties that bind
No Exit from Pakistan: America's Tortured Relationship with Islamabad by Daniel S Markey

The author argues that even as Pakistanis grow increasingly hostile to the United States', America's interests in South Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East mean that Washington can ill-afford to disengage from Pakistan. Maneuvers by the Obama administration such as managing anti-Americanism sentiment by keeping a lower profile ring true with the policy prescriptions presented, yet the book suffers in places from simplistic reasoning. - Majid Mahmood (Jun 20, '14)


US stuck between dispensability and decline
Dispensable Nation: American Foreign Policy in Retreat
by Vali Nasr

While offering a harsh critique of the President Barack Obama's policies in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and across the Arab World, the author argues that the United States is not declining. This ignores that while the United States became an "indispensable nation" by implementing its stimulating post-World War II vision, it has failed since to develop a comparable vision for the future that is both realistic and doable.
- Ehsan M Ahrari (Jun 13, '14)


A struggle against Israeli soft power
The Battle for Justice in Palestine by Ali Abunimah

The author believes the Palestinian struggle will benefit from a growing awareness of Israeli actions brought about by a "boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement" similar to that which increased international isolation of apartheid-era South Africa. One of the more interesting parts of the work is its exploration of how neoliberal economic patterns have been imposed on Palestine. - Jim Miles (Jun 6, '14)


Re-imagining the caliphate
The Inevitable Caliphate? A History of the Struggle for Global Islamic Union, 1924 to the Present by Reza Pankhurst

A forceful and authoritative attempt at elevating debate over the Islamic caliphate beyond Western elitist perceptions of extremism and radicalization, this book offers a clear-sighted analysis of the movements that have placed the caliphate at center of their revivalist discourse. The book's biggest flaw is arguably the author's reductionist approach toward the potential constituency of the caliphate.
- Mahan Abedin (May 23, '14)


Keeping peace with total war
To Make and Keep Peace Among Ourselves and With All Nations by Angelo M Codevilla

White Anglo-Saxon Protestant interpretations of history are central to the argument this book propounds: that the US needs constant, decisive warfare to ensure its own interests and security. While the thesis suffers because the author fails to recognize that a Washington focused on maintaining control doesn't share his populist values, it offers useful insights into the thinking of the American conservative right. - Jim Miles (May 16, '14)


Deciphering Imperial China's regionalism
Mr Selden's Map of China by Timothy Brook

This well-illustrated exploration of how the discovery of a long-lost 17th century map of China and Southeast Asia has challenged perceptions of Imperial China as an introverted power contains exquisitely accurate depictions of regional sea routes. With analysis underlining that the Middle Kingdom was a maritime player long before 21st-century tensions, this account is a valuable introduction to a remarkable document. - Michael Rank (May 13, '14)


Hong Kong's identity crisis
No City for Slow Men by Jason Y Ng

While this collection of compelling essays finds delight in Hong Kong's food, customs and vibrant people, the native Hong Kong author doesn't shirk in his criticism of flaws such as its inequality, discrimination and bureaucracy. A harsh but affectionate appraisal of the confused and conflicted post-handover generation, the book sees little hope of this "foster child" city finding its true identity. - Kent Ewing (May 9, '14)


Shaking the pillars of Israel's history
The Idea of Israel - A History of Power and Knowledge by Ilan Pappe

This exploration of how Israel shaped a historic narrative to create a sense of nationhood and political direction recounts the attacks on historians in the 1990s who challenged the traditional Zionist discourse. The takeaway from this complex book is that issues surrounding the manipulation of victimhood have the potential to erode the foundations that the modern state is built on. - Jim Miles (May 2, '14)


Flash boys can't match central banks
Flash Boys - Revolt on Wall Street
by Michael Lewis

Michael Lewis's latest book uses accessible language to describe the complex algorithms involved in high-frequency trading, with colorful prose and oddball characters helping to sketch out the "scandal". However, it fails to explore the role of Wall Street strategy departments in inflating the prospects of markets, and to note the bigger scam involving central banks. - Chan Akya (Apr 25, '14)


The phantom menace in Palestine
The Israeli Solution by Caroline Glick

The "problem" of Palestinian refugees has some rare distinctions. They have remained in refugee camps for seven decades, while comparable large refugee groups have long been assimilated into other populations; and their actual numbers are below the official figures bandied about by various authorities. Ms Glick draws a bold conclusion: Israel should annex Judea and Samaria - the West Bank - just as it did Jerusalem. (Mar 31, '14)


Modern obsession with primitive art
Savage Harvest: A Tale of Cannibals, Colonialism and Michael Rockefeller's Tragic Quest for Primitive Art by Carl Hoffman

Meticulous research drives intriguing conclusions over the mysterious disappearance in 1961 of Michael Rockefeller, the young art collector son of then-New York governor Nelson Rockefeller, who is suspected of having been eaten by cannibals in Indonesia. The tale is far more fascinating if read as an examination of the West's dangerous obsession with primitive man and the art he makes. - Philip Smucker (Mar 7, '14)

Islam outside an imperial lens
Re-Emerging Islamic Civilization by Eric Walberg

This alternative history of Islam - full title From Postmodernism to Postsecularism - Re-Emerging Islamic Civilization explores how its modern destiny was twisted by oil, money, imperialism and despotism, as well as by political prejudices conjured up by European empires. Arguing that today's global capitalism is inimical to Islamic notions of human dignity and social justice, the author recasts the religion as "a treasure to be rediscovered by the West". - Jim Miles (Feb 14, '14)

China's champion of modernity
Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China by Jung Chang

Wild Swans author Jung Chung upturns conventional depictions of Empress Dowager Cixi as a murderous, manipulative ruler to present her as a reformer who pulled China out of medieval feudalism and into the modern age. While detailed research and riveting storytelling help to construct an alluring argument, at times Chang appears too enamored of her subject. - Kent Ewing (Dec 23, '13)

Destination Afghanistan? Write a will ...
Facing the Taliban by Anoja Wijeyesekera

The risks involved in the author's 1997 posting to Taliban-ruled Afghanistan as a UNICEF worker were driven home to when she was advised to write a will before leaving home. Anoja Wijeyesekera's account of her experiences not only savages hardcore Islamic fundamentalists but also lambastes the United States for indiscriminate bombings that killed many civilians. - Thalif Deen (Dec 20, '13)

Chinese literature marches West
Mr Ma and Son by Lao She; Cat Country by Lao She

The first in a set of contemporary and classical Chinese literature to be published in English by Penguin, Mr Ma and Son, is a natural choice due to its Western-style composition as a comedy of manners with social critique steeped in realism. The satirical science fiction novel Cat Country is by the same author, but is an entirely different proposition. - Muhammad Cohen (Dec 13, '13)

Images of a dark era
The Face of Resistance: Aung San Suu Kyi and Burma's Fight for Freedom by Aung Zaw
Brave New Burma by Nic Dunlop

While these books take different approaches to analyzing Myanmar's recent past, with one offering first-person insight into Myanmar's pro-democracy movement and the other exploring the repression through striking images and words, it is clear both authors share a deeply held cynicism over recent democratic steps. Their overarching message is that the military remains all-powerful. - Bertil Lintner (Nov 22, '13)

Hell on the home front
They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return from America's Wars: The Untold Story by Ann Jones

Piercing the patriotic silence of US soldiers returning from Afghanistan, this unwaveringly human narrative reveals how physical and mental wounds mercilessly torment combatants and their families. No screed against US foreign policy, the book instead uses brutal examples of destroyed lives to highlight war's inhumanity.
- Prashanth Kamalakanthan (Nov 8, '13)

Reminiscence of a resistance
Golden Parasol: A Daughter's Memoir of Burma
by Wendy Law-Yone

Drawn from a manuscript by Edward Law-Yone, the firebrand editor of one of Myanmar's pre-1962 coup English-language dailies, this memoir by his daughter weaves in with the tumultuous history of their family life details of Law-Yone's failed efforts to form an exiled resistance. As a result, her rich personal account of modern Myanmar ends up as much more than an autobiography. - Bertil Lintner (Nov 1, '13)

Crushed by the Chinese dream
Five Star Billionaire by Tash Aw

As this tale of five new arrivals in Shanghai unfolds, the narrative that gradually draws them together builds a picture of the city as a glittering, ruthless devourer of their cash - and fame-fueled dreams. While the book succeeds in showing how the modern "Chinese dream" is as illusory as its American counterpart, an overplaying of coincidences sees it descend into heavy-handed plot manipulation. - Kent Ewing (Oct 11, '13)

How the West denied China's law
Legal Orientalism: China, the US and Modern Law by Teemu Ruskola

This important book traces the remarkable hold Orientalist views demonizing China as lawless still have on political and cultural narratives about China's laws and legal institutions. It argues that at a time the word needs more accurate knowledge of Chinese legal concepts, present-day reforms equating to a "self-Orientalism" make that unlikely. - Dinesh Sharma (Sep 27, '13)

Military matters in Myanmar
Soldiers and Diplomacy in Burma by Renaud Egreteau and Larry Jagan. Strong Soldiers, Failed Revolution
by Yoshihiro Nakanishi

Outside focus on Myanmar's new civilian authorities and recent economic changes has helped the military, still the country's most powerful institution, to retreat into the shadows and to evade similar scrutiny. These two books help to shed light on that space, though both fall short of their objectives. - Bertil Lintner (Sep 20, '13)

How oil poisoned Gulf governance
Collaborative Colonialism: The Political Economy of Oil in the Persian Gulf by Hossein Askari

Given the "collaborative colonialism" relationship between Western powers and Arab countries, with callous, often corrupt, regimes backed militarily in return for secure oil supplies, Askari sees little motivation for Gulf countries to improve governance despite increasingly restive populations. His suggestion of intergenerational oil funds as an alternative reflects a compassion for the region that runs throughout the book - Robert E Looney (Sep 13, '13)

The dark heart of West's Iran obsession
A Dangerous Delusion: Why the West Is Wrong About Nuclear Iran by Peter Oborne and David Morrison

Using concise research, this work argues that Iran's readiness to accept monitoring and lack of weapons-grade uranium enrichment make a mockery of Western hype over a supposed nuclear program threatening the security of Israel and Gulf states. Its only questionable conclusion is that the US wants to prevent Iran from becoming a major Middle East power - bitter memories is one more likely explanation. - Peter Jenkins (Sep 6, '13)

How colonial Britain divided to rule
Define and Rule: Native as Political Identity by Mahmood Mamdani

Following a series of revolts, the British Empire was forced to recalibrate its style of indirect rule. Instead of merely differentiating between conquerors and the conquered, it now drew lines between distinct political identities and between natives according to tribe. This work argues that this not only led to local administrations becoming racialized, it also helped create our modern preoccupation with defining and managing difference. - Piyush Mathur (Aug 2, '13)


What China really wants
Wealth and Power: China’s Long March to the Twenty-First Century by Orville Schell and John Delur

Tracing Chinese history through the eyes of its most influential leaders, this work proposes that all but one were motivated by the simple pursuit of wealth, power or both. It was these objectives that led China to dabble in republicanism, anarchism or "whatever ism of the time", writes the authors. Now that the country is wealthy and powerful, they conclude, a constitutional society may just be possible. - George Gao (Jul 26, '13)


How Jews navigated Bolshevik currents
Russian Jews Between the Reds and the Whites, 1917-1920 by Oleg Budnitskii

Western historians approaching the subject of Russian Jews during the Civil War are too often influenced by ideology - conservatives paint the Bolsheviks as anti-Semitic fascists, while leftists sketch out a pro-Jewish, progressive regime. This book succeeds in portraying a more accurate central path. Neither the Reds nor Whites favored ethnic-religious pogroms - but only because it was a politically expedient stance. - Dmitry Shlapentokh (Jul 12, '13)

When will the dirty wars end?
Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield by Rick Rowley and Jeremy Scahill

Using investigative reports, this film argues that from cover-ups of Afghan night-raid atrocities to extrajudicial assassinations, a globally extended US militarism is being used to prevent anything undermining the US image of dominance being projected overseas. If it weren't for journalism exposing dirty wars, knowledge of such abuses might never escape the affected hotspots.
- Steve Fake (Jun 14, '13)

Orphan of the collective
The Elimination by Rithy Panh

Cambodian-born filmmaker Rithy Panh's brave account of life stripped bare by the Khmer Rouge is helped by the inclusion of interview exchanges with Duch, the death-camp warden sentenced to life in prison by a UN-backed tribunal. Yet Panh is at his best writing about his own survival as a teenaged orphan among an adopted collective of killers. - Joe Freeman (May 31, '13)

Portraits of an identity crisis
Lens and the Guerrilla: Insurgency in India's Northeast by Rajeev Bhattacharyya
Che in Paona Bazaar: Tales of Exiles and Belonging from India's Northeast by Kishalay Bhattacharjee

Scores of local rebel groups are active in the seven states east of the narrow "Siliguri Neck" connecting the northeast with the rest of India, but the motivations and people behind these movements are understudied. By taking entirely different approaches to the problems of identity in the volatile region, two new books shine complementary light. - Bertil Lintner (May 10, '13)

Banker tries bait and switch
Nothing Gained by Phillip Y Kim

When this tale of death and mystery in a crisis-hit US investment bank relates how a life built on arrogance, privilege and luck can rapidly unravel, it's a pleasure to watch high-fliers squirm. However, the would-be international business thriller pushes its most compelling characters offstage and offers unsatisfying substitutes. - Muhammad Cohen (Apr 26, '13)

How humanitarians trumped neo-cons in Libya
Slouching Towards Sirte: NATO's War on Libya and Africa by Maximilian Forte

The succession of human-rights based scare stories used to justify Western intervention in Libya, from the looming bloodbath in Benghazi to the African mercenaries and the "mass rapes", underscore the colonial mentality of the liberal lynch mob who backed the invasion. While it's similar to the smoking gun deception over Iraq, at least the neo-cons never claimed to be kind. - Dan Glazebrook (Apr 25, '13)

The Real North Korea
The Real North Korea: Life and Politics in the Failed Stalinist Utopia by Andrei Lankov

Andrei Lankov turns his critical eye on the North Korean system and attempts to do the impossible: describe a country that has spent considerable time and effort defying description. If anyone can have a shot at delivering the goods on the "real North Korea'', he is the man, and with a few exceptions, he does a very good job. - John Feffer (Apr 22, '13)

Living (and dying) in the shadows
Hong Kong Noir by Feng Chi-shun

Gruesome tales from the minds of Hong Kong's most notorious serial killers and gangsters fascinate and appall in equal measure. While the 15 "factual" stories in the book sometimes mobilize the author's imagination, the squeamish detail in the former pathologist's writing will likely leave some readers cold. - Kent Ewing (Apr 19, '13)

Searching the globe for China Inc
China's Silent Army: The Pioneers, Traders, Fixers and Workers Who Are Remaking the World in Beijing's Image by Juan Pablo Cardenal and Heriberto Araujo

As Chinese business expands overseas, it is increasingly important to understand how mainland companies and Beijing interact as the latter steers the economic juggernaut. This book unravels some aspects of how Chinese diplomacy and business cooperate to serve geopolitical goals, but it mistakenly implicates Chinese immigrants in search of a better life in the economic exploitation being orchestrated by their leaders. - Muhammad Cohen (Mar 22, '13)

Judaism's ancient voice of reason
The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture by Yoram Hazony

The Hebrew Bible has long been misinterpreted within the Christian framework of revelation, though Christian concepts such miracles and eternal life are conspicuously absent from core tenets of Judaism. This book sets out to remind readers that like the works of great Greek philosophers, ancient Hebrew scriptures are entirely products of universal reason. - Friedrich Hansen (Feb 8, '13)

Judaism's ancient voice of reason
The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture by Yoram Hazony

The Hebrew Bible has long been misinterpreted within the Christian framework of revelation, though Christian concepts such miracles and eternal life are conspicuously absent from core tenets of Judaism. This book sets out to remind readers that like the works of great Greek philosophers, ancient Hebrew scriptures are entirely products of universal reason. - Friedrich Hansen (Feb 8, '13)

Huddled masses
Refugee Hotel (Voice of Witness) by Gabriele Stabile and Juliet Linderman

Striking photographs and moving personal accounts present a firsthand look at the confusion-filled first days of refugees in the United States. The stories of refugees from Bhutan, Myanmar, Burundi, Ethiopia, Iraq, and Somalia illustrate the variety of calamities that drive people to flee their home countries. - Renee Lott (Feb 1, '13)

Can Asians be funny?
The Curious Diary of Mr Jam by Nury Vittachi

A endearing collection of Hong Kong humorist Nury Vittachi's observations on everything from global politics to family life, this "diary" of his alter-ego Mr Jam also sets out to prove that despite blacklisting by oppressive regimes, post-modern Asian vidushaks, or jesters, can indeed raise a smile. The author succeeds, it just takes a few too many pages to get there. - Kent Ewing (Jan 18, '13)

Hirsute iconoclasts
Joseph Anton - A Memoir by Salman Rushdie.
Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Salman Rushdie's most recent book describes the lead-up to the infamous death sentence imposed on him by Ayatollah Khomeini, while Nassim Nicholas Taleb's provides background to his examinations of probability in finance. This makes the works seem incomparable, but both are brave accounts of presenting counter-logic to a prevailing consensus, and both explore the radical afterthought that comes from post-trauma. - Chan Akya (Dec 7, '12)

A Wolfe loose as Miami meets Moscow
Back to Blood: A Novel by Tom Wolfe The return of Tom

Wolfe sees the "New Journalism" exponent expose a Russian oligarch in a plot to make hundreds of millions of dollars through donating fake art to a Miami art museum. While the romp through Russian art and Cuban-American montes veneris does get to the heart of the Cold War eventually, it's no triumph of investigative journalism, fictional or real.
- John Helmer (Nov 16, '12)

Making Korea possible
Korea: The Impossible Country by Daniel Tudor South

Korea is far from being a dull place, and has much more to offer the visitor than kimchi and K-pop. From "neophilia" to Shamanism, Tudor reveals cultural and political concepts missed by less-informed Western observers while exploding the myth that this is a conservative and isolated country.
- James Pearson (Nov 2, '12)

Curse of the donor
Aid Dependency in Cambodia: How Foreign Assistance Undermines Democracy by Sophal Ear

Billions of dollars in aid has poured into Cambodia over the past two decades, and while the economy has grown it is on shaky foundations, with real development languishing in a mire of corruption ruled over by a predatory elite. Modern Cambodia is a kleptocracy cum thugocracy, writes the author, and the international community, led by the UN, is its enabler. - Sebastian Strangio (Oct 26, '12)

Tamerlane through Central Asian eyes
The Legendary Biographies of Tamerlane: Islam and Heroic Apocrypha in Central Asia by Ron Sela

This glimpse into how Central Asia's evolving view of the legendary 14th-century ruler Timur (Tamerlane) highlights how the region's impoverished societies for centuries held up Timur as a symbol of past greatness and promise of future glory. In post-Soviet discourse the cult of Timur was re-launched under Uzbekistan leader Islam Karimov - overlooking that Uzbeks were his sworn enemies. - Dmitry Shlapentokh (Oct 19, '12)

A one-sided history
Modern China-Myanmar Relations: Dilemmas of Mutual Dependence by David I Steinberg and Hongwei Fan
Given the wide-ranging hypocrisy dominating the West's embrace of Myanmar's "normalization" and China's role in the transition, honest analysis of what is really going on in is scarce. While this book does little to fill the void, it does coherently outline China's economic aspirations in Myanmar and provide valuable data on cross-border trade. - Bertil Lintner (Oct 5, '12)

Unity in diversity: NAM's nuclear politics
Nuclear Politics and the Non-Aligned Movement by William Potter and Gaukhar Mukhatzhanova

This book offers valuable insights into how in a post-9/11 revival the Non-Aligned Movement has shed its outdated image and create non-proliferation initiatives that have put Israel and its Western defenders on the back foot. While summizing well the complexity of NAM's nuclear politics, the authors fail to grasp how the International Atomic Energy Agency is manipulated by Western powers.
- Kaveh L Afrasiabi (Sep 28, '12)

Chinese juggernaut
World.Wide.Web by Bertil Lintner

Seemingly insignificant stopovers by US diplomats in Asia-Pacific backwaters are one pointer to the expansion of Chinese interests in the region. The author has done an excellent job of tracing the country's increased role over the past three decades, but the absence of some developments means the work already seems dated.
- Kent Ewing (Sep 14, '12)

The nudists and the diplomat's daughter
Midnight in Peking by Paul French

Written in a racy style that occasionally veers too close to parody, this is a fascinating look at the brutal slaying of a young Englishwoman in Beijing during the run-up to World War II. The victim herself now lies under the modern city's Second Ring Road, but the author has told her tragic story, and that of her bereaved father who never accepted the official investigation into the murder, vividly and expertly.
- Michael Rank (Aug 31, '12)

The West, the Gulf and China: An oil-fueled triangle
China and the Persian Gulf, ed Bryce Wakefield and Susan L Levenstein

As China continues its rise, its vast energy requirements are increasing its influence in the Middle East, source of more than two-fifths of its crude oil. China has replaced the United States as Saudi Arabia's top export partner and Beijing is taking advantage of the West's demonization of Iran to do business in the Islamic Republic. Yet neither oil buyer can force the other out from the Persian Gulf. - Giorgio Cafiero(Aug 24, '12)

Iran nuclear diplomacy: An insider's take
National Security and Nuclear Diplomacy,
by Hassan Rowhani

Hassan Rowhani, Iran's nuclear negotiator for 22 months during Mohammad Khatami's presidency, continues to influence the debate on how Tehran deals with the West. His book, detailing disagreements within the establishment, is recommended reading for anyone interested in understanding Iran's post-revolutionary politics and how a changing power structure has transformed decision-making from one-man rule to a collective enterprise. - Farideh Farhi (Aug 10, '12)

Marketing guru chooses a tough sell
The End of Cheap China: Economic and Cultural Trends That Will Disrupt the World by Shaun Rein

No longer a mere source of cheap labor, China is becoming the world's most compelling consumer market. The author not only has stellar credentials to describe this new reality, and offer advice on how foreign business can cash in on it, he does so in a clear and highly readable style. It's his spin on politics that falls flat. - Muhammad Cohen (Aug 3, '12)  

The 'real' story is the less obvious
Three Ways of Thought in Ancient China by Arthur Waley
Because they are familiar, to some degree, to Westerners, the book's treatment of Taoism and Confucianism may be of most interest to readers. Yet it was the third way of thought, "realism", that largely guided the evolution of China. - Dmitry Shlapentokh (Jul 20, '12)

Living large in Hong Kong
Walking the Tycoons' Rope by Robert Wang

This autobiography by a lawyer who found success in the circles of Hong Kong's mega-rich, only to be brought down by that same world of greed and heartlessness, begins in a very different environment, of poverty and tragedy in the communist mainland. A fascinating look back at a city of dreams that no longer exists, the book is also timely, as resentment against the tycoon class grows in Hong Kong.
- Kent Ewing (Jul 13, '12)

Internet under their thumb
Consent of the Networked: The Worldwide Struggle for Internet Freedom by Rebecca MacKinnon

United States-based companies happily profit from overseas Internet censorship - most notably in China, while at home Facebook, Google, and government officials exert feudal rule over cyberspace. MacKinnon draws on a rich history of classical liberal thought to explore the real threat to digital freedoms. - Geoffrey Cain (Jul 10, '12)

China's take-off riddle
China Airborne by James Fallows

Fallows' work, nominally about China's ambitious commercial aviation sector, opens far broader issues vital to future international relations, such as how far Western partisanship and passivity contributed to China's momentum over the past 30 years when it should have provoked action and investment. - Benjamin Shobert (Jul 5, '12)

Rationalizing US Middle East policy
The Arab Uprising: The Unfinished Revolutions of the New Middle East, by Marc Lynch

The range covered by Lynch in a work designed to reflect the recent complex and murky developments in the Middle East from Tunisia to Bahrain and Yemen, results in some essential reading for the student of the region. Yet he falls short in many ways, not least in his failings in considering socio-economic structures, the absence of an adequate theoretical framework, and an overly superficial grasp of United States involvement. - Kaveh L Afrasiabi (Jun 29, '12)

Mindset of a mass murderer
Facing the Torturer: Inside the Mind of a War Criminal
by Francois Bizot


A searing personal account of the suffering the author endured as a prisoner of the Khmer Rouge in the early 1970s, this book delves deep into the mental makeup of his tormentor, the infamous "Comrade Duch". Haunted by his own ghosts over the circumstances of his release, Bizot explores why Duch, an evidently intelligent man, became a mass murderer. - Bertil Lintner (Jun 22, '12)

A window into North Korea's art world
Exploring North Korean Arts edited by Rudiger Frank

This collection of essays on North Korean visual arts, literature and music offers invaluable historical and theoretical perspective on an art culture that's as kitsch as it is cynically propagandistic. Postage stamps of American soldiers being killed and paintings of waves, waterfalls and rivers predictably promote slavish devotion to the Kim cult. Its less clear what motivated philatelic depictions of the late Princess Diana.
- Michael Rank (Jun 15, '12)

A drone-eat-drone world
Barely a decade after America's drone wars began, the unmanned hunter-killers are set to fill the global skies, with initial dreams of technological perfection giving way to the reality that as their use soars, so will the number of dead civilians on the ground. But drone warfare is here to stay, and will escalate as other nation's acquire more remotely controlled weaponized hardware. - Nick Turse (Jun 1, '12)

Cherry-picking from China's success
What the US Can Learn from China by Ann Lee

This book forces the reader to confront China's growth in the midst of America's decline, drawing attention to the reasons US politics became too self-serving, too short-sighted and too partisan. The author doesn't argue the Chinese approach is flawless, but she does hold up China's single-minded fixation on economic growth and leadership process based on experience as examples US policymakers must consider. - Benjamin Shobert (May 18, '12)

Mainstream political science masks Western clientelism
The Rise and Fall of Arab Presidents For Life
by Roger Owen

This study of repressive modes of governance in the Arab Middle East falls flat due to a failure to examine the West's historical role in perpetuating those authoritarian regimes. By whitewashing the legacy of interventionism, such works prevent a better understanding of how clientelism delayed democratization from below and kept the region a "subordinate sub-system" in global politics.
- Kaveh L Afrasiabi (May 11, '12)

When heaven and earth shook in China
The Death of Mao: The Tangshan Earthquake and the Birth of the New China by James Palmer

As a devastating earthquake struck the Chinese city of Tangshan on a sweltering summer's night in July 1979, killing an estimated 650,000, a series of political events that would culminate in the Gang of Four's expulsion were starting in Beijing. Recounting days of despair and deceit that helped forge modern China, this insightful work suggests political reform did little for disaster management.
- Michael Rank (May 4, '12)

Anti-India agenda costs Pakistan dearly
Pakistan on the Brink: The Future of America, Pakistan and Afghanistan by Ahmed Rashid

Offering bleak but compelling insights into how the Pakistani military elite's obsession with defeating India has crippled national development and destabilized Afghanistan, this work argues that as a war-weary Taliban approach the United States seeking peace, Pakistani intelligence will increasingly rely on the Haqqani network to further its quest for strategic depth. - Brian M Downing (Apr 27, '12)  

Green lessons from India's past
Dharma and Ecology of Hindu Communities: Sustenance and Sustainability by Pankaj Jain

Green lessons from India's past Exploring how three historic Indian communities - the Swadhyayis, the Bishnois and the Bhils - became forerunners of a tree-hugging ethos of "dharmic ecology", the book offers insight into how Hinduism-inspired environmental methods and ethics in rural India are relevant to the entire planet. - Piyush Mathur (Apr 20, '12)

Compelling case for Iraq war crime tribunal
The Age of Deception: Nuclear Diplomacy in Treacherous Times by Mohamed ElBaradei

The author, former head of the United Nations' nuclear watchdog, is so morally outraged by the blatant pulverization of a sovereign Middle East country (Iraq) by a Western superpower and its allies that he advises the Iraqis to demand war reparations. If for nothing else, this book is indispensable. Apart, that is, from the invaluable insights it offers into the ongoing crisis over Iran. - Kaveh L Afrasiabi (Apr 13, '12)

Global tango tilts toward China
China Versus the West: The Global Power Shift of the 21st Century by Ivan Tselichtchev

Professor and TV talking head Ivan Tselichtchev assesses the heavyweight battle for global economic supremacy in his new book. Rather than a clash of civilizations and systems, his nuanced analysis suggests that everyone can wind up a winner. However, the West will need to play by China's rules. - Muhammad Cohen (Mar 30, '12)

Two faces of Islamism in Afpak
An Enemy We Created: The Myth of the Taliban/Al Qaeda Merger in Afghanistan by Alex Strick Van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn

This study of the divergent origins and motivations of the Taliban and al-Qaeda argues that the United States mistakenly evaluated the Taliban's refusal to hand over Osama bin Laden in 2001 as proof of close links, coloring US policy for years. Al-Qaeda's international agenda was an anathema to the Taliban's nationalism, with shared suspicions of a Western conspiracy the only common thread. - Brian M Downing (Mar 23, '12)

The power and the inglory
Power Struggle over Afghanistan by Kai Eide

As the United Nations' main envoy in Afghanistan from 2008 to 2010, the author had unique insight into the myriad problems in that country, and the hatchet job done on Hamid Karzai by the Obama administration. Somehow Eide came away from the experience still hopeful that the Afghan people will find a way out of the chaos. Still, after reading his book, it's hard to see how. - Nick Turse (Mar 16, '12)

Meth madness in Hong Kong
Eating Smoke by Chris Thrall

This book works well as a portrait of a crystal-methamphetamine addict, not as a portrait of Hong Kong. The city is no longer what it was in the mid-1990s before the handover, the time of the English author's harrowing sojourn. What is captivating is his hellish depiction of his addiction and fall into a dangerous underworld. - Kent Ewing (Mar 9, '12)

Women who shaped India
Sonia Gandhi: An Extraordinary Life, an Indian Destiny
by Rani Singh .

It began as a love story, and has culminated in a modern, transitional chapter of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. This cannily crafted biography stands as a narrative not only of the modern history of the planet's largest democracy, but also of the role of some of the most remarkable women the world has ever known, including Sonia's beloved mother-in-law, the late Indira Gandhi. - Dinesh Sharma (Mar 2, '12)

BRIC by brick to the future
The Growth Map: Economic Opportunity in the BRICs and Beyond by Jim O'Neill.

Few economists saw their reputations survive intact after the global financial crisis. The pre- and post-crisis growth of China and other BRIC countries has, however, burnished the standing of Jim O'Neill, who now expands his search to identify the world's next growth centers. - Benjamin Shobert (Feb 24, '12)

Love in a time of revolt
Love, Passion and Patriotism: Sexuality and the Philippine Propaganda Movement, 1882-1892
by Raquel A G Reyes

A number of young Filipinos, or rather the children of colonial Spaniards, educated in Spain in the 19th century were later venerated as national heroes after their ideas helped to spark the revolution of 1896. Yet these self-titled Ilustrados had an often overlooked human, if not haughty, side marked by serial affairs, duels, and deep male chauvinism. - George Amurao (Feb 17, '12)

Decoding Obama's Iran policy
A Single Roll of the Dice: Obama's Diplomacy with Iran
by Trita Parsi

An intricate study of how President Barack Obama's Iran policy evolved, this book relates how campaign pledges to reach out crumbled under the weight of Israeli and Saudi pressure, and from disillusionment following Iran's 2009 election crackdown. The book reveals top Israeli officials' doubts that a nuclear strike will ever be launched, with Israel's aggressive stance based on maintaining its Palestinian territories and aura of invincibility. - Brian M Downing (Feb 10, '12)

Playful lessons for North Korea's young leader
The Lily: Evolution, Play, and the Power of a Free Society
by Daniel Cloud
Princeton University political philosopher Daniel Cloud's gift to North Korea's new leader Kim Jong-eun could not have come at a better time. The book explains to the Young General, that by grasping evolutionary forces, free societies - as the Dao De Jing puts it - "accomplish everything by doing nothing." Something for Kim to ponder among his ambitious plans to join the "elite club of nations" this year. - Mark A DeWaever (Feb 6, '12)

LeT: Terror incorporated
The Caliphate's Soldiers: The Lashkar-e-Tayyeba's Long War by Wilson John

With thousands of recruitment and training centers across Pakistan, funds pouring in from the Gulf and links from Nepal to Sri Lanka, Lashkar-e-Toiba has flourished since the Mumbai attacks of November 2008. Detailing LeT's growth into "the world's most powerful and resourceful terror consultancy firm" - including a Department of Martyrs - this book offers an excellent primer on LeT's global ambitions. - Surinder Kumar Sharma (Feb 3, '12)

Obama, the Lone Ranger
Barack Obama in Hawaii and Indonesia: The Making of Global President by Dinesh Sharma

This book maps out how the cultural influences and global underpinnings of Barack Obama's diverse upbringing in Indonesia and Hawaii created the president America needed for the multipolar world of the 21st century. Written by a cultural psychologist, it uses anthropological, political and genealogical perspectives to argue that Obama's life journey has reflected the challenges America faces today. - Richard Kaplan (Jan 20, '12)

How Imperial Russia wooed Asia
Russia's own Orient: The politics of identity and Oriental studies in the Imperial and early Soviet periods by Vera Tolz

When Russia launched Oriental studies amid its imperial decline, it sought to emulate the West. However, the glamorous image of the downtrodden at the time led minorities to be treated as equals rather than subjects, a wild contrast from the West's approach. Using a wealth of research this book outlines how this impacted positively on ethnic policy after the Bolshevik Revolution - until the regime needed to consolidate power. - Dmitry Shlapentokh (Jan 13, '12)

Invisible walls in Xinjiang
The tree that bleeds: a Uighur town on the edge by Nick Holdstock

A snapshot of Xinjiang province's Yining city four years after deadly ethnic riots in 1997, this book provides insights into how fraught relations between Uyghurs and and Han Chinese were worsened by Beijing's divisive rules and policies, particularly in education. The separate dormitories, canteens and admissions described as the ethnicities "pretend the other doesn't exist" make recent violence easier to understand. - Michael Rank (Jan 6, '12)

A future with China
China and the Credit Crisis: the Emergence of a New World Order by Giles Chance

The book explores the inter-connection between United States policy and China's participation in globalization. The presentation on what the current economic crisis means regarding the future of the US dollar and the necessary adjustment by the world's financial and regulatory systems to incorporate China's needs are balanced and satisfying. Yet the most important reason to read this work may be what it has to offer about how these troubled times will reshape US-China relations. - Benjamin A Shobert (Dec 21, '11)

INTERVIEW
Getting the dragon onboard
The Chinese may have an attitude whereby they want to exploit the rest of the world for their own benefit. They do not see themselves yet as a responsible leader of the world economy in a way we would like them to. The issue is how can we bring China to stand alongside Europe and America? So asks Giles Chance, author of China and the Credit Crisis in a conversation with Benjamin A Shobert. (Dec 21, '11)

Angels and inquisitors
A Point in Time by David Horowitz For a quarter of a

century, Horowitz has told unpleasant truths about the political left where he spent the first half of his career before turning conservative some 30 years ago. He surpasses himself in this new essay, though, by telling unpleasant truths about the human condition. - David Goldman (Dec 21, '11)

The Unraveling
The Unraveling: Pakistan in the Age of Jihad by John R Schmidt

With relations between Pakistan and the United States in cold storage, John R Schmidt, a senior US diplomat, sheds some light on the reasons. He argues that Islamabad's dual policy of supporting US military actions in Afghanistan while maintaining its connection with radical Islamic groups is understandable and the US must face up to the problem; advice unlikely to lead to a thaw any time soon. - Erico Yu (Dec 16, '11)

Deconstructing Thomas Friedman
The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work by Belen Fernandez

Analyzing the work of influential New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, this book finds flaws ranging from hypocrisy and racism to factual errors and skewed judgment. More frightening is how Friedman is found to represent a US media that's sacrificed its objectivity to US economic and political goals, with corporate profit taking precedent over human life in counsel on Iraq, Israel and Palestine. - Sandra Siagian (Dec 9, '11)

Down the wrong path
9-11 by Noam Chomsky

Updated to cover Osama bin Laden's death, this prescient work on the September 11 attacks written in November 2001 chillingly predicts how expensive and bloody wars in Muslim countries would drain the American economy and kill thousands of civilians. Though a compelling indictment of an "imperial mentality" that's seen America abandon human-rights principals to pursue its goals, the book's dialogue format may frustrate some readers. - Christopher Bartlo (Dec 2, '11)

Revelations of a secret war
The Secret Army: Chiang Kai-shek and the Drug Warlords of the Golden Triangle by Richard M Gibson and Wenhua Chen

While it's known that thousands of Chinese nationalists settled in north Thailand after the civil war, as seen in thriving Chinese villages like Mae Salong, this book reveals how the United States rebuilt and re-equipped the forces to fight Mao Zedong's China and later Thai communist insurgents. It also constructs how US involvement helped created the narcotics production hub that is today's Golden Triangle. - Bertil Lintner (Nov 18, '11)

The incredible lightheadedness of being German
I Sleep in Hitler's Room: An American Jew Visits Germany by Tuvia Tenenbom

Tuvia Tenenbom comes off as a Jewish Hunter S Thompson, describing cringing encounters in Germany that strip away the veneer of sanity from his subjects. His peregrinations show that World War II and the Holocaust have left the Germans with a terminal case of post-traumatic stress disorder and aspirations for their national identity to be subsumed into Europe. To understand Germans, one has to learn their language and live with them - or read Tenenbom's book. - Spengler (Nov 15, '11)

Harsh light on history
Breaking the Rules by Alexander Casella

An insider's account of the United Nations refugee agency's inner workings, this book sketches out a "humanitarian industry" run by politicians and bureaucrats more interested in securing their own paychecks and promotions than helping victims. Starting in post-unification Vietnam and traveling into the UN's dark heart, it rewards readers with a trove of insights and anecdotes about events that have shaped our time by someone who was right in the thick it it. - David Simmons (Nov 10, '11)

A path not taken
The Ideal Man: The Tragedy of Jim Thompson and the American Way of War by Josh Kurlantzick

Rather than seeking answers to Jim Thompson's mysterious disappearance in 1967, this book examines how the American spy turned Thai silk magnate increasingly resented his idealized Thailand being swept away by the involvement of the United States in the region. As Thompson strolled into Malaysian hills never to return, his era of intrigue and opportunity was fading forever from Southeast Asia. - Sebastian Strangio (Nov 4, '11)

A graveyard for US war strategies
The Wrong War: Grit, Strategy, And the Way Out of Afghanistan by Bing West
This cold hard look at United States' Afghan war strategies concludes that Washington's focus on nation-building rather than military supremacy since 2006 has reinvigorated the Taliban's influence. Through boots-on-the-ground chronicling, readers glimpse how US soldiers are battling bureaucracy as much as insurgents. However, its final argument - that Afghanizing counter-insurgency will turn the conflict - is problematic. - Geoffrey Sherwood (Oct 28, '11)

The human face of World War I
To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918 by Adam Hochschild

An exploration of how World War I became so protracted and bloody, this book also retells how pacifists braved jail and lynchings to reject the carnage. By focusing on individuals like the vain generals who ordered a whole generation into deadly storms of steel, the author offers a timely reminder that blindness to war's realities leads to unparalleled loss. - Jim Ash (Oct 21, '11)

Hidden eyes and ears
Spies for Nippon by Tony Matthews

Using recently declassified United States intercepts of World War II Japanese intelligence, this book offers a rare glimpse into how Tokyo ran diplomat spies in Axis-leaning "neutral" European capitals to track Allied troop movements across Asia and establish Latin American cells. Though lacking insight into individual spy operations, it holds compelling revelations on how cracking Japan's "Purple" code altered the war's course. - George Amurao (Oct 14, '11)

US-China power imbalance threatens Asia
A Contest for Supremacy: China, America, and the Struggle for Mastery in Asia by Aaron L Friedberg

While arguing that a stark evaluation of Beijing's military strategy proves the United States has been overly optimistic in believing economic engagement would foster democracy, this book makes no alarmist predictions of China pursuing global hegemony. However, to alter deep-seated patterns of power politics drawing the countries toward conflict, the US needs to rebalance its China relationship by urgently addressing its own economic and political dysfunctions. - Benjamin A Shobert (Oct 7, '11)

Before the darkness
Rangoon Journalist: Memoirs of Burma days 1940-1958 by J F Samaranayake

This gripping account of a journalist's life in 1940s-1950s Burma before press repression took hold covers the "gold rush", a time when media were more modern, outspoken and professional than any other in the region. Aside from offering a chilling glimpse into the descent into military rule, the book offers a valuable and rare account of the country's forgotten literary history. - Bertil Lintner (Sep 30, '11)

Russia's tug-of-war with its Asian soul
Russian Orientalism: Asia in the Russian Mind from Peter the Great to the Emigration by David Schimmelpenninck

van der Oye
This book expertly details how pre-revolutionary Russia's view of "Asia" coincided with that of European Orientalists - even as Western intellectuals saw Russians as Asiatic successors to the Huns and Mongols. As study of Asia blossomed into a critical source of colonial know-how, belief in the potential of Eurasian symbiosis gradually gave way to suspicions and benign imperialism, mimicking present-day Russia's Asian outlook.
- Dmitry Shlapentokh (Sep 23, '11)

Make babies or die
How Civilizations Die: (And Why Islam Is Dying Too) by David P Goldman

The author's demographics-mixed-with-religion dash through history displays the erudition and sarcasm that marks his writing on this site ("Spengler") and elsewhere. And demography may indeed be almost (sometimes fatal) destiny - but pessimism may blind Goldman to what is adaptation and survival. (Sep 23, '11)

Lashkar-e-Toiba - safe at home
Storming the World Stage: The Story of Lashkar-e-Toiba by Stephen Tankel

A detailed study of Lashkar-e-Toiba's evolution from a relatively unknown group into the infamous militant organization that launched the 2008 Mumbai attacks, this book also covers how Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence nurtured LeT as an indispensable asset in its anti-Indian struggle. The author concludes that ISI's strong support of LeT leaves it unlikely to turn against Islamabad. - Brian M Downing (Sep 16, '11)

Obama and Osama as archetypes
Barack Obama in Hawaii and Indonesia: The Making of a Global President by Dinesh Sharma

The ashes and the bellowing smoke of 9/11 metaphorically touched all corners of the Earth. They also touched the core of Barack Obama's identity as a would-be senator, global citizen and progressive thinker who knew the world had been pushed to a cataclysmic point and was determined to play a role in shaping events. Moreover, in the minds of millions, the Obama-Osama bin Laden binary opposition formed archetypes of good and evil. (Sep 9, '11)

One final word?
On China by Henry Kissinger

Forty years ago, Henry Kissinger's masterful diplomacy helped clear a path for China's rise, though he could not have foreseen the threat that presents to the American psyche today. His belief that partnership is possible - yet conflict the easier path - stems from aged and experienced eyes, but exhortations to Americans to avoid a contest with China focus readers on a question he is easily the least qualified to answer. - Benjamin A Shobert (Sep 2, '11)

War without end
Roads of Bones: The Epic Siege of Kohima 1944 by Fergal Keane

Almost forgotten, Kohima in the mountains of northeastern India was where British and British-Indian troops inflicted the Japanese Imperial Army's worst defeat and forced a retreat back into Burma (Myanmar). Keane's outstanding account of "Asia's Stalingrad" shows remarkable understanding of Japanese soldiers who fought and died, and has important contemporary value since it is often argued that in the hills of northern Myanmar and northeastern India, World War II never ended. - Bertil Lintner (Aug 26, '11)

US smart power falters in information age
The Future of Power by Joseph S Nye Jr

This too United States-centric analysis of global power trends envisions major shifts towards non-state actors in the 21st century, with soft power increasingly important. While the author rejects that the US is in precipitous decline, he argues that in the age of social networks and information-sharing, leaders need to think of themselves in a circle rather than atop a mountain. - Shiran Shen (Aug 19, '11)

In search of a way out
No Exit: North Korea, Nuclear Weapons, and International Security by Jonathan D Pollack

With the belief that the how and why of the North Korean nuclear impasse must begin with the country's system and its history, the author consults Cold War archives, interviews and technical history, among others, to weave together the evolution of the Hermit Kingdom and its nuclear program. It's a useful narrative with a detailed, beyond-the-Beltway overview.
- Shiran Shen (Aug 11, '11)

J Street battles for Jewish hearts and minds
A New Voice for Israel: Fighting for the Survival of the Jewish Nation by Jeremy Ben-Ami

This manifesto of "pro-Israel, pro-peace" lobby J Street and memoir of leader Jeremy Ben-Ami lays out the group's strategy to steer United States policy on the Middle East towards favoring a two-state solution. While J Street is emerging as a strong voice, forces aligned against it - Christian Zionists, neo-conservative think-tanks and the Israel Lobby - exert a powerful grip on US foreign policy. - Mitchell Plitnick (Aug 5, '11)

US rattled by Vietnam War skeletons
Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War by Karl Marlantes Girl by the Road at Night: A Novel of Vietnam by David Rabe Wandering Souls: Journeys with the Dead and the Living in Viet Nam by Wayne Karlin

This wave of Vietnam War literature features the familiar grunt prose, patrol drama and punji pits, alongside a new, ultimately inadequate attempt to empathize with the formerly faceless enemy. Yet exploration of the gaping holes left in Vietnamese families by the countless still missing does suggest soul-searching, while guilt over the thousands forced into prostitution recognizes that lives were not only destroyed by bombs and bullets. - Nick Turse (Jul 29, '11)

The real AfPak deal
Inside al-Qaeda and the Taliban: Beyond Bin Laden and 9/11 by Syed Saleem Shahzad

Drawn from fearless reporting in the complex and deadly Pakistani tribal areas, this book outlines the grand strategy al-Qaeda plotted for AfPak before the United States even coined the term. Despite the book's revelations and vision, it's also the cracking narrative of one man armed only with a strong moral compass; a man murdered by his own state for searching out the truth. - Pepe Escobar (Jul 22, '11)

Dispelling the myths of humanitarian aid
International Organizations and Civilian Protection by Sreeram Chaulia

Demolishing notions that humanitarian organizations from the United Nations and elsewhere risk all to protect civilians, the author draws on extensive experience in Sri Lanka and the Philippines to illustrate how donor and host-state pressures - as well as internal struggles - leave these organizations passively "building databases" and providing blankets while local activists fight to protect the innocent. - Sudha Ramachandran (Jul 15, '11)

Fallacy of American cosmopolitan power
Cosmopolitan Power in International Relations by Giulio M Gallarotti

The notion of a world led by United States "cosmopolitanism" is undermined by the superpower's use of colossal hard and soft power to manufacture consensus. Far from holding a worldly, trans-national outlook, the US employs military and economic strength to safeguard its geopolitical interests and promote its ideology of expansionism. - Kaveh L Afrasiabi (Jul 8, '11)

Asia on expressway to disaster
Consumptionomics: Asia's Role in Reshaping Capitalism and Saving the Planet by Chandran Nair

For the author, capitalism's deficiency remains its inability to acknowledge the natural resource limitations that confront most of the developing world. His solutions, like "economic activity being subservient to the vitality of resources" - will deeply trouble many in the West. However, questioning capitalism's longer-term implications makes sense for an Asian audience. - Benjamin A Shobert (Jul 1, '11)

A black man from Kenya and
a white woman from Kansas

A Singular Woman: The Untold Story of Barack Obama's Mother by Janny Scott
The Obamas: The Untold Story of an African Family by Peter Firstbrook

While Barack Obama's Kansas-born mother was a trail-blazing globalist whose idealism gave the United States president access to the progressive soul of America, his intelligence, resourcefulness and ambition can be traced back several generations in his economist father's African bloodline. Obama's own books openly discuss his roots, but these works paint a clearer picture of his two guiding lights. - Dinesh Sharma (Jun 24, '11)

Pomp and porn during the Qing Dynasty
Decadence Mandchoue. by Sir Edmund Trelawny Backhouse

In an erotic romp through the twilight years of the Qing Dynasty, these memoirs recount among other trysts the Victorian Orientalist author's subservient servicing of the Empress Dowager Cixi, then 69, and adventures with the eunuchs and catamites of Peking's bathhouses. Intermingled with fantastical imperial palace intrigue, the work has faced charges of fraudulence and obscenity; this belies its charm and historical significance. - Kent Ewing (Jun 17, '11)

Moral war compass fails to point West
Moral Combat: A History of World War II by Michael Burleigh

This books succeeds perhaps too well in detailing just how repugnant the German and Japanese regimes were in World War II, and is especially strong on the Pacific theater, an area one-volume histories tend to neglect. Where it fails is in its resort to slippery tactics to avoid confronting the dirt that was on the Allies' hands. - Jim Ash (Jun 10, '11)

Crisis of American international thought
Liberal Leviathan: The Origins, Crisis, and Transformation of the American World Order by G John Ikenberry

A liberal pro-United States bias permeating the book sees the US's resource-oriented military gambits and imperial behavior conveniently papered over and rising states dismissed as challengers to the global order. By presenting US power as benign, with no nefarious core-periphery or hegemonic dimensions, the author undermines his own views on the rapidly changing state of world affairs. - Kaveh L Afrasiabi (May 27, '11)

War and taxes
Development Disparities in Northeast India by Rakhee Bhattacharya

In insurgent-run areas of northeast India the penalty for not paying "tax" is final: death. But as this book reveals, revenue collections systems put in place by rebels there are surprisingly sophisticated. By investigating exactly how the "taxation" takes place, the author offers an excellent glimpse into how other shadow insurgent economies are likely run elsewhere in Asia. - Bertil Lintner (May 20, '11)  

Wages of peace
Cambodia's Curse: The modern history of a troubled land by Joel Brinkley

This searingly accurate depiction of how Western aid in post-Khmer Rouge Cambodia helped create the corrupt, impoverished and lawless state of today is undermined by its premise: that Cambodians will never rise up against bad leadership due to a "curse" of feudal subservience. History suggests internal rebellion is more likely to spark change than the weak-kneed efforts of foreign donors. - Sebastian Strangio (May 12, '11)

When Attlee met Mao
Passport to Peking, A very British mission to Mao's China by Patrick Wright

This colorful account of British delegations sent to communist China in the 1950s intersperses valuable insights into the early Cold War period with a humorous culture clash as a typically eccentric English band led by prime minister Clement Attlee meets a rapidly transforming China. Beyond the gayety lies a fascinating account of a forgotten era. - Michael Rank (May 6, '11)

Obama's hidden radical past
Radical-in-Chief: Barack Obama and the Untold Story of American Socialism, by Stanley Kurtz

Detailed organizational charts, histories, and smoking-gun documentation about the world of left-wing organizations in which Barack Obama circulated early in his career make this book required reading for anyone who wants to pierce the veil of a self-constructed enigma. It also shows the US president is not the man he claimed to be in the 2008 campaign. - Spengler (May 2, '11)

Conservative reappraisal of the Afghan war
The Wrong War: Grit, Strategy, and the Way Out of Afghanistan by Bing West

The United States war effort in Afghanistan is failing, says this authoritative - and usually supportive - voice on US military affairs. While implacable Afghan resentment of foreigners is undermining the counter-insurgency, inter-ethnic divisions are killing "Afghanization". Throw in the financial crisis, an apathetic American public and the vague objectives of Washington's revolving-door leadership, and you have a recipe for quagmire - Brian M Downing (Apr 29, '11)

The president as a public intellectual
Reading Obama by James Kloppenberg

James Kloppenberg's intellectual biography of Barack Obama finds the United States President 's political philosophy and style of politics owes a lot to the pragmatic tradition in American philosophy. That will disappoint those on the right who paint him as an extreme leftist radical. Missing from this otherwise outstanding analysis are the ideas the younger Obama acquired from his global travels. - Dinesh Sharma (Apr 21, '11)

Seeing the forest for the leaves
Family of Fallen Leaves by Charles Waugh and Huy Lien
The Invention of Ecocide by David Zierler

These books take separate approaches to the United States' defoliation campaign in the Vietnam War. One focuses on US scientists who realized there were horrendous implications to using chemicals such as Agent Orange; the other tells heart-rending tales of birth defects, sickness and death inflicted on the Vietnamese. Neither fully captures the horrific impact of "ecocide" on an agrarian society. - Nick Turse (Apr 15, '11)

The good old days
Reporter Forty Years Covering Asia by John McBeth

An absorbingly detailed account of the major stories that shook Southeast Asia during the 40 years the author was a reporter, from Thailand's five coups to the "secret war" in Laos and Cambodia's Khmer Rouge massacres. Evoking an era when journalists were cut from a different cloth, the book also recounts the death of one of Asia's most influential news magazines. - Robert Tilley (Apr 8, '11)

Asians can't have it all
Consumptionomics: Asia's Role in Reshaping Capitalism and Saving the Planet by Chandran Nair

Western consumerism in the developing East will have an irreversible climate impact, according to Nair, who observes that climate change is an example of massive market failure, so the world can't rely on markets to fix it - authoritarianism is his preferred alternative. The challenge is finding an appealing alternative to steak and SUVs. - Muhammad Cohen (Apr 6, '11)

Asians can't have it all
Consumptionomics: Asia's Role in Reshaping Capitalism and Saving the Planet by Chandran Nair

Western consumerism in the developing East will have an irreversible climate impact, according to Nair, who observes that climate change is an example of massive market failure, so the world can't rely on markets to fix it - authoritarianism is his preferred alternative. The challenge is finding an appealing alternative to steak and SUVs. - Muhammad Cohen (Apr 6, '11)

The trouble with China's brands
The Brutal Truth About Asian Branding: And How to Break the Vicious Cycle by Joseph Baladi

China has failed to nurture compelling consumer brands and largely remains a factory for the West. Blaming the rigid confines of Confucian leadership and a lack of awareness that "brands fundamentally define people", this book argues that if China can't make the transition to home-grown brands, the process of globalization will falter. - Benjamin A Shobert (Apr 1, '11)

The privatization of US foreign policy
Outsourcing War and Peace: Preserving Public Values in a World of Privatized Foreign Affairs by Laura A Dickinson

Since the Vietnam War, the United States has steadily shunted foreign policy responsibilities onto private contractors, with no hope now of closing the Pandora's box. This legal look into how privatization has seeped into the Pentagon and why serious abuses take place outlines how a flawed organizational and monitoring structure can be reformed to not threaten human rights and democratic accountability. - David Isenberg (Mar 25, '11)

Davids in a world of Goliaths
Small Acts of Resistance: How Courage, Tenacity, and a Bit of Ingenuity Can Change the World by Steve Crawshaw and John Jackson

These heroic tales of non-violent, game-changing defiance by individuals or small groups in repressive states like Iran, Myanmar and communist Poland are a reminder that all authority, even at its very worst, exists only with the consent of those it commands. By illustrating the bravery of those facing imprisonment without trial, torture or extra-judicial murder just to enact change, the book makes a mockery of political apathy in the West. - Jim Ash (Mar 18, '11)

Smoking out Vietnam War truths
Search and Destroy: The Story of an Armored Cavalry Squadron in Viet Namby Keith Nolan

As the United States marks 50 years since the start of the Vietnam War, revisionism is as rife as ever. This one-year account of an armored cavalry squadron, however, offers a clear-eyed appraisal of atrocities inflicted on the Vietnamese people as well as a three-dimensional, sensitive portrayal of the American troops that suffered bravely in the conflict. - Nick Turse (Mar 11, '11)

Islam and democracy debate revisited
Democracy in Modern Iran: Islam, Culture, and Political Change by Ali Mirsepassi

This critique of political Islam's evolution in Iran attempts laboriously to apply Western philosophical and political perspectives to the issue, with an uncritical embrace of the opposition "Green" movement also apparent from the start. While there are useful chapters on Iranian intellectuals, the generalizations and borrowed terminologies undermine any serious exploration of Iran's part-theocratic, part-republican system. - Kaveh L Afrasiabi (Mar 4, '11)

Oil poisoning humankind
Crude World: The Violent Twilight of Oil by Peter Maass

For the author, oil is a curse - from the moment it is extracted until the moment it is poured into the oversized gas tanks of sports utility vehicles. The book takes no pot-shots at companies, nations or people, instead using snapshots of badly affected counties to show that Peak Oil will be a blessing. - Jim Ash (Feb 25, '11)

The lighter side of the Tibet issue
Waiting for the Dalai Lama: Stories from all sides of the Tibetan Debate by Annelie Rozeboom

Not a run-of-the-mill portrayal of the Free Tibet love camp, this book draws on an eclectic cast of characters to flesh out the debate, including a former serf and a nomad, a state oracle and a Tibetan Mao Zedong impersonator. While the author's ability to highlight the funny and bizarre ensures an easy read, this limits analysis of meaningful subjects such as evolving views towards the Chinese. - Dinah Gardner (Feb 18, '11)

Unmasking British intelligence
MI6: The History of the Secret Intelligence Service 1909-1949 by Keith Jeffery

Tracing the history of the British Secret Intelligence Service (now known as MI6) from its birth in 1909 until the post-World War II years, this book focuses on the spy service's trailblazing founder, its emergence and early triumphs, and political battles the organization faced for its survival. Replete with detail, the work rehabilitates the SIS's contribution to the British war effort. - Mahan Abedin (Feb 11, '11)

One man's Korean war
Yin Yang Tattoo by Ron McMillan

This novel follows the sexual and drunken exploits of Scottish photojournalist Alec Brodie as he is sucked into the shady attempt of a bankrupt South Korean chaebol to save itself through a corporate scam involving the Hermit Kingdom. As a work of expatriate escapism, the book is a great success. But as a cautionary tale it may fall a little short. - David Simmons (Feb 4, '11)

The party principle

Red Capitalism: The Fragile Financial Foundation of China's Extraordinary Rise
by Carl E Walter and Fraser J T Howie
Is China headed for a fall? Can it cope with the crises its rapid growth and uneven development might spark? Walter and Howie attempt to answer these questions by focusing exclusively on the country's financial system. They conclude that China’s embrace of the free market is merely a ploy to keep the Communist Party predominant, and question whether this approach can work in the long term. - Reviewed by Benjamin A Shobert (Jan 28, '11)

The neo-Renaissance man
How to Run the World: Charting a Course to the Next Renaissance by Parag Khanna

Khanna tells us that an informal network of committed individuals can end the new feudal age we toil in, and usher in the next Renaissance. The book bristles with good ideas, and Khanna's heart is in the right place. But he fails to explain how his vision will survive the plutocrats and Pentagonistas who currently run the world. - Pepe Escobar (Jan 21, '11)

Not so special
The Eurasian Face by Kirsteen Zimmern

This photographic exploration of the Eurasian experience treads too lightly on a tumultuous history of discrimination, violence and stigma, dismissing the identity crisis many Eurasians still feel as an amusing reminiscence. While its subjects are young and old, and drawn from all walks of life, their shallow portraits make the reconciling of ethnicities sound far too easy. - Kent Ewing (Jan 14, '11)

The last American Caesars
Dismantling the Empire: America's Last Best Hope by Chalmers Johnson
The late author's last book encapsulates his previous themes of how America's empire-building since World War II, epitomized by base-building sprees, stage-managed coup d'etats and illegal killings and torture, has filled a "pond of hatred" set to cause pernicious "blowback" and financial ruin. It offers little hope for the empire's future, predicting a hubris-fueled demise similar to that of Rome. - Jim Ash (Jan 7, '11)

Reconfiguring the Middle East
Reset: Iran, Turkey and America's Future by Stephen Kinzer

The book argues the United States' morass in the Middle East could be improved by "reseting" relations with Turkey and Iran, who with their histories of popular democratic struggle are an ideal US "soul mate", while inching away from traditional ties with Saudi Arabia and Israel - relationships built on "dirty war" contracts and "Biblical traditions" that have hurt US interests. - Sreeram Chaulia (Dec 22, '10)

The driving force behind empires
When Empire Meets Nationalism by Didier Chaudet, Florent Parmentier and Benoit Pelopidas

When Empire Meets Nationalism by Didier Chaudet, Florent Parmentier and Benoit Pelopidas The authors attempt to deconstruct the ideologies that inform foreign policy and the creation of empires, particularly in relation to the United States and Russia. This is an informative exercise, but overlooked are other important factors, such as economic policies. - Dmitry Shlapentokh (Dec 17, '10)

Eastern promise
The Chinese Dream: The Rise of the World's Largest Middle Class and What It Means to You by Helen Wang

The author argues that the mainland's rising middle class is essential to the economic health of both China and the United States, as well as to China's future political liberalization. Underneath all this, her book also strikes a poignant note about America's lost optimism. - Benjamin A Shobert (Dec 10, '10)

Myanmar's ageless ethnic question
The Shan of Burma: Memoirs of a Shan Exile by Chao Tzang Yawnghwe

The intensifying clashes between Karen rebels and government forces along Myanmar's border with Thailand make the re-release of this seminal account and overview of the Shan resistance all the more timely. Written by a late Shan activist and prince, the two-decade-old book's plea for a solution to the state's deadly ethnic divisions is equally powerful and relevant today. - Bertil Lintner (Dec 3, '10)


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