Book Review: A Brief Political And Geographic History Of Asia

A Brief Political And Geographic History Of Asia:  Where Are…Saigon, Kampuchea, And Burma, by Doug Dillon

As someone who has read quite a bit of this series so far [1], I must say that I was pleased in general with how complete this book was.  One knows when reading a book like this that there are going to be areas that are left out because a book in this series has very little space to write about anything and a lot of ground to cover.  I was impressed that like the volume on North America that the book as a whole was organized around the questions as to bygone realms that have largely been forgotten (except in the case of Myanmar, which is still called Burma by many people).  Again, as I have stated before, one does not know exactly what to expect when one starts reading a book in this series because they are organized in different ways and are of such wildly variable standards of excellence, but this was a good book to read and it certainly gives the reader a look at Asia’s history over the broad span while also encouraging the reader to read more, which is always a good thing when it comes to a book like this.

The eight chapters of this book are organized around various native realms and their regimes, although the book does talk, for example, about the Vietnam War and its aftermath as well as about imperialism at least somewhat.  Fortunately, this is not a book that dwells on blaming others for the problems the area suffers, but rather looks at realms and how they have governed themselves and handled the difficulties of their place and time.  The book begins with a look at Saigon and the fall of South Vietnam in 1975 as an introduction to the book, before moving next door to Cambodia’s killing fields and the horrors of the Khmer Rouge.  After this the book looks at Myanmar’s troubled independence with regards to democracy, the Qin Empire and China’s regimes, the Mongol Empire, the Mughal Empire of India, Tibet’s struggle for independence and dignity with regards to Chinese imperialism, and the empire of Japan and its fall in World War II.  By and large, this book has a lot to say about the power and glory as well as the problems of Asia, and is certainly a worthwhile little volume.

Of course, as one would expect, there is a lot that this book simply leaves out because it does not have space to cover everything.  The book has little to say about Korea, Taiwan, Indonesia, or Thailand, all areas where I have at least some interest and, in at least one case, a considerable degree of personal knowledge about the area.  Even so, this is definitely a book to appreciate, and best of all, the way the book celebrates as well as gives cautionary tales about the behavior of Asian nations and their regimes is an antidote to the sort of facile “blame white boy” trope of contemporary regional geography that some of the other volumes in this series have engaged in.  Perhaps, if this book was written in response to such volumes, that makes this book all the better because it shows both the achievements and the horrors that Asian countries have been responsible throughout history as well as in recent decades.  And focusing on that responsibility is important, not least because Asian countries remain important in terms of the well-being of the earth as a whole.  With large and powerful and important empires throughout history and major contemporary world impact, Asia is a region one simply has to pay some attention to.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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