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Asia Pacific Reading List


The content provided on the reading lists is for educational and informational purposes. The sources of the content are cited, and the content used represents a small portion of the whole.

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War at the Top of the World: The Struggles for Afghanistan, Kashmir and Tibet

War at the Top of the World: The Struggles for Afghanistan, Kashmir and Tibet

Eric Margolis, 2001

Asia–India China

“Beginning with the premise that South Asia is one of the most combustible regions on the planet (a 1993 CIA study rated Kashmir as the most likely place for a nuclear war to begin), veteran foreign correspondent Margolis goes poking around the region, wondering where the spark will originate, discussing Afghanistan (especially the heavy American and Pakistani involvement in the area), the border conflicts in Kashmir and Siachen between India and Pakistan, and China's occupation of Tibet, which he sees as a model for how China might come into bloody conflict with India. The book is good on military issues and useful as a primer for the uninitiated, especially on the way that British, American and Russian policies have fueled the arms and territory battles in Afghanistan and on what India's and Pakistan's battling has cost them in lost social and economic development. But the author's fondness for generalities and potted psychologizing can be wearying: Muslim Kashmiris are "a haughty lot," Sikhs are known for their "love of revenge," the leaders of the Afghan Army suffer from a "deficit in human talent that afflicts so many backward societies." Margolis even devotes a page to the proposition that Hindu anti-Muslim sentiment is partly due to Hindus feeling sexually inferior to Muslims since Islam "encourages a robust sex life" and some Indians believe that Muslims are better lovers because they are circumcised.”

Margolis, Eric. War at the Top of the World: The Struggles for Afghanistan, Kashmir and Tibet. Routledge, 2001.

Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power

Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power

Robert D. Kaplan, 2010

Asia–Indian Ocean

“On the world maps common in America, the Western Hemisphere lies front and center, while the Indian Ocean region all but disappears. This convention reveals the geopolitical focus of the now-departed twentieth century, but in the twenty-first century that focus will fundamentally change. In this pivotal examination of the countries known as “Monsoon Asia”—which include India, Pakistan, China, Indonesia, Burma, Oman, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Tanzania—bestselling author Robert D. Kaplan shows how crucial this dynamic area has become to American power. It is here that the fight for democracy, energy independence, and religious freedom will be lost or won, and it is here that American foreign policy must concentrate if the United States is to remain relevant in the ever-changing world. From the Horn of Africa to the Indonesian archipelago and beyond, Kaplan exposes the effects of population growth, climate change, and extremist politics on this unstable region, demonstrating why Americans can no longer afford to ignore this important area of the world.”

Kaplan, Robert D. Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power. Random House, 2010.


The Idea Of Pakistan

Stephen P. Cohen, 2004


“In recent years Pakistan has emerged as a strategic player on the world stage—both as a potential rogue state armed with nuclear weapons and as an American ally in the war against terrorism. But our understanding of this country is superficial. To probe beyond the headlines, Stephen Cohen, author of the prize-winning India: Emerging Power, offers a panoramic portrait of this complex country—from its origins as a homeland for Indian Muslims to a military dominated state that has experienced uneven economic growth, political chaos, sectarian violence, and several nuclear crises with its much larger neighbor, India. Pakistan’s future is uncertain. Can it fulfill its promise of joining the community of nations as a moderate Islamic state, at peace with its neighbors, or could it dissolve completely into a failed state, spewing out terrorists and nuclear weapons in several directions? The Idea of Pakistan will be an essential tool for understanding this critically important country.”

Cohen, Stephen P. The Idea Of Pakistan. Brookings, 2004.

Asia’s Cauldron: The South China Sea and the End of a Stable Pacific

Robert Kaplan, 2014

Asia–South China Sea

“To understand the future of conflict in East Asia, Kaplan argues, one must understand the goals and motivations of its leaders and its people. Part travelogue, part geopolitical primer, Asia’s Cauldron takes us on a journey through the region’s boom cities and ramshackle slums: from Vietnam, where the super fueled capitalism of the erstwhile colonial capital, Saigon, inspires the geostrategic pretensions of the official seat of government in Hanoi, to Malaysia, where a unique mix of authoritarian Islam and Western-style consumerism creates quite possibly the ultimate postmodern society; and from Singapore, whose “benevolent autocracy” helped foster an economic miracle, to the Philippines, where a different brand of authoritarianism under Ferdinand Marcos led not to economic growth but to decades of corruption and crime.”

Kaplan, Robert D. Asia’s Cauldron: The South China Sea and the End of a Stable Pacific. Random House, 2014.

Afghanistan: A Cultural and Political History

Thomas Barfield, 2010

Asia Central–Afghanistan

Afghanistan traces the historic struggles and the changing nature of political authority in this volatile region of the world, from the Mughal Empire in the sixteenth century to the Taliban resurgence today. Thomas Barfield introduces readers to the bewildering diversity of tribal and ethnic groups in Afghanistan, explaining what unites them as Afghans despite the regional, cultural, and political differences that divide them. He shows how governing these peoples was relatively easy when power was concentrated in a small dynastic elite, but how this delicate political order broke down in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries when Afghanistan's rulers mobilized rural militias to expel first the British and later the Soviets. Armed insurgency proved remarkably successful against the foreign occupiers, but it also undermined the Afghan government's authority and rendered the country ever more difficult to govern as time passed. Barfield vividly describes how Afghanistan's armed factions plunged the country into a civil war, giving rise to clerical rule by the Taliban and Afghanistan's isolation from the world. He examines why the American invasion in the wake of September 11 toppled the Taliban so quickly, and how this easy victory lulled the United States into falsely believing that a viable state could be built just as easily.”

Barfield, Thomas. Afghanistan: A Cultural and Political History. Princeton University Press, 2010.

Reaping the Whirlwind: The Taliban Movement in Afghanistan

Michael Griffin, 2001

Asia Central–Afghanistan

“Chronicles the rise of the Taliban from their first appearance in 1994, examines their place in the context of Afghanistan's political instability, and discusses the significance of their brand of Islamic fundamentalism.”

Griffin, Michael. Reaping the Whirlwind: The Taliban Movement in Afghanistan. Pluto Press, 2001.

Soldiers of God: With Islamic Warriors in Afghanistan and Pakistan

Robert Kaplan, 2001

Asia Central–Afghanistan

“World affairs expert and intrepid travel journalist Robert D. Kaplan braved the dangers of war-ravaged Afghanistan in the 1980s, living among the mujahidin—the “soldiers of god”—whose unwavering devotion to Islam fueled their mission to oust the formidable Soviet invaders. In Soldiers of God we follow Kaplan’s extraordinary journey and learn how the thwarted Soviet invasion gave rise to the ruthless Taliban and the defining international conflagration of the twenty-first century.

“Kaplan returns a decade later and brings to life a lawless frontier. What he reveals is astonishing: teeming refugee camps on the deeply contentious Pakistan-Afghanistan border; a war front that combines primitive fighters with the most technologically advanced weapons known to man; rigorous Islamic indoctrination academies; a land of minefields plagued by drought, fierce tribalism, insurmountable ethnic and religious divisions, an abysmal literacy rate, and legions of war orphans who seek stability in military brotherhood. Traveling alongside Islamic guerrilla fighters, sharing their food, observing their piety in the face of deprivation, and witnessing their determination, Kaplan offers a unique opportunity to increase our understanding of a people and a country that are at the center of world events.”

Kaplan, Robert D. Soldiers of God: With Islamic Warriors in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Vintage, 2001.

Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia (2nd ed.)

Ahmed Rashid, 2010

Asia Central–Afghanistan

“Correspondent Ahmed Rashid brings the shadowy world of the Taliban—the world’s most extreme and radical Islamic organization—into sharp focus in this enormously insightful book. Rashid offers the only authoritative account of the Taliban available to English-language readers, explaining the Taliban’s rise to power, its impact on Afghanistan and the Middle East and Central Asia, its role in oil and gas company decisions, and the effects of changing American attitudes toward the Taliban. He also describes the new face of Islamic fundamentalism and explains why Afghanistan has become the world center for international terrorism.”

Rashid, Ahmed. Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia. 2nd ed. Yale University Press, 2010.

The Afghan Campaign: A Novel (Alexander the Great)

Steven Pressfield, 2006

Asia Central–Afghanistan

“In a story that might have been ripped from today’s combat dispatches, Steven Pressfield brings to life the confrontation between an invading Western army and fierce Eastern warriors determined at all costs to defend their homeland. Narrated by an infantryman in Alexander’s army, The Afghan Campaign explores the challenges, both military and moral, that Alexander and his soldiers face as they embark on a new type of war and are forced to adapt to the methods of a ruthless foe that employs terror and insurgent tactics. An edge-of-your-seat adventure, The Afghan Campaign once again demonstrates Pressfield’s profound understanding of the hopes and desperation of men in battle and of the historical realities that continue to influence our world.”

Pressfield, Steven. The Afghan Campaign: A Novel. Broadway Books, 2006.

The Punishment of Virtue: Inside Afghanistan After the Taliban

Sarah Chayes, 2006

Asia Central–Afghanistan

“An eyewitness account of the return to warlordism in Afghanistan after the Taliban. Sarah Chayes was an overseas correspondent for America's National Public Radio network (NPR) when war broke out in Afghanistan in 2001. Reporting from the Taliban's home base of Kandahar, Chayes gained access to leading members of the Taliban, Afghan politicians and warlords, US military and diplomatic troops. She saw the US government and armed forces unwittingly aiding the return to power of corrupt warlords, as well as the re-infiltration of bands of Taliban forces supported by US ally Pakistan. The Punishment of Virtue is not just a book about the Afghan conflict. It's an illuminating look at what happens when superpowers impose their might on countries they do not understand, without proper plans or knowledge of how to deal with post-conflict situations. Afghanistan, Kosovo, Iraq – we see it happen time and time again.”

Chayes, Sarah. The Punishment of Virtue: Inside Afghanistan After the Taliban. Penguin, 2006.

The Soviet-Afghan War: How a Superpower Fought and Lost

Russian Gen. Staff, 2002

Asia Central–Afghanistan

“In The Soviet-Afghan War the Russian general staff takes a close critical look at the Soviet military's disappointing performance in [The Afghan War] in an effort to better understand what happened and why and what lessons should be taken from it. Lester Grau and Michael Gress's expert English translation of the general staff's study offers the very first publication in any language of this important and illuminating work. 

"Their study presents the Russian view of how the war started, how it progressed, and how it ended; shows how a modern mechanized army organized and conducted a counter-guerrilla war; chronicles the major battles and operations; and provides valuable insights into Soviet tactics, strategy, doctrine, and organization across a wide array of military branches. The editors' incisive preface and commentary help contextualize the Russian view and alert the reader to blind spots in the general staff's thinking about the war.

"This one-of-a-kind document provides a powerful case study on how yet another modern mechanized army imprudently relied upon the false promise of technology to defeat a determined guerrilla foe. Along the way, it vividly reveals the increasing disillusionment of Soviet soldiers, how that disillusion seeped back into Soviet society, and how it contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Red Army had fought their war to a military draw but that was not enough to stave off political defeat at home. The Soviet-Afghan War helps clarify how such a surprising demise could have materialized in the backyard of the Cold War's other great superpower.”

Russian General Staff. The Soviet-Afghan War: How a Superpower Fought and Lost. University Press of Kansas, 2002.

The Wrong War: Grit, Strategy and the Way Out of Afghanistan

Francis J. “Bing” West, 2011

Asia Central–Afghanistan

“In this definitive account of the conflict, acclaimed war correspondent and bestselling author Bing West provides a practical way out of Afghanistan. Drawing on his expertise as both a combat-hardened Marine and a former assistant secretary of defense, West has written a tour de force narrative, rich with vivid characters and gritty combat, which shows the consequences when strategic theory meets tactical reality. Having embedded with dozens of frontline units over the past three years, he takes the reader on a battlefield journey from the mountains in the north to the opium fields in the south. A fighter who understands strategy, West builds the case for changing course. His conclusion is sure to provoke debate: remove most of the troops from Afghanistan, stop spending billions on the dream of a modern democracy, and insist the Afghans fight their own battles. Bing West’s book is a page-turner about brave men and cunning enemies that examines our realistic choices as a nation.”

West, Francis J. “Bing.” The Wrong War: Grit, Strategy and the Way Out of Afghanistan. Random House, 2011.

The Man Who Would Be King and Other Stories

Rudyard Kipling, 1994 (first published 1907)

Asia Central–Afghanistan

“Winner of the Nobel Prize for literature in 1907, Rudyard Kipling (1865–1936) drew upon his experiences in Anglo-Indian Society for much of his writing. This volume presents five of Kipling's best early stories, including "The Phantom Rickshaw," a psychological thriller; "Wee Willie Winkie," a delightful display of love for children; "Without Benefit of Clergy," the poignant story of an Englishmen's affair with an Islamic woman; "The Strange Ride of Morrowbie Jukes"; and the celebrated title story.”

Kipling, Rudyard. The Man Who Would Be King and Other Stories. 1907. Dover Publications, 1994.

Caravans: A Novel of Afghanistan

James A. Michener, 2003 (first published in 1963)

Asia Central–Afghanistan

“First published in 1963, James A. Michener’s gripping chronicle of the social and political landscape of Afghanistan is more relevant now than ever. Combining fact with riveting adventure and intrigue, Michener follows a military man tasked, in the years after World War II, with a dangerous assignment: finding and returning a young American woman living in Afghanistan to her distraught family after she suddenly and mysteriously disappears. A timeless tale of love and emotional drama set against the backdrop of one of the most important countries in the world today, Caravans captures the tension of the postwar period, the sweep of Afghanistan’s remarkable history, and the inescapable allure of the past.”

Michener, James A. Caravans: A Novel of Afghanistan. 1963. Dial Press, 2003.

Culture and Customs of Afghanistan

Hafizullah Emadi, 2005

Asia Central–Afghanistan

“Emadi brings an insider's knowledge and authority to the accessible narrative. Students and general readers will find a clear explanation of the land, people, economy, social stratification, and history as context for the chapters that follow. In the chapter on Religion and Religious Thought, the predominant Islamic religion is largely intertwined with political events that have brought Afghanistan such attention. The lesser-known literature and the arts are brought to light next. A strong Architecture, Housing, and Settlements chapter highlights many styles unfamiliar to most Westerners. Coverage of Afghan cooking and cuisine brings a more intimate understanding of the culture. The chapter on Family, Women, and Gender will draw readers in with its survey of how the family works, what is expected of women, and what courtship, marriage, childrearing, and education are like today. A standout of the Festivals and Leisure Activities chapter is the vivid rendering of the sport called Buzkashi, where men on horseback vie to move an animal carcass across a field to a goal. A final chapter on Lifestyles, Media, and Education describes the urban vs. rural lifestyles, the state of communications, and the prospects for schooling post Taliban. A country map, glossary, resource guide, and photos complement the text."

Emadi, Hafizullah. Culture and Customs of Afghanistan. ABC-CLIO, 2005.

The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia

Peter Hopkirk, 1994

Asia Central–Europe Involvement

“The Great Game was the epic stand-off between the two superpowers of the nineteenth century--Victorian Britain and Czarist Russia--for the riches of India and the East. Based on meticulous scholarship and on-the-spot research, Peter Hopkirk's immensely readable account covers the history at the core of today's geopolitics.”

Hopkirk, Peter. The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia. Kodansha International, 1994.

Jihad: The Rise of Militant Islam in Central Asia

Ahmed Rashid, 2002

Asia Central–Religion

“The terrorist attacks of September 11 have turned the world’s attention to areas of the globe about which we know very little. Ahmed Rashid, who masterfully explained Afghanistan’s Taliban regime in his previous book, here turns his skills as an investigative journalist to the five Central Asian republics adjacent to Afghanistan. Central Asia is coming to play a vital strategic role in the war on terrorism, but the region also poses new threats to global security.

The five Central Asian republics—Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan—were part of the Soviet Union until its collapse in 1991. Under Soviet rule, Islam was brutally suppressed, and that intolerance has continued under the post-Soviet regimes. Religious repression, political corruption, and the region’s extreme poverty (unemployment rates exceed 80 percent in some areas) have created a fertile climate for militant Islamic fundamentalism. Often funded and trained by such organizations as Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda and the Taliban, guerrilla movements like the IMU (Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan) have recruited a staggering number of members across the region and threaten to topple the governments of all five nations. Based on groundbreaking research and numerous interviews, Jihad explains the roots of militant rage in Central Asia, describes the goals and activities of these militant organizations, and suggests ways in which this threat could be neutralized by diplomatic and economic intervention.

Rich in both cultural heritage and natural resources—including massive oil reservoirs—Central Asia remains desperately poor and frighteningly volatile. In tracing the history of Central Asia and explaining the current political climate, Rashid demonstrates that it is a region we ignore at our peril.”

Rashid, Ahmed. Jihad: The Rise of Militant Islam in Central Asia. Yale University Press, 2002.

CEO, China: The Rise of Xi Jinping

Kerry Brown, 2016

Asia East–China

“China has become the powerhouse of the world economy, its incredible boom overseen by the elite members of the secretive and all-powerful communist party. But since the election of Xi Jinping as General Secretary, life at the top in China has changed. Under the guise of a corruption crackdown, which has seen his rivals imprisoned, Xi Jinping has been quietly building one of the most powerful leaderships modern China has ever seen. In CEO China, the noted China expert Kerry Brown reveals the hidden story of the rise of the man dubbed the 'Chinese Godfather'. Brown investigates his relationship with his revolutionary father, who was expelled by Mao during the Cultural Revolution, his business dealings and allegiances in China's regional power struggles and his role in the internal battle raging between the old men of the Deng era and the new super-rich 'princelings'. Xi Jinping's China is powerful, aggressive and single-minded and this book will become a must-read for the Western world.”

Brown, Kerry. CEO, China: The Rise of Xi Jinping. IB Tauris, 2016.

Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China

Ezra Vogel, 2011

Asia East–China

“Perhaps no one in the twentieth century had a greater long-term impact on world history than Deng Xiaoping. And no scholar of contemporary East Asian history and culture is better qualified than Ezra Vogel to disentangle the many contradictions embodied in the life and legacy of China’s boldest strategist.”

Vogel, Ezra. Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China. Harvard University Press, 2011.

Fire on the Water: China, America, and the Future of the Pacific

Robert Haddick, 2014

Asia East–China

“In Fire on the Water, Robert Haddick contends that much of the general public and many U.S. policy experts are unaware of the threat that China’s military modernization poses to America’s national interests in the Asia-Pacific region. He maintains that within a decade China will have the military power to place U.S. influence throughout East Asia at risk. To avoid a future crisis, the United States needs to fashion a new and more competitive strategy, one that better matches the strengths of the United States and its allies against China’s vulnerabilities.”

Haddick, Robert. Fire on the Water: China, America, and the Future of the Pacific. U.S. Nava, Institute, 2014.

Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master’s Insights on China, the United States, and the World

Graham Allison, 2013

Asia East–China

“When Lee Kuan Yew speaks, presidents, prime ministers, diplomats, and CEOs listen. Lee, the founding father of modern Singapore and its prime minister from 1959 to 1990, has honed his wisdom during more than fifty years on the world stage. Almost single-handedly responsible for transforming Singapore into a Western-style economic success, he offers a unique perspective on the geopolitics of East and West. American presidents from Richard Nixon to Barack Obama have welcomed him to the White House; British prime ministers from Margaret Thatcher to Tony Blair have recognized his wisdom; and business leaders from Rupert Murdoch to Rex Tillerson, CEO of Exxon Mobil, have praised his accomplishments. This book gathers key insights from interviews, speeches, and Lee’s voluminous published writings and presents them in an engaging question and answer format.”

Allison, Graham. Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master’s Insights on China, the United States, and the World. MIT Press, 2013.

On China

Henry A. Kissinger, 2011

Asia East–China

“In On China, Kissinger examines key episodes in Chinese foreign policy from the classical era to the present day, with a particular emphasis on the decades since the rise of Mao Zedong. He illuminates the inner workings of Chinese diplomacy during such pivotal events as the initial encounters between China and modern European powers, the formation and breakdown of the Sino-Soviet alliance, the Korean War, Richard Nixon’s historic trip to Beijing, and three crises in the Taiwan Straits. Drawing on his extensive personal experience with four generation of Chinese leaders, he brings to life towering figures such as Mao, Zhou Enlai, and Deng Xiaoping, revealing how their different visions have shaped China’s modern destiny.”

Kissinger, Henry. On China. Penguin, 2011.

Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung

Mao Zedong, 1966

Asia East–China

Zedong, Mao. Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung. BN Publishing, 1966.

Restless Empire: China and the World Since 1750

Odd Arne Westad, 2012

Asia East–China

“Tracing China’s course from the eighteenth-century Qing Dynasty to today's People’s Republic, Restless Empire shows how the country’s worldview has evolved. It explains how Chinese attitudes have been determined by both receptiveness and resistance to outside influence and presents the preoccupations that have set its foreign-relations agenda.”

Westad, Odd Arne. Restless Empire: China and the World Since 1750. Penguin, 2012.

The Hundred-Year Marathon: China’s Secret Strategy to Replace America as the Global Superpower

Michael Pillsbury, 2016

Asia East–China

“Based on interviews with Chinese defectors and newly declassified, previously undisclosed national security documents, The Hundred-Year Marathon reveals China's secret strategy to supplant the United States as the world's dominant power, and to do so by 2049, the one-hundredth anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic. Michael Pillsbury, a fluent Mandarin speaker who has served in senior national security positions in the U.S. government since the days of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger, draws on his decades of contact with the "hawks" in China's military and intelligence agencies and translates their documents, speeches, and books to show how the teachings of traditional Chinese statecraft underpin their actions. He offers an inside look at how the Chinese really view America and its leaders – as barbarians who will be the architects of their own demise.

“Pillsbury also explains how the U.S. government has helped – sometimes unwittingly and sometimes deliberately – to make this "China Dream" come true, and he calls for the United States to implement a new, more competitive strategy toward China as it really is, and not as we might wish it to be. The Hundred-Year Marathon is a wake-up call as we face the greatest national security challenge of the twenty-first century.”

Pillsbury, Michael. The Hundred-Year Marathon: China’s Secret Strategy to Replace America as the Global Superpower. Macmillan, 2016.

The Next Great War? The Roots of World War I and the Risk of U.S.-China Conflict

Richard N. Rosecrance, Steve E. Miller, eds., 2014

Asia East–China

“In The Next Great War?, experts reconsider the causes of World War I and explore whether the great powers of the twenty-first century can avoid the mistakes of Europe’s statesmen in 1914 and prevent another catastrophic conflict. They find differences as well as similarities between today’s world and the world of 1914—but conclude that only a deep understanding of those differences and early action to bring great powers together will likely enable the United States and China to avoid a great war.”

Rosecrance, Richard N. and Steve E. Miller (eds.). The Next Great War? The Roots of World War I and the Risk of U.S.-China Conflict. MIT Press, 2014.

The Party: The Secret World of China's Communist Rulers

Richard McGregor, 2010

Asia East–China

The Party is Financial Times reporter Richard McGregor’s eye-opening investigation into China’s Communist Party, and the integral role it has played in the country’s rise as a global superpower and rival to the United States. Many books have examined China’s economic rise, human rights record, turbulent history, and relations with the U.S.; none until now, however, have tackled the issue central to understanding all of these issues: how the ruling communist government works. The Party delves deeply into China’s secretive political machine.”

McGregor, Richard. The Party: The Secret World of China's Communist Rulers. HarperCollins, 2010.

China Hands: Nine Decades of Adventure, Espionage, and Diplomacy in Asia

James A. Lilley, 2004

Asia East–China Intelligence

“James Lilley offers a personal look at his life in Asia, beginning with his childhood in Tsingtao China, discussing his thirty years in the CIA in such places as Tokyo and Taiwan, before taking a job with the State Department as a diplomat.”

Lilley, James A. China Hands: Nine Decades of Adventure, Espionage, and Diplomacy in Asia. PublicAffairs Books, 2004.

Intimate Rivals: Japanese Domestic Politics and a Rising China

Sheila Smith, 2015

Asia East­­–Japan and China

“No country feels China's rise more deeply than Japan. Through intricate case studies of visits by Japanese politicians to the Yasukuni Shrine, conflicts over the boundaries of economic zones in the East China Sea, concerns about food safety, and strategies of island defense, Sheila A. Smith explores the policy issues testing the Japanese government as it tries to navigate its relationship with an advancing China.”

Smith, Sheila. Intimate Rivals: Japanese Domestic Politics and a Rising China. Columbia University Press, 2015.

Korea: A Walk Through the Land of Miracles

Simon Winchester, 2005

Asia East–Korea

“In the late 1980s, New York Times bestselling author Simon Winchester set out on foot to discover the Republic of Korea -- from its southern tip to the North Korean border -- in order to set the record straight about this enigmatic and elusive land.

“Fascinating for its vivid presentation of historical and geographic detail, Korea is that rare book that actually defines a nation and its people. Winchester's gift for capturing engaging characters in true, compelling stories provides us with a treasury of enchanting and informed insight on the culture, language, history, and politics of this little-known corner of Asia.

“With a new introduction by the author, Korea is a beautiful journey through a mysterious country and a memorable addition to the many adventures of Simon Winchester.”

Winchester, Simon. Korea: A Walk Through the Land of Miracles. HarperCollins, 2005.

Korea's Place in the Sun: A Modern History

Bruce Cumings, 1997

Asia East–Korea

“An authoritative, narrative chronicle of modern Korea focuses on the country's turbulent twentieth-century history, discussing its 1910 loss of independence, its years under Japanese rule, its division and the Korean War, and its postwar recovery and economic growth.”

Cumings, Bruce. Korea's Place in the Sun: A Modern History. W.W. Norton and Company, 1997.

The Partition of Korea after World War II: A Global History

Jongsoo James Lee, 2006

Asia East–Korea

“Drawing on multi-archival research in Korean, Russian and English, this book looks at the complexity and changes in Stalin's policy toward Korea for answers about the division of Korea in 1945 and the failure of reunification between 1945 and 1948. Lee argues that the trusteeship decision is key to the division's origins and permanency.”

Lee, Jongsoo James. The Partition of Korea after World War II: A Global History. Palgrave, 2006.

The Two Koreas: A Contemporary History, Revised and Updated Edition

Don Oberdorfer and Rob Carlin, 2001

Asia East–Korea

“Don Oberdorfer has written a gripping narrative history of Korea's travails and triumphs over the past three decades. The Two Koreas places the tensions between North and South within a historical context, with a special emphasis on the involvement of outside powers.”

Oberdorfer, Don and Rob Carlin. The Two Koreas: A Contemporary History, Revised and Updated Edition. Basic Books, 2001.

The Abacus and the Sword: The Japanese Penetration of Korea, 1895-1910

Peter Duus, 1995

Asia East–Korea

“What forces were behind Japan's emergence as the first non-Western colonial power at the turn of the twentieth century? Peter Duus brings a new perspective to Meiji expansionism in this pathbreaking study of Japan's acquisition of Korea, the largest of its colonial possessions. He shows how Japan's drive for empire was part of a larger goal to become the economic, diplomatic, and strategic equal of the Western countries who had imposed a humiliating treaty settlement on the country in the 1850s.

“Duus maintains that two separate but interlinked processes, one political/military and the other economic, propelled Japan's imperialism. Every attempt at increasing Japanese political influence licensed new opportunities for trade, and each new push for Japanese economic interests buttressed, and sometimes justified, further political advances. The sword was the servant of the abacus, the abacus the agent of the sword.”

Duus, Peter. The Abacus and the Sword: The Japanese Penetration of Korea, 1895-1910. University of California Press, 1995.

North of the DMZ: Essays on Daily Life in North Korea

Andrei Lankov, 2007

Asia East–Korea North

“The Kim dynasty has ruled North Korea for over 60 years. Most of that period has found the country suffering under mature Stalinism characterized by manipulation, brutality and tight social control. Nevertheless, some citizens of Kim Jong Il's regime manage to transcend his tyranny in their daily existence. This book describes that difficult but determined existence and the world that the North Koreans have created for themselves in the face of oppression. Many features of this world are unique and even bizarre. But they have been created by the citizens to reflect their own ideas and values, in sharp contrast to the world forced upon them by a totalitarian system. Opening chapters introduce the political system and the extent to which it permeates citizens' daily lives, from the personal status badges they wear to the nationalized distribution of the food they eat. Chapters discussing the schools, the economic system, and family life dispel the myth of the workers' paradise that North Korea attempts to perpetuate. In these chapters the intricacies of daily life in a totalitarian dictatorship are seen through the eyes of defectors whose anecdotes constitute an important portion of the material. The closing chapter treats at length the significant changes that have taken place in North Korea over the last decade, concluding that these changes will lead to the quiet but inevitable death of North Korean Stalinism.”

Lankov, Andrei. North of the DMZ: Essays on Daily Life in North Korea. McFarland Books, 2007.

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea

Barbara Demick, 2010

Asia East–Korea North

“In this landmark addition to the literature of totalitarianism, award-winning journalist Barbara Demick follows the lives of six North Korean citizens over fifteen years—a chaotic period that saw the death of Kim Il-sung, the rise to power of his son Kim Jong-il (the father of Kim Jong-un), and a devastating famine that killed one-fifth of the population.

“Demick brings to life what it means to be living under the most repressive regime today—an Orwellian world that is by choice not connected to the Internet, where displays of affection are punished, informants are rewarded, and an offhand remark can send a person to the gulag for life. She takes us deep inside the country, beyond the reach of government censors, and through meticulous and sensitive reporting we see her subjects fall in love, raise families, nurture ambitions, and struggle for survival. One by one, we witness their profound, life-altering disillusionment with the government and their realization that, rather than providing them with lives of abundance, their country has betrayed them.”

Demick, Barbara. Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea. Spiegel & Grau, 2010.

Orphan Master’s Son: A Novel

Adam Johnson, 2012

Asia East–Korea North

“Pak Jun Do is the haunted son of a lost mother—a singer “stolen” to Pyongyang—and an influential father who runs a work camp for orphans. Superiors in the state soon recognize the boy’s loyalty and keen instincts. Considering himself “a humble citizen of the greatest nation in the world,” Jun Do rises in the ranks. He becomes a professional kidnapper who must navigate the shifting rules, arbitrary violence, and baffling demands of his Korean overlords in order to stay alive. Driven to the absolute limit of what any human being could endure, he boldly takes on the treacherous role of rival to Kim Jong Il in an attempt to save the woman he loves, Sun Moon, a legendary actress “so pure, she didn’t know what starving people looked like.”

“In this epic, critically acclaimed tour de force, Adam Johnson provides a riveting portrait of a world rife with hunger, corruption, and casual cruelty but also camaraderie, stolen moments of beauty, and love.”

Johnson, Adam. Orphan Master’s Son: A Novel. Random House, 2012.

Over the Line: North Korea's Negotiating Strategy

Chuck Downs, 1999

Asia East–Korea North

“Using previously unpublished accounts, Over the Line brings together for the first time the full record of North Korea’s negotiations, describes motives and objectives, and assesses negotiating tactics. Chuck Downs draws important conclusions from the North’s manipulation of international talks and cautions policymakers to be alert to the regime’s tactics. As a guide to negotiating with North Korea, Over the Line will provide policymakers with important background on how to deal with the rogue regime.

“The author explores the role of espionage and infiltration, deception and brinkmanship, and provides an alarming prediction of the future course of North Korea’s relations with the United States and its allies.”

Downs, Chuck. Over the Line: North Korea's Negotiating Strategy. AEI Press, 1999.

The Aquariums of Pyongyang: Ten Years in the North Korean Gulag

Chol-hwan Kang and Pierre Rigoulot, 2005 (U.S.)

Asia East–Korea North

“As tensions between the US and North North Korea continue to escalate, stories of life inside our long-time opponent are more relevant than ever.

“North Korea’s leaders have consistently kept a tight grasp on their one-party regime, quashing any nascent opposition movements and sending all suspected dissidents to its brutal concentration camps for “re-education.”

“Kang Chol-Hwan is the first survivor of one of these camps to escape and tell his story to the world, documenting the extreme conditions in these gulags and providing a personal insight into life in North Korea.

“Part horror story, part historical document, part memoir, part political tract, this record of one man’s suffering gives eyewitness proof to an ongoing sorrowful chapter of modern history.”

Kang, Chol-hwan and Pierre Rigoulot. The Aquariums of Pyongyang: Ten Years in the North Korean Gulag. Basic Books, 2005.

The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves and Why It Matters

B.R. Myers, 2011

Asia East–Korea North

“For years, North Korea watchers who speak no Korean have been confidently telling the world what motivates Kim Jong-Il. But in The Cleanest Race, B.R. Myers, a North Korea analyst and contributing editor of the Atlantic Monthly, presents the first full-length study of the North Korean worldview. In a lavishly illustrated work that draws on extensive research into the regime’s domestic propaganda, including films, romance novels and other artifacts of the personality cult, Myers analyzes each of the country’s official myths in turn—from the notion of Koreans’ unique moral purity, to the myth of an America quaking in terror of “the Iron General.” And in a groundbreaking historical section, Myers also traces the origins of this official culture back to the Japanese fascist thought in which North Korea’s first ideologues were schooled.

“What emerges is a regime completely unlike the West’s perception of it – neither a bastion of Stalinism nor a Confucian patriarchy, but a paranoid nationalist, “military-first” state on the far right of the political spectrum. Given that North Korea is now calling for a “blood reckoning” with the “Yankee jackals,” Myers’ unprecedented analysis could not be more timely.”

Myers, B.R. The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves and Why It Matters. Melville House Press, 2011.

Dear Leader: My Escape from North Korea

Jang Jin-Sung, 2015

Asia East–North Korea

“The story they couldn’t hack: In this international bestseller, a high-ranking counterintelligence agent describes his life as a former poet laureate to Kim Jong-il and his breathtaking escape to freedom.

“As North Korea’s State Poet Laureate, Jang Jin-sung led a charmed life. With food provisions (even as the country suffered through its great famine), a travel pass, access to strictly censored information, and audiences with Kim Jong-il himself, his life in Pyongyang seemed safe and secure. But this privileged existence was about to be shattered. When a strictly forbidden magazine he lent to a friend goes missing, Jang Jin-Sung must flee for his life.

“Never before has a member of the elite described the inner workings of this totalitarian state and its propaganda machine.”

Jin-Sung, Jang. Dear Leader: My Escape from North Korea. Simon & Schuster, 2015.

Red Star Over The Pacific: China's Rise and the Challenge to U.S. Maritime Superiority

Toshi Yoshihara, James R. Holmes, 2013

Asia Pacific–China

“Combining a close knowledge of Asia and an ability to tap Chinese-language sources with naval combat experience and expertise in sea-power theory, the authors assess how the rise of Chinese sea power will affect U.S. maritime strategy in Asia. They argue that China is laying the groundwork for a sustained challenge to American primacy in maritime Asia, and to defend this hypothesis they look back to Alfred Thayer Mahan's sea-power theories, now popular with the Chinese. The book considers how strategic thought about the sea shapes Beijing's deliberations and compares China's geostrategic predicament to that of the Kaiser's Germany a century ago. It examines the Chinese navy's operational concepts, tactics, and capabilities and appraises China's ballistic-missile submarine fleet. The authors conclude that unless Washington adapts, China will present a challenge to America's strategic position.”

Yoshihara, Toshi and James R. Holmes. Red Star Over The Pacific: China's Rise and the Challenge to U.S. Maritime Superiority. U.S. Naval Institute, 2013.

Pacific: Silicon Chips and Surf Boards, Coral Reefs and Atom Bombs, Brutal Dictators Fading Empires and the Coming Collision of the World's Superpowers

Simon Winchester, 2015

Asia Pacific–Geography

“In telling the story of the Pacific, Simon Winchester takes us from the Bering Strait to Cape Horn, the Yangtze River to the Panama Canal, and to the many small islands and archipelagos that lie in between. He observes the fall of a dictator in Manila, visits aboriginals in northern Queensland, and is jailed in Tierra del Fuego, the land at the end of the world. His journey encompasses a trip down the Alaska Highway, a stop at the isolated Pitcairn Islands, a trek across South Korea and a glimpse of its mysterious northern neighbor.

“Winchester’s personal experience is vast and his storytelling second to none. And his historical understanding of the region is formidable, making Pacific a paean to this magnificent sea of beauty, myth, and imagination that is transforming our lives.”

Winchester, Simon. Pacific: Silicon Chips and Surf Boards, Coral Reefs and Atom Bombs, Brutal Dictators Fading Empires and the Coming Collision of the World's Superpowers. HarperCollins, 2015.

Soldier Sahibs: The Daring Adventurers Who Tamed India's Northwest Frontier

Charles Allen, 2001

Asia South–India

“Drawing extensively on diaries, letters and family mementos as well as his own frequent travels in the northwest region of India, the author offers an illuminating study of British colonial history and the prominent role played by his own ancestor, Brigadier General John Nicholson.”

Allen, Charles. Soldier Sahibs: The Daring Adventurers Who Tamed India's Northwest Frontier. Carroll & Graf Pub, 2001.

The White Tiger: A Novel

Aravind Adiga, 2008

Asia South–India

“A stunning literary debut critics have likened to Richard Wright’s Native Son, The White Tiger follows a darkly comic Bangalore driver through the poverty and corruption of modern India’s caste society. “This is the authentic voice of the Third World, like you've never heard it before” (John Burdett, Bangkok 8).

“The white tiger of this novel is Balram Halwai, a poor Indian villager whose great ambition leads him to the zenith of Indian business culture, the world of the Bangalore entrepreneur. On the occasion of the president of China’s impending trip to Bangalore, Balram writes a letter to him describing his transformation and his experience as driver and servant to a wealthy Indian family, which he thinks exemplifies the contradictions and complications of Indian society.”

Adiga, Aravind. The White Tiger: A Novel. Simon & Schuster, 2008.


Pakistan: A Hard Country

Anatol Lieven, 2012

Asia South–Pakistan

“In the past decade Pakistan has become a country of immense importance to its region, the United States, and the world. With almost 200 million people, a 500,000-man army, nuclear weapons, and a large diaspora in Britain and North America, Pakistan is central to the hopes of jihadis and the fears of their enemies. Yet the greatest short-term threat to Pakistan is not Islamist insurgency as such, but the actions of the United States, and the greatest longterm threat is ecological change.

“Anatol Lieven's book is a magisterial investigation of this highly complex and often poorly understood country. Engagingly written, combining history and profound analysis with reportage from Lieven's extensive travels as a journalist and academic, Pakistan: A Hard Country is both utterly compelling and deeply revealing.”

Lieven, Anatol. Pakistan: A Hard Country. PublicAffairs Books, 2012.

The Caucasus: An Introduction

Thomas de Waal, 2010

Asia West–Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan

“In this fascinating book, noted journalist Thomas de Waal--author of the highly acclaimed Black Garden--makes the case that while the Caucasus is often treated as a sub-plot in the history of Russia, or as a mere gateway to Asia, the five-day war in Georgia, which flared into a major international crisis in 2008, proves that this is still a combustible region, whose inner dynamics and history deserve a much more complex appreciation from the wider world. 

“In The Caucasus, de Waal provides this richer, deeper, and much-needed appreciation, one that reveals that the South Caucasus--Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia, and their many smaller regions, enclaves, and breakaway entities--is a fascinating and distinct world unto itself. Providing both historical background and an insightful analysis of the period after 1991, de Waal sheds light on how the region has been scarred by the tumultuous scramble for independence and the three major conflicts that broke out with the end of the Soviet Union--Nagorny Karabakh, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia. The book examines the region as a major energy producer and exporter; offers a compelling account of the Rose Revolution in Georgia, the rise of Mikheil Saakashvili, and the August 2008 war; and considers the failure of the South Caucasus, thus far, to become a single viable region. In addition, the book features a dozen or so "boxes" which provide brief snapshots of such fascinating side topics as the Kurds, Turkish-Armenian rapprochement, the promotion of the region as the "Soviet Florida," and the most famous of all Georgians, Stalin.”

De Waal, Thomas. The Caucasus: An Introduction. Oxford University Press, 2010.

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