An entertaining and occasionally thought-provoking tour of Asia as it prepares for the 21st century.
Husband and wife Kristof and WuDunn (China Wakes, 1994) provide a panoramic view of Asia on the verge of dramatic social and economic change. The impetus for the book is the Asian economic crisis, which, the authors argue, was actually a blessing in disguise, in that it cleared out a lot of the dead wood—totalitarianism, cronyism, and corruption—that threatened to stall Asia's continued "rise." In trying to explain the crisis, Kristof and WuDunn come around to the view that the past 500 years of Western dominance represent a historical anomaly, and they assert that in the near future Asian nations will regain a dominant role in world affairs. This thesis is not particularly original, of course, nor does the book break any scholarly ground (or even survey the existing literature in any great depth). But Kristof and WuDunn are excellent journalists, and they are at their best when presenting anecdotes and images that convey larger truths in compelling and often touching ways. Thus, their analysis of Japan and China (countries where they have lived and where they speak the language) is especially thoughtful and nuanced; their accounts of life in Indonesia and Thailand are also written with confidence. The book's major flaw, however, is its treatment of India. It is unclear why India should be analyzed with East Asia at all—Iran, Central Asia, and Nepal are not touched upon—and the portions of the book devoted to it have a sketchy, added-on quality that is exacerbated by a condescension that verges on distaste (the country is described several times as "neurotic").
An intelligent, wonderfully written account of life in millennial Asia that, despite its almost quaint goal of painting a portrait of a continent, works best when it simply tells the stories of people whom the authors have come to know.