An informed inquiry into the reasons for Southeast Asia's remarkable prosperity and the West's chances of capitalizing on it. Drawing on anecdotal as well as statistical evidence gathered in his post as a Hong Kong-based economist for CS First Boston (and previously as a roving correspondent for the Economist), Rohwer offers an upbeat appraisal of the vast region that 58 percent of the world's population calls home. (By the author's reckoning, Asia includes the Indian subcontinent and the Philippines, but he treats Japan as a special case.) Delving into the factors that have helped keep the pace of economic growth in this vast domain at enviable levels over the past quarter century, Rohwer singles out the refusal of local governments to provide social safety nets of the sort found in Europe's and North America's welfare states. Among other favorable outcomes, be observes, the absence of such a support system has reduced tax burdens, induced workers to save more of their income, strengthened family ties, and directed such people investments as have been made into productive channels (e.g., secondary rather than higher education). The author also credits US intervention in Vietnam with having prevented the area's capitalist semi-democracies (Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, et al.) from falling to communism. On the downside, Rohwer notes that the Pacific basin's financial institutions and infrastructure are not what they ought to be at this stage of the region's development. Nor, in his view, are its authoritarian governments as open and accountable as they could be. Given Asia's literate young labor force, receptivity to outside ideas, and expanding consumer class, he expects the territory not only to consolidate its gains but also to afford greater commercial opportunities to nimble multinationals. A judicious but lively take on a region that could give its name to the next century.