After hanging around Asia for 35 years, Shaplen is still convinced that it's ""the most fascinating and most important continent""; and this collection of essays, the product of a three year swing through South and North Asia (but excluding China itself) reflects his interest in the multiple nationalities and ethnic configurations as well as the often political and cultural embroilments. In successive chapters on Vietnam and Cambodia he documents the terrible consequences such an ethnic mosaic can produce. Taking a position that diverges from that of William Shaw-cross (Sideshow), Shaplen argues that Cambodia's agony cannot be entirely laid at the door of Nixon or Kissinger, but must be seen against the backdrop of Cambodian Communist activities, as well as in the context of Vietnamese-Khmer antagonisms. His knowledge of social organization under the Pol Pot regime is extensive, as is his picture of life in today's Vietnam. Other chapters deal with Burma, the Koreas, Singapore, the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand, but the centerpiece is a long series of essays on Japan, covering everything from the postwar economic revival to the recent Lockheed scandal. The two areas where Shaplen considers American involvement crucial are Korea and Japan--the Communists would have come to power in Indochina even without U.S. involvement there, he contends. In Japan, he writes, there remains an essential ""Japaneseness"" in the sense of amae, or mutual dependence, which, combined with a culturally-rooted selflessness, has prevented the development of western-style individualism. Contrary to many others, Shaplen feels that if the Japanese could overcome their collective inwardness (one reason, however, for their success), Japan could become an important stabilizing force in Asia, offsetting the influence of China. Shaplen shows himself here, too, as an advocate of a more vigorous American foreign policy in Asia, which may be consistent with his view of the effect of past U.S. involvement there, but is less than totally convincing. As with most assemblages of magazine pieces, this collection is timely now, but apt to lose its relevance quickly--a reflection, too, on a fast-changing continent.