Saturday, September 28, 2019

Book Irreview: Asia's Cauldron


Ever since I read Robert Kaplan's awesome Balkan Ghosts, I've been meaning to read more of his work.  Shortly after having finished that book, I purchased the ostensible sequel to Balkan Ghosts (Eastward to Tartary) and the book I'm writing about now.  I always thought it more likely that I'd read Eastward to Tartary before reading Asia's Cauldron (and I was, in fact, reading a history of the Balkans), but after a decision was made regarding a story I'm working on, I thought it prudent to read something concerning Asia.

So here we are.

Asia's Cauldron is vintage Kaplan, his geopolitical perspective hiding in plain sight, barely disguised as the brief histories and travelogues the book is built upon.  While not the jaw-dropping treatise that Balkan Ghosts was (I mean, how could it be?), it is nevertheless a wonderful look and insight into the nations surrounding the South China Sea.  I can safely state that I've more than doubled my knowledge of Malaysian and Singaporean histories, and it's without question that my knowledge concerning Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Taiwan has markedly increased.

Kaplan presents both pessimistic observation and careful optimism throughout Asia's Cauldron, comparing contemporary geopolitical issues to those of the previous two centuries.  He avoids the obtuse with depth and ease, and offers direct and clear explanations of his views.  His willingness to provide flourish and mimic a novelist's aesthetic makes this book more enjoyable than it probably deserved to be.

Like I said, Asia's Cauldron didn't floor me like Balkan Ghosts.  But if you're interested in the geopolitical reality of the South China Sea, whether its current state or its romanticized histories, Asia's Cauldron is as good book as any to pick up.

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