THE STRONG MEN OF ASIA
Having spent a great deal of time considering creativity and insight, I’m generally convinced that we benefit cognitively and on an emotive-psychological level from novelty, even if that novelty is to a small degree. Sort of like garnering measurable aerobic benefits from modest daily walking, every little bit helps. You don’t have to go from a microbiology lab one day to spelunking the next in order to give your brain some stimulus.
Therefore, I decided to shift my usual reading attention from matters of Western history and military affairs to read in succession, the biographies of three seminal 20th century dictators, all of whom ruled Asian nations but impacted the history of the world. It is a good shifting of gears for me, as the last heavy fare of reading Asian history and politics was back in the early nineties.
First up, is Chiang Kai-Shek: China’s Generalissimo and the Nation He Lost by Jonathan Fenby, who gives a critical reappraisal. While we are all accustomed to the standard scholarly historical criticism of Chiang Kai-Shek and the Kuomintang which is heavily influenced by the politics of academic Marxism, Fenby, a British journalist who is a longtime writer and editor for The Economist magazine and The Observer, (so far as I have read) gives a hard-eyed, pragmatic, thoroughly detailed, flavor that Alan Schom gave to his masterful deconstruction of Napoleon Bonaparte.
Number two will be the critically acclaimed The Unknown Story of Mao by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday, which like the Fenby book is an act of idol-smashing. All the moreso since Mao ZeDong, unlike his rival Chiang, retains an aging cadre of Leftist admirers both at home and in the West.
I intend to finish with the highly regarded Ho Chi Minh: A Life by former diplomat and Penn State historian William J. Duiker.Duiker himself, served in the American embassy in Saigon during the Vietnam war, which adds a poignant edge to his historical research.
Anyone out there who has read any or all of these books, feel free to chime in.