The best Asian history books for a Sunday afternoon

Michael Schuman Author Of Superpower Interrupted: The Chinese History of the World
By Michael Schuman

The Books I Picked & Why

The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire, 1936-1945

By John Toland

The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire, 1936-1945

Why this book?

The masterful Toland weaves a narrative of jaw-dropping detail, drama and complexity that tells the grand and harrowing story of the Pacific War between the United States and Japan from the perspective of the Japanese. The tale takes the reader from Tokyo cabinet meetings to the deck of warships to the frontline of critical battles, to share the experiences of everyone from national leaders to top generals to ordinary soldiers. It’s one of those books that’s so good it leaves you wondering how it was even written.


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The Last Mughal: The Fall of a Dynasty: Delhi, 1857

By William Dalrymple

The Last Mughal: The Fall of a Dynasty: Delhi, 1857

Why this book?

Mixing deep archival scholarship with brilliant storytelling, Dalrymple transports the reader into the final days of the Mughal Empire and its last emperor. The story centers on Delhi during the mutiny against British rule in 1857, the last great attempt by the Indians to throw off their European overlords until Gandhi. What begins with hope ultimately ends in tragedy, for the Mughal poet-ruler who fails to grasp his chance to change history, and the brilliant civilization his empire had fostered.


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The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia

By Peter Hopkirk

The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia

Why this book?

Filled with larger-than-life characters risking life and limb in the quest for empire, Hopkirk recounts the contest between Britain and Russia for influence in remote inner Asia in the 19th century. Appropriate derring-do abounds as spies and soldiers traverse steppe, mountains and desert in search of glory, only to become entrapped in the ultimate folly of imperial designs. Hopkirk’s sharp eye for the epic would make Kipling proud.


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Nathaniel's Nutmeg: Or, the True and Incredible Adventures of the Spice Trader Who Changed the Course of History

By Giles Milton

Nathaniel's Nutmeg: Or, the True and Incredible Adventures of the Spice Trader Who Changed the Course of History

Why this book?

One of those rare and wonderful books that brings back to life long-ago events that were of globe-changing importance at the time but have been all but forgotten today. With flair and energy, Milton retells the story of the battle between the British and Dutch for control of the famed Spice Islands and the riches they then possessed, all with a special twist at the end.


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Conquerors: How Portugal Forged the First Global Empire

By Roger Crowley

Conquerors: How Portugal Forged the First Global Empire

Why this book?

Crowley employs all of his storytelling skill to recreate the saga of the Portuguese eruption into the Indian Ocean to form the first East-West seaborne empire. British exploits in Asia are better known among English-language readers, but it was tiny Portugal that launched the era of European imperialism in Asia, and this book packs in the imperious characters and their intrepid (and violent) deeds that reshaped the world.


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