The best books on modern Asia

Why am I passionate about this?

I have a strong, if contrarian, interest in modern history, Asian history in particular. I have published more than a dozen articles and book reviews on the subject, and I have taught courses on modern Asian history (China, Japan, Vietnam, India) at New York University, where I have been a professor since 1968. A brief history of my somewhat unusual academic career may be found in a 50-page memoir published via Amazon in 2020 together with an appendix containing a sampling of my short writings. It is titled Moss Roberts: A Journey to the East. The memoir but not the appendix is free via Researchgate. In addition, I have studied (and taught) the Chinese language for more than half a century, and published translations of classical works of literature and philosophy.   


I wrote...

Book cover of Three Kingdoms: A Historical Novel

What is my book about?

Although a Ming dynasty (1368-1644) epic, Three Kingdoms has contemporary relevance since it involves China’s recurring experience of national unity and national division. This may explain why it is still widely known in China, and also in Korea and Vietnam, which have suffered internal division, and even in Japan, which shares so much culture and history with them. These four nations may be said to constitute Confucian Asia.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of A Force So Swift: Mao, Truman, and the Birth of Modern China, 1949

Moss Roberts Why did I love this book?

President Truman sends George Marshall to China in December 1945 on a special mission to unify the Communists and Nationalists and create a non-Communist China. Marshall returns to the US in early 1947. The mission has failed. Had he been truly neutral as a broker, could the mission have succeeded?

By Kevin Peraino,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Force So Swift as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice • Winner of the 2018 Truman Book Award

A gripping narrative of the Truman Administration's response to the fall of Nationalist China and the triumph of Mao Zedong's Communist forces in 1949--an extraordinary political revolution that continues to shape East Asian politics to this day.
 
In the opening months of 1949, U.S. President Harry S. Truman found himself faced with a looming diplomatic catastrophe--"perhaps the greatest that this country has ever suffered," as the journalist Walter Lippmann put it. Throughout the spring and summer, Mao Zedong's Communist armies fanned out across mainland China,…


Book cover of Toward- Freedom: An Autobiography of Jawaharlal Nehru

Moss Roberts Why did I love this book?

This eloquent autobiography was written in the mid-1930s while the author was jailed by the British. It offers a detailed and convincing account of the experience of India’s people under the regime of British imperialism, and is relevant to other countries under foreign occupation, but also to US society because of its emphasis on religious conflict.

Book cover of Viet Nam: A History from Earliest Times to the Present

Moss Roberts Why did I love this book?

This work is thorough and informative on the US invasion and defeat but unlike many books on the war also provides extensive discussion of Vietnam’s long history, which dates back more than two millennia. It covers Vietnam’s contentious relations with China and France.

By Ben Kiernan,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Viet Nam as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

For many Westerners, the name Vietnam evokes images of a bloody televised American war that generated a firestorm of protest and brought conflict into their living rooms. In his sweeping account, Ben Kiernan broadens this vision by narrating the rich history of the peoples who have inhabited the land now known as Viet Nam over the past three thousand years.

Despite the tragedies of the American-Vietnamese conflict, Viet Nam has always been much more than a war. Its long history had been characterized by the frequent rise and fall of different political formations, from ancient chiefdoms to imperial provinces, from…


Book cover of Pan-Asianism and Japan's War 1931-1945

Moss Roberts Why did I love this book?

Important for Japan’s shifting policy in China, but also for the responses in China and in Russia.  Identifies key figures in the military responsible for war planning and their conflicts as well as the role of the emperor. This book emphasizes the twisting path toward Pearl Harbor and how it might have been avoided.

By Eri Hotta,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Pan-Asianism and Japan's War 1931-1945 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The book explores the critical importance of Pan-Asianism in Japanese imperialism. Pan-Asianism was a cultural as well as political ideology that promoted Asian unity and recognition. The focus is on Pan-Asianism as a propeller behind Japan's expansionist policies from the Manchurian Incident until the end of the Pacific War.


Book cover of The End of the Myth: From the Frontier to the Border Wall in the Mind of America

Moss Roberts Why did I love this book?

This study shows how the concept of an endlessly expanding frontier came to encompass the entire globe. The focus is on American history and the extermination of the native Indian tribes, which extend to external colonized countries. Thus the book is relevant for studying the wars in Korea and Vietnam, as well as Washington’s policies in East Asia and the Middle East.

By Greg Grandin,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The End of the Myth as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

WINNER OF THE PULITZER PRIZE

A new and eye-opening interpretation of the meaning of the frontier, from early westward expansion to Trump’s border wall.

Ever since this nation’s inception, the idea of an open and ever-expanding frontier has been central to American identity. Symbolizing a future of endless promise, it was the foundation of the United States’ belief in itself as an exceptional nation – democratic, individualistic, forward-looking. Today, though, America hasa new symbol: the border wall.

In The End of the Myth, acclaimed historian Greg Grandin explores the meaning of the frontier throughout the full sweep of U.S. history…


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Captain James Heron First Into the Fray: Prequel to Harry Heron Into the Unknown of the Harry Heron Series

By Patrick G. Cox, Janet Angelo (editor),

Book cover of Captain James Heron First Into the Fray: Prequel to Harry Heron Into the Unknown of the Harry Heron Series

Patrick G. Cox Author Of Ned Farrier Master Mariner: Call of the Cape

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

On the expertise I claim only a deep interest in history, leadership, and social history. After some thirty-six years in the fire and emergency services I can, I think, claim to have seen the best and the worst of human behaviour and condition. History, particularly naval history, has always been one of my interests and the Battle of Jutland is a truly fascinating study in the importance of communication between the leader and every level between him/her and the people performing whatever task is required.  In my own career, on a very much smaller scale, this is a lesson every officer learns very quickly.

Patrick's book list on the Battle of Jutland

What is my book about?

Captain Heron finds himself embroiled in a conflict that threatens to bring down the world order he is sworn to defend when a secretive Consortium seeks to undermine the World Treaty Organisation and the democracies it represents as he oversees the building and commissioning of a new starship.

When the Consortium employs an assassin from the Pantheon, it becomes personal.

Captain James Heron First Into the Fray: Prequel to Harry Heron Into the Unknown of the Harry Heron Series

By Patrick G. Cox, Janet Angelo (editor),

What is this book about?

The year is 2202, and the recently widowed Captain James Heron is appointed to stand by his next command, the starship NECS Vanguard, while she is being built. He and his team soon discover that they are battling the Consortium, a shadowy corporate group that seeks to steal the specs for the ship’s new super weapon. The Consortium hires the Pantheon, a mysterious espionage agency, to do their dirty work as they lay plans to take down the Fleet and gain supreme power on an intergalactic scale. When Pantheon Agent Bast and her team kidnap Felicity Rowanberg, a Fleet agent…


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