The best books to understand modern Asia

Burnaby Hawkes Author Of The Haze
By Burnaby Hawkes

Who am I?

Hawkes (MD, BScN, MGA) is a novelist, YouTuber, and former analyst for the NATO Association of Canada. His writings have appeared in Heater, The Raven Chronicles, ArabLit, and many other magazines and publications. His recent espionage novel, The Haze, is set in Southeast Asia and the Middle East.


I wrote...

The Haze

By Burnaby Hawkes,

Book cover of The Haze

What is my book about?

Set against the backdrop of a CIA operation in the Middle East and Southeast Asia, The Haze follows CIA agent Hector Kane as he finds his career and marriage at stake when he receives a phone call from a Saudi prince who claims that Hector’s wife is a Chinese spy.

The books I picked & why

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Asia's Cauldron: The South China Sea and the End of a Stable Pacific

By Robert D. Kaplan,

Book cover of Asia's Cauldron: The South China Sea and the End of a Stable Pacific

Why this book?

If you want to know more about the politics of Singapore, Vietnam, and the Philippines, this is the book for you. International relations expert and topnotch global thinker (according to Foreign Policy magazine) Robert D. Kaplan does an excellent job at contrasting Southeast countries against one another and explaining why some have prospered while others failed. A very intriguing read that is recommended for everyone interested in Asia, period.


Everything Under the Heavens: How the Past Helps Shape China's Push for Global Power

By Howard W. French,

Book cover of Everything Under the Heavens: How the Past Helps Shape China's Push for Global Power

Why this book?

Have you ever wondered what makes China “China”: why it is so confident about history, present, and foreseeable future? This book, written by competent NYT correspondent Howard W. French, sheds some light on the way Chinese leadership sees things from their own point of view. You will learn about the history of China, and how this relates to its flagrant ambitions for world domination. An invaluable unicorn in today’s book-publishing anti-intellectual crisis.


Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China

By Evan Osnos,

Book cover of Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China

Why this book?

I first heard about this book when it won the 2014 National Book Award in nonfiction. After reading it, it became clear to me this was one of the best books written about China. Evan Osnos, a staff writer at the New Yorker, has delivered a coup de force that unravels the social dynamics of Chinese society. In recent memory, no serious book has attempted to do the same. You will learn about the clash of individualism vs. plutocracy in present-day China and how that manifests on the street. You will also understand the economic ailments that afflict modern China. It is beautifully written.


From Third World to First: The Singapore Story: 1965-2000

By Lee Kuan Yew,

Book cover of From Third World to First: The Singapore Story: 1965-2000

Why this book?

No one can deny that the story of Singapore is a modern-day miracle. From a third-world port city in the mid-20th century to the first-rate nation we know today, Singapore has adopted progress as a creed. Lee Kuan Yew, the very founder of modern Singapore, reflects on his achievements and the many challenges he’s faced along the way in this enticing book.


America: A Singapore Perspective

By Tommy Koh (editor), Saljit Singh (editor),

Book cover of America: A Singapore Perspective

Why this book?

A confession I have to make from the get-go: I met Tommy Koch in person in 2013, on a professional visit to Singapore. Koch struck me as the kind of Asian intellectual seldom seen in the West nowadays. He is competently versed in his civilization’s (Chinese) supremacy discourses and at the same time, is a global citizen of the first class. He knows where myth ends and reality strikes. We rarely see Western intellectuals of this sort any longer. The nearest we’ve ever had was Kissinger—and he’s too controversial to be a functional counterpart to Koch. In this book, Koch and his editorial partner compile a vision of America as seen by Singaporean decision-makers. This book is not only important to know how Asian nations have viewed us over recent years, but is a fundamental read for any international-relations buff interested in gauging the future ahead.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in China, Singapore, and the economy?

5,887 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about China, Singapore, and the economy.

China Explore 400 books about China
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And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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