The most recommended Asian history books

Who picked these books? Meet our 391 experts.

391 authors created a book list connected to Asian history, and here are their favorite Asian history books.
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Spider Eaters

By Spider Eaters,

Book cover of Spider Eaters: A Memoir

Lisa Kirschenbaum Author Of International Communism and the Spanish Civil War: Solidarity and Suspicion

From the list on world communism.

Who am I?

When in the summer of 1991, I stood with the crowds at Moscow’s White House during the attempted coup against Gorbachev, I had the sense that I was living through and in a small, but not unimportant way, making history. I left Moscow fascinated by the questions of how big historical events shape individuals’ lives and how personal circumstances influence public action and commitments. My books explore how children experienced and made sense of the Russian Revolution; how survivors of the World War II blockade of Leningrad interacted with official state commemorations of the war; and how international communists explained and remembered their participation in the Spanish Civil War.

Lisa's book list on world communism

Why did Lisa love this book?

Rae Yang offers a moving and sometimes harrowing account of how a privileged child of Chinese Communist Party elites became during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s a member of the Red Guards, and, in the aftermath of the revolution, a pig tender on a farm in the remote northern wilderness. Ultimately, she emigrated to the United States and became a professor of East Asian studies. In this beautifully written memoir, Yang recovers her youthful idealism and offers an unsparing assessment of the consequences for China, her family, and herself of the desire for revolutionary heroism. 

By Spider Eaters,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

"Spider Eaters" is at once a moving personal story, a fascinating family history, and a unique chronicle of political upheaval told by a Chinese woman who came of age during the turbulent years of the Cultural Revolution. With stunning honesty and a lively, sly humor, Rae Yang records her life from her early years as the daughter of Chinese diplomats in Switzerland, to her girlhood at an elite middle school in Beijing, to her adolescent experience as a Red Guard and later as a laborer on a pig farm in the remote northern wilderness. She tells of her eventual disillusionment…

Book cover of My Life in the Bush of Ghosts

Tobi Ogundiran Author Of Jackal, Jackal: Tales of the Dark and Fantastic

From the list on modern mythology and folktale for the curious.

Who am I?

I am fascinated with mythology in all its shapes and forms. It fascinates me how cultures the world over have similar pantheons, for example, without any cultural cross-pollination. What I like to do in my fiction is blend various myths to create something new. And sometimes I create my own myths. It takes a curious, imaginative mind to come up with these myths, and most importantly a child-like sense of wonder, which, sadly, is extinguished by society as one is forced to “grow up”. I don’t ever want to lose that sense of wonder—to observe the world and see beauty and possibilities at every corner—so I preserve and interrogate it in my fiction.

Tobi's book list on modern mythology and folktale for the curious

Why did Tobi love this book?

This book is a phantasmagorical trip. This was one of the first, if not the first, African novel to be written in English.

The language, told in a broken English that is nonetheless poetic, (Tutuola’s education was incomplete) adds to the surreal nature of the story. I like it because it is the kind of story I grew up listening to: tales of people venturing into the forest and the wondrous adventures they have therein.

The basic premise goes thus: When war comes to a Nigerian village, a young boy and his brother flee into the forest and begin a surreal journey through the realm of ghosts. Folktales and legends abound in the pages of this book.

By Amos Tutuola,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked My Life in the Bush of Ghosts as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, Amos Tutuola's second novel, was first published in 1954. It tells the tale of a small boy who wanders into the heart of a fantastical African forest, the dwelling place of innumerable wild, grotesque and terrifying beings. He is captured by ghosts, buried alive and wrapped up in spider webs, but after several years he marries and accepts his new existence. With the appearance of the television-handed ghostess, however, comes a possible route of escape.

'Tutuola ... has the immediate intuition of a creative artist working by spell and incantation.' V. S. Pritchett,…

Twilight of the Gods

By Ian W. Toll,

Book cover of Twilight of the Gods

Daniel Hammel Author Of Two Flags Over Iwo Jima: Solving the Mystery of the U.S. Marine Corps' Proudest Moment

From the list on the war in the Pacific 1941-1945.

Who am I?

I am Daniel Hammel and my father Eric Hammel was a prolific author and military historian. He specialized in the Marine Corps and specifically World War II. Though he has passed, several of these books, especially Day of Infamy, inspired him to become an author, where he wrote over 40 books. This list is an ode to my father, Eric, and to his many accomplishments.

Daniel's book list on the war in the Pacific 1941-1945

Why did Daniel love this book?

The third and final book of the epic Pacific War Trilogy, Twilight of the Gods is the story of the crushing of the once venerable Japanese Empire. At just under 800 pages the book describes in the great detail the coming apocalypse for the Japanese war machine. While 1943 was pivotal with the war in the Pacific having essentially been won by the Allies, it was 1944 and 1945 where the real murder of empire happened. In these two years of horrendous fighting, hundreds of thousands died for what was clearly a lost cause. The Japanese tried one last time at the Battle of Leyte Gulf, but were massacred by the incredible might of the U.S. Navy and combined forces. Toll brings the reader into the little details of the war, and how they affected everything.

By Ian W. Toll,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Twilight of the Gods as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In June 1944, the United States launched a crushing assault on the Japanese navy in the Battle of the Philippine Sea. The capture of the Mariana Islands and the accompanying ruin of Japanese carrier airpower marked a pivotal moment in the Pacific War. No tactical masterstroke or blunder could reverse the increasingly lopsided balance of power between the two combatants. The War in the Pacific had entered its endgame.

Beginning with the Honolulu Conference, when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt met with his Pacific theater commanders to plan the last phase of the campaign against Japan, Twilight of the Gods brings…

Forgotten Ally

By Rana Mitter,

Book cover of Forgotten Ally: China’s World War II, 1937-1945

Ronald Spector Author Of In the Ruins of Empire: The Japanese Surrender and the Battle for Postwar Asia

From the list on the Asia Pacific War from 1937-1945.

Who am I?

I am Emeritus Professor of History and International Relations at George Washington University. Although I trained at Yale to be a college teacher, I spent most of the first twenty years of my career working in and with the military. I served in the Marine Corps in Vietnam and later as a reservist on active duty during the Grenada –Lebanon Operations in the early 1980s and during the Gulf War.. As a civilian, I worked at the U.S. Army Center of Military History and subsequently as Director of Naval History and of the Naval History and Heritage Command. I  joined George Washington University in 1990. I am the author of six books about military history, two of which, Eagle Against The Sun: The American War With Japan and In the Ruins of Empire: The Japanese Surrender and the Battle for Postwar Asia are directly about the Asia- Pacific War.   

Ronald's book list on the Asia Pacific War from 1937-1945

Why did Ronald love this book?

For many years, American views of the China’s role in World War II were strongly influenced by Barbara Tuchman’s best-selling, Stilwell and the American Experience in China published in 1971. Tuchman painted China’s war effort as brave but costly and ineffective thanks to the incompetence and corruption of Chiang Kai Shek. Portrayed as a kind of Chinese George Washington in the U.S. media, Tuchman saw Chiang as being in fact, far less interested in defeating the Japanese than in ensuring that his regime survived the war in a position to vanquish its domestic rivals, especially Mao Zedong’s Communists 

In contrast, Mittar’s focus is not on policy squabbles or specific military issues but on the overall impact of the war on China and its people. He highlights that country’s remarkable achievement, not in winning battles but in surviving the Japanese onslaught for eight long years despite the early loss of almost…

By Rana Mitter,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Forgotten Ally as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An Economist Book of the Year
A Financial Times Book of the Year

“A book that has long cried out to be written.” — Observer (UK), Books of the Year

In 1937, two years before Hitler invaded Poland, Chinese troops clashed with Japanese occupiers in the first battle of World War II. Joining with the United States, the Soviet Union, and Great Britain, China became the fourth great ally in a devastating struggle for its very survival.

Prizewinning historian Rana Mitter unfurls China’s drama of invasion, resistance, slaughter, and political intrigue as never before. Based on groundbreaking research, this gripping…

On the Edge

By Franck Billé, Caroline Humphrey,

Book cover of On the Edge: Life along the Russia-China Border

Sören Urbansky Author Of Beyond the Steppe Frontier: A History of the Sino-Russian Border

From the list on Russia in Asia.

Who am I?

Sören Urbansky was born and raised in East Germany next to the Iron Curtain. Since embarking on an overland journey from Berlin to Beijing after high school, he became hooked by peoples’ lifeways in Northeast Asia. In college, Sören began studying history in earnest and grew intrigued by Russia and China, the world’s largest and most populous countries. He has published widely on this pivotal yet forgotten region. Sören is a research fellow at the German Historical Institute Washington and is currently embarking on a new project that examines anti-Chinese sentiments from a global perspective.

Sören's book list on Russia in Asia

Why did Sören love this book?

Franck Billé and Caroline Humphrey’s On the Edge is an excellent example that two authors can write one compelling story. Based on solid on-the-ground observation of daily life and current affairs along the Russia-China border, the two anthropologists narrate the extraordinary contrasts they encountered in one of the world’s most enigmatic borderlands. In so doing, they give voice to indigenous people, and other subaltern groups often overlooked when writing about two geopolitical superpowers.

By Franck Billé, Caroline Humphrey,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked On the Edge as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A pioneering examination of history, current affairs, and daily life along the Russia-China border, one of the world's least understood and most politically charged frontiers.

The border between Russia and China winds for 2,600 miles through rivers, swamps, and vast taiga forests. It's a thin line of direct engagement, extraordinary contrasts, frequent tension, and occasional war between two of the world's political giants. Franck Bille and Caroline Humphrey have spent years traveling through and studying this important yet forgotten region. Drawing on pioneering fieldwork, they introduce readers to the lifeways, politics, and history of one of the world's most consequential…

Book cover of Without You, There Is No Us: Undercover Among the Sons of North Korea's Elite

Wendy Bashant Author Of The Same Bright Moon: Teaching China's New Generation During Covid

From the list on teaching abroad.

Who am I?

I’ve been a teacher for over 30 years and a traveler for longer. As a child, I lived in Germany and Japan. When I grew up, I continued to travel, teaching and living in Thailand, London, and China. I’ve written book chapters, poetry, travel pieces, and won a number of writing prizes: the 2023 New York Book Festival prize and a finalist for both the Peter Taylor Prize for Literature and the Gival Press Novel Award. A graduate of Middlebury College (BA) and University of Rochester (PhD), I now live in San Diego with my husband and two cats, teach adult literacy, and work as a volunteer at the San Diego Zoo.

Wendy's book list on teaching abroad

Why did Wendy love this book?

Whereas Hessler’s book is about a country gradually opening up to the west, Suki Kim’s book is about a country completely isolated.

Kim works for six months in North Korea at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, a school for the boys of the ruling elite. While living there, rather than connecting with her students, she is unsettled by how deep the country’s deceptions are.

The university, although claiming to be a school for science and industry, has neither labs nor modern technology. Her travel is circumscribed and carefully scripted. The students lie effortlessly about things of little consequence. The entire country seems to be built on holograms and shadows. She travels as teacher, but in the end serves as journalist, seeking the truth behind a country that the world barely understands. 

By Suki Kim,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Without You, There Is No Us as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

It is 2011, and all universities in North Korea have been shut down for an entire year, except for the all-male Pyongyang University of Science and Technology. This is where Suki Kim has accepted a job teaching English. Over the next six months she will eat three meals a day with her young charges and struggle to teach them to write, all under the watchful eye of the regime.

Life at the university is lonely and claustrophobic. Her letters are read by censors and she must hide her notes and photographs not only from her minders but also from her…

Railways & the Raj

By Christian Wolmar,

Book cover of Railways & the Raj: How the Age of Steam Transformed India

Sathnam Sanghera Author Of Empireland: How Imperialism Has Shaped Modern Britain

From the list on the British Empire's impact on the world.

Who am I?

I was in my 40s before I began exploring the topic of the British Empire. It came after I realised it explained so much about me (my Sikh identity, the emigration of my parents, my education) and so much about my country (its politics, psychology, wealth…) and yet I knew very little. It turned out that millions of people feel the same way… and I hope I provide an accessible introduction and summary of the massive topic. 

Sathnam's book list on the British Empire's impact on the world

Why did Sathnam love this book?

Approaching the subject not as an imperial historian but as a specialist on transport, Wolmar dismantles the lie at the heart of a thousand TV documentaries: that the British bestowed railways on India in an act of benevolence.

Every TV commissioner in Britain should be made to read this.

By Christian Wolmar,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Railways & the Raj as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

India was the jewel in the crown of the British Empire, an Empire that needed a rail network to facilitate its exploitation and reflect its ambition. But, by building India's railways, Britain radically changed the nation and unwittingly planted the seed of independence. As Indians were made to travel in poor conditions and were barred from the better paid railway jobs a stirring of resentment and nationalist sentiment grew.

The Indian Railways network remains one of the largest in the world, serving over 25 million passengers each day. In this expertly told history, Christian Wolmar reveals the full story, from…

In Retrospect

By Robert S. McNamara, Brian VanDeMark,

Book cover of In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam

Denis Dragovic Author Of No Dancing, No Dancing: Inside the Global Humanitarian Crisis

From Denis' 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Who am I?

Author Dreamer Humanitarian Culture enthusiast Nature lover Traveler

Denis' 3 favorite reads in 2023

Why did Denis love this book?

I wonder whether the war in Ukraine will be remembered as a folly of Western hubris or a Churchillian stand against another European warmonger.

The experts believe the latter, but then so did the best and brightest minds in the sixties when, first under Kennedy and then Johnson, the United States leadership believed that victory was just around the corner, just one more troop surge, just one slight tweak to the strategy, just one more South Vietnamese leadership change away from victory.

Reading through Robert McNamara’s reflections on the Vietnam War offers a fascinating insight into the challenges of wartime decision-making and possibly some reminders for today’s decision-makers.      

By Robert S. McNamara, Brian VanDeMark,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

#1 NATIONAL BESTSELLER. The definitive insider's account of American policy making in Vietnam.

"Can anyone remember a public official with the courage to confess error and explain where he and his country went wrong? This is what Robert McNamara does in this brave, honest, honorable, and altogether compelling book."—Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.

Written twenty years after the end of the Vietnam War, former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara's controversial memoir answers the lingering questions that surround this disastrous episode in American history.

With unprecedented candor and drawing on a wealth of newly declassified documents, McNamara reveals the fatal misassumptions behind our…

China's Good War

By Rana Mitter,

Book cover of China's Good War: How World War II Is Shaping a New Nationalism

Sylvia Vetta Author Of Brushstrokes in Time

From the list on the heart and soul of China.

Who am I?

I studied modern Chinese history so, when Qu Leilei told me the story of the Stars Art Movement, I couldn’t understand why I hadn't heard their courageous story. I spent three years interviewing Qu Leilei, researching and visiting China with him before writing the Stars story as a historical novel. I am a freelance writer, author, and speaker.

Sylvia's book list on the heart and soul of China

Why did Sylvia love this book?

I am disturbed by what is happening in Hong Kong and Xinjiang but it’s important to take a long and balanced view if we want to influence China. Chinese dynasties harbour long memories including the humiliation of the Opium Wars and the sacking of the Imperial Summer Palace by colonial powers and the atrocities committed by Japan in WW2 in China. If we start by empathising with this shared but forgotten history of China in WW2, maybe we can help swing the pendulum to one that respects the diversity that is needed in both East and West.

By Rana Mitter,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked China's Good War as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Chinese leaders once tried to suppress memories of their nation's brutal experience during World War II. Now they celebrate the "victory"-a key foundation of China's rising nationalism.

For most of its history, the People's Republic of China limited public discussion of the war against Japan. It was an experience of victimization-and one that saw Mao Zedong and Chiang Kai-shek fighting for the same goals. But now, as China grows more powerful, the meaning of the war is changing. Rana Mitter argues that China's reassessment of the World War II years is central to its newfound confidence abroad and to mounting…

The Golden Ghetto

By Jacques Downs,

Book cover of The Golden Ghetto: The American Commercial Community at Canton and the Shaping of American China Policy, 1784-1844

Kendall A. Johnson Author Of The New Middle Kingdom: China and the Early American Romance of Free Trade

From the list on the fog of Opium Wars in US-China relations.

Who am I?

I am a scholar of literature, literary history, and American Studies based at the University of Hong Kong where I landed thanks to a Fulbright Scholarship in 2008. Prior to this I was very happily in Philadelphia, researching authors and artists who alluded to lucrative trade in the Far East when rendering scenes of the Far West premised on the promotion or the protest of continental Manifest Destiny. Archival materials at the Library Company and Swarthmore College inspired me to visit the places about which I was writing. Travelling to places that feature in my scholarly projects keeps me busy studying languages and humbly amazed by the enduring cultural varieties of our shared humanity.

Kendall's book list on the fog of Opium Wars in US-China relations

Why did Kendall love this book?

This is the authoritative historical account of heritage wealth related to American participation in the Old China Trade (before and after the First Opium War). 

Downs details the kinship alliances of US family firms over a century and describes the logistics of trade as well as the historical archives related to it.

In a canon of authoritative scholarship on early US trade with China, The Golden Ghetto stands next to the subsequent fine books by Jay Dolin, James Fichter, John Haddad, Dane Morrison, Dael Norwood, John Pomfret, and Dong Wang, and the scholarship addressing Qing-era trade regulation by Paul A. Van Dyke and John D. Wong.

By Jacques Downs,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Golden Ghetto as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Before the opening of the treaty ports in the 1840s, Canton was the only Chinese port where foreign merchants were allowed to trade. The Golden Ghetto takes us into the world of one of this city’s most important foreign communities―the Americans―during the decades between the American Revolution of 1776 and the signing of the Sino-US Treaty of Wanghia in 1844. American merchants lived in isolation from Chinese society in sybaritic, albeit usually celibate luxury. Making use of exhaustive research, Downs provides an especially clear explanation of the Canton commercial setting generally and of the role of American merchants. Many of…


By Eiji Yoshikawa, Charles Terry (translator),

Book cover of Musashi: An Epic Novel Of The Samurai Era

Zara Yaqoob

From Zara's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Who am I?

Entrepreneur Book lover Explorer Lifelong learner (Japanese and Piano currently) Wannabe chef

Zara's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Why did Zara love this book?

This book really felt like a religious and spiritual experience for me. It's almost like a manual on how to live one's life. We are following the main character, Miyamoto Mushasi, who is based on the real-life figure of the same name, as he journeys across Japan to become the best samurai to have lived.

We start with Musashi when he is young and naive, and we see him evolve into a mature man who becomes less self-absorbed and arrogant with time. We get Musashi's reflection on many topics: from being the best at what one does, to having balance in one's life, as well as the importance of relationships and isolation. If you're interested in Japanese history and culture, whilst also wanting a deeply philosophical read that will make you think, then I strongly recommend this one for you.

Note: bear in mind, this book is split into volumes,…

By Eiji Yoshikawa, Charles Terry (translator),

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Musashi as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The classic samurai novel about the real exploits of the most famous swordsman. The classic samurai novel about the real exploits of the most famous swordsman. Miyamoto Musashi was the child of an era when Japan was emerging from decades of civil strife. Lured to the great Battle of Sekigahara in 1600 by the hope of becoming a samurai-without really knowing what it meant-he regains consciousness after the battle to find himself lying defeated, dazed and wounded among thousands of the dead and dying. On his way home, he commits a rash act, becomes a fugitive and brings life in

The Book of Tea

By Kakuzo Okakura,

Book cover of The Book of Tea

Kevin Nute Author Of This Here Now: Japanese Building and the Architecture of the Individual

From the list on Japanese aesthetics.

Who am I?

I've spent the last three decades thinking about Japanese aesthetics, and in particular if and how they can be meaningfully used beyond Japan. I'm the author of several books on the subject: Frank Lloyd Wright and Japan, Place Time and Being in Japanese Architecture, This Here Now: Japanese Building and the Architecture of the Individual, and most recently, The Constructed Other: Japanese Architecture in the Western Mind. I teach about Asian Pacific architecture at the University of Hawai'i, Mānoa.

Kevin's book list on Japanese aesthetics

Why did Kevin love this book?

Okakura links Taoist and Zen philosophy to the tangible world by way of the aesthetics of tea, which are actually the aesthetics of life itself.  The title of this slim volume is disarmingly understated, then. It is the most approachable book on aesthetics I know.

By Kakuzo Okakura,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Book of Tea as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Now available in a gorgeous hardcover slipcase edition, this "object d'art" will be sure to add grace and elegance to tea shelves, coffee tables and bookshelves. A keepsake enjoyed by tea lovers for over a hundred years, The Book of Tea Classic Edition will enhance your enjoyment and understanding of the seemingly simple act of making and drinking tea.

In 1906 in turn-of-the-century Boston, a small, esoteric book about tea was written with the intention of being read aloud in the famous salon of Isabella Gardner, Boston's most notorious socialite. It was authored by Okakura Kakuzo, a Japanese philosopher, art…

Maximum City

By Suketu Mehta,

Book cover of Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found

Thrity Umrigar Author Of Honor

From the list on set in Bombay.

Who am I?

I lived in Bombay until I was 21. During my teenage years I had a love-hate relationship with the city, mostly noticing its poverty, the pollution, and the crowds. But as a writer, I have come to love the city for its resilience, its sweet toughness, its heartbreaking beauty. I love reading books by other writers that are set in this endlessly fascinating metropolis of 22 million, each with their own story to tell, stories that float in the air in front of us, ready to be plucked and set on paper. 

Thrity's book list on set in Bombay

Why did Thrity love this book?

Mehta’s propulsive, strangely entertaining nonfiction book takes us into subterranean Bombay—into the underworld gangs, the bar dancers, the pavement dwellers. Despite its oft-times grim subject matter, the book exudes an energy and excitement that is reflective of the maximum city itself. As someone who grew up in a genteel, middle-class household in Bombay and was not familiar with the world described by Mehta, this eye-opening book served as a guide to places I have never been and roads I have never traveled.

By Suketu Mehta,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A native of Bombay, Suketu Mehta gives us an insider’s view of this stunning metropolis. He approaches the city from unexpected angles, taking us into the criminal underworld of rival Muslim and Hindu gangs, following the life of a bar dancer raised amid poverty and abuse, opening the door into the inner sanctums of Bollywood, and delving into the stories of the countless villagers who come in search of a better life and end up living on the sidewalks.

As each individual story unfolds, Mehta also recounts his own efforts to make a home in Bombay after more than twenty…

The Great Successor

By Anna Fifield,

Book cover of The Great Successor: The Divinely Perfect Destiny of Brilliant Comrade Kim Jong Un

Stephan Haggard and Marcus Noland Author Of Witness to Transformation: Refugee Insights Into North Korea

From the list on the North Korean economy.

Who are we?

We teamed up about fifteen years ago around a common interest in the political economy of North Korea; Haggard is a political scientist, Noland an economist. Both of us had spent our careers focused on Asia but looking largely at the capitalist successes: Japan and the newly industrializing countries of Korea, Taiwan, and Southeast Asia. But what about the anomalous cases in the region that did not get on the growth train? The “Asian miracle” was hardly ubiquitous…what had gone wrong? North Korea was clearly the biggest puzzle, and we ended up researching and writing on the famine, refugees, and the complexities of international sanctions. 

Stephan and Marcus' book list on the North Korean economy

Why did Stephan and Marcus love this book?

Ana Fifield is a top-flight journalist, and this is the most detailed biography of Kim Jong Un to date. Fifield has interviewed everyone who could possibly be interviewed, going back to teachers in a Swiss boarding school for insights into Kim Jong Un’s psyche. But why would such a book get mentioned in a list on the Korean economy? Because North Korea is best understood as a monarchy, and the court economy is non-trivial. Among many other details, Fifield provides insight into the lavish lifestyles of the family and the small circle of insiders that are at the core of the regime. Needless to say, the contrast with the lives of everyday North Koreans could not be more stark. An added benefit: the book contains a funny story involving Noland, President Barack Obama, and NBA coach Steve Kerr. 

By Anna Fifield,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Great Successor as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The behind-the-scenes story of the rise and reign of the world's strangest and most elusive tyrant, Kim Jong Un, by the journalist with the best connections and insights into the bizarrely dangerous world of North Korea.

Since his birth in 1984, Kim Jong Un has been swaddled in myth and propaganda, from the plainly silly -- he could supposedly drive a car at the age of three -- to the grimly bloody stories of family members who perished at his command.

Anna Fifield reconstructs Kim's past and present with exclusive access to sources near him and brings her unique understanding…

The Mongol Empire

By Timothy May,

Book cover of The Mongol Empire

Nicholas Morton Author Of The Mongol Storm: Making and Breaking Empires in the Medieval Near East

From the list on the Mongol conquest of Western Eurasia.

Who am I?

I am an associate professor at Nottingham Trent University and my interest in the Mongols first began many years ago during my MA at Royal Holloway University. I had always been interested in the historic relationships between nomadic and agricultural societies, but what I found fascinating about the Mongols was the sheer speed and range of their expansion—how could they have conquered the greater part of the Asia within only a few decades? Exploring how the Mongols grappled with the realities of ruling such a vast imperium remains a very thought-provoking issue, so too is the question of how the peoples they overthrew accommodated themselves to Mongol rule. 

Nicholas' book list on the Mongol conquest of Western Eurasia

Why did Nicholas love this book?

In this book Timothy May provides an impressive overview of the history of the Mongol Empire. Covering its history from the time of Chinggis Khan through to its decline and including discussion on matters ranging from the Mongols’ warcraft through to their internal politics and economic activities, The Mongol Empire offers a deeply authoritative and accessible overview of research in this field. This is the book I would recommend to anyone seeking a scholarly introduction to this subject. 

By Timothy May,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Mongol Empire as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This book explores the rise and establishment of the Mongol Empire under Chinggis Khan, as well as its expansion and evolution under his successors. It also examines the successor states (Ilkhanate, Chaghatayid Khanate, the Jochid Ulus (Golden Horde), and the Yuan Empire) from the dissolution of the empire in 1260 to the end of each state.

Book cover of For All the Tea in China: Espionage, Empire, and the Secret Formula for the World's Favourite Drink

Annie Murray Author Of Letter from a Tea Garden

From the list on India under the Raj that are not about princesses.

Who am I?

Abi Oliver is a pen name as my real name is Annie Murray—I write under both names. My first book, A New Map of Love, set in the 1960s, featured an older woman who had been born in India. She developed into such a character—a bit of an old trout to be truthful—that I wanted to tell her story. It also tapped into my family’s many connections with India and the fact that I have travelled a lot there. I finally got to travel, with my oldest daughter, and stay in one of the tea gardens in Assam—a wonderful experience.

Annie's book list on India under the Raj that are not about princesses

Why did Annie love this book?

I am a total tea-head, so any book about the history of how we all came to be addicts is a good start. This one is particularly gripping and reads like an adventure novel. Robert Fortune, a Scottish botanist, and industrial spy, was employed by the East India Company in 1848 to be smuggled into China and steal their tea-growing secrets. The book never flags, full of information about the opium wars, the Chelsea Physic garden and how the tea, later found to grow naturally in India, was made into a consumer product garnering enormous profits. As I grew up with a family member who disappeared to work in Assam tea gardens just before I was born, I have always been fascinated by this way of life.

By Sarah Rose,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked For All the Tea in China as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Robert Fortune was a Scottish gardener, botanist, plant hunter - and industrial spy. In 1848, the East India Company engaged him to make a clandestine trip into the interior of China - territory forbidden to foreigners - to steal the closely guarded secrets of tea.

For centuries, China had been the world's sole tea manufacturer. Britain purchased this fuel for its Empire by trading opium to the Chinese - a poisonous relationship Britain fought two destructive wars to sustain. The East India Company had profited lavishly as the middleman, but now it was sinking, having lost its monopoly to trade…

Samurai Invasion

By Stephen Turnbull, Peter Dennis (illustrator),

Book cover of Samurai Invasion: Japan's Korean War 1592 -1598

Kenneth M. Swope Author Of Dragon's Head and A Serpent's Tail: Ming China and the First Great East Asian War, 1592-1598

From the list on the Great East Asian War of 1592-1598.

Who am I?

I have been fascinated by this war since I first learned about it in graduate school. It inspired my dissertation, which focused on the Three Great Campaigns of the Wanli Emperor, which in turn resulted in my book, A Dragon’s Head & A Serpent’s Tail.  That book has inspired two sequels of sorts thus far, with another one to come.

Kenneth's book list on the Great East Asian War of 1592-1598

Why did Kenneth love this book?

This is a lavishly illustrated popular account by a prolific author of books about the samurai. It is written from the Japanese perspective in a very accessible style. The author tends to be somewhat uncritical about Japanese accounts and the book is not nearly as academic as some others on this list, but he presents a clear narrative that is easy to follow and could serve as a useful introduction for readers before moving on to more academic studies.

By Stephen Turnbull, Peter Dennis (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

By the end of the sixteenth century the Samurai, Japanese warrior-nobles, had taken total control of their domestic territory. Their unforgiving militarism needed a new foe to conquer: the target was China, the route to victory through Korea. But the Koreans were no pushover. It was a hard fought and, in the end, an unsuccessful campaign, the only time in their 1,500 year history that the Samurai had attacked another country. The Koreans drove them off. Retribution was inevitable. The Samurai returned in 1597 to wreak vengeance and terrible, wanton havoc on the Koreans in a war of unbelievable savagery.…

The Last Governor

By Jonathan Dimbleby,

Book cover of The Last Governor: Chris Patten and the Handover of Hong Kong

Steve Tsang Author Of A Modern History of Hong Kong: 1841-1997

From the list on Hong Kong’s history and politics.

Who am I?

I was born in colonial Hong Kong, and my teenage rebellion was anti-colonialism. So I went on a journey to rediscover ‘mother China’ by reading and visiting the Mainland. What I saw and learned first-hand contradicted what I had read of China, primarily Communist Party propaganda. The realization that colonial Hong Kong treated its people so much better than in socialist China made me think, and started my interest in researching the history of Hong Kong. A Modern History of Hong Kong: 1841-1997 is the result, and based on years of research into the evolution of Hong Kong’s people, its British colonial rulers, as well as China’s policies towards Hong Kong.

Steve's book list on Hong Kong’s history and politics

Why did Steve love this book?

This is a highly readable book which portrays vividly the last British Governor, Chris Patten’s valiant efforts to do right by the people of Hong Kong in the final years of British rule. The author writes from the perspective of a liberal journalist sympathetic to the predicaments of the last Governor. Patten’s efforts were well received by many locals. Many showed appreciation by taking their families to colonial relics to capture their fond memories of colonial Hong Kong just before the British flag was lowered the last time, as Hong Kong was ordered to celebrate its return to China in 1997. It provides the background to why so many Hong Kong people seek refuge overseas after China reneged on its promises when it imposed the National Security Law in 2020.

By Jonathan Dimbleby,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Last Governor as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

1 July 1997 marked the end of British rule of Hong Kong, whereby this territory was passed into the hands of the People's Republic of China.

In 1992, Chris Patten, former chairman of the Conservative Party, was appointed Hong Kong's last governor, and was the man to oversee the handover ceremony of this former British colony.

Within the last five years of British rule, acclaimed journalist Jonathan Dimbleby was given unique access to the governor which enabled him to document the twists and turns of such an extraordinary diplomatic, political and personal drama.

As Governor, Patten encouraged the necessary expansion…

Low City, High City

By Edward G. Seidensticker,

Book cover of Low City, High City: Tokyo from Edo to the Earthquake, 1867-1923

Michael Pronko Author Of Tokyo Traffic

From the list on Tokyo’s essence.

Who am I?

My four novels and three sets of writings are all about Tokyo. I rely not only on my daily observations, personal experiences, and reactions to the city, but on the responses of others to the city. I’ve used all these books to better understand the place where I’ve lived and worked for over two decades. I’ve written about various aspects of Japan for numerous publications, editorials for The Japan Times, art and architecture reviews for Artscape Japan, personal columns on Tokyo life for Newsweek Japan, and reviews and interviews on the vibrant jazz scene for my Jazz in Japan website. I continue to find Tokyo a mesmerizing place to spend my working and writing—and wandering—life. Living here is like traveling every day.

Michael's book list on Tokyo’s essence

Why did Michael love this book?

This marvelous history of Tokyo focuses on the transformative 50 years from the end of the Tokugawa (Edo) period in 1867 to the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923. Translator and Japanologist Seidensticker tells the history like the grand journey it was. His narrative is fascinating, with more insights than facts, and it flows with the skill of someone who translated the great Japanese novelists Junichiro Tanizaki, Kafu Nagai, and Yasunari Kawabata, among others. Seidensticker includes thoughtfully chosen details as Tokyo emerges from a feudal society into a modern, industrial state. Seidensticker’s follow-up Tokyo Rising is also recommended.

By Edward G. Seidensticker,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Low City, High City as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Presents a cultural history of Toyko, tracing transformations and preservations and East-West collisions, from the Meiji Restoration of 1867 to the Earthquake of 1923

Spectacular Accumulation

By Morgan Pitelka,

Book cover of Spectacular Accumulation: Material Culture, Tokugawa Ieyasu, and Samurai Sociability

Constantine Nomikos Vaporis Author Of Samurai: An Encyclopedia of Japan's Cultured Warriors

From the list on Tokugawa Japan.

Who am I?

I’ve spent all of my career teaching and writing about Japan. Within that country’s long history, the Tokugawa or early modern period (1600-1868) has always fascinated me, going back to my teenage years when I went to Japanese film festivals in Boston with my father and brothers. This fascination stems in part from the period’s vibrancy, color, drama, and the wealth of historical documentation about it that has survived warfare as well as the ravages of time. From these rich sources of knowledge, historians and other scholars have been able to weave rich narratives of Japan’s early modern past.

Constantine's book list on Tokugawa Japan

Why did Constantine love this book?

Who could resist a book whose topics range from tea caddies, Chinese and Japanese tea bowls and paintings, severed heads, swords, falcons, and even a deified hegemon (Tokugawa Ieyasu)? This book about “things” and the famous people who collected them in the late sixteenth (before the onset of the Tokugawa period) and the first few decades of the seventeenth century uses material culture as a window into the politics and society of the military elite. It will entice those who are interested in non-linear history and the social life of things.

By Morgan Pitelka,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In Spectacular Accumulation, Morgan Pitelka investigates the significance of material culture and sociability in late sixteenth-century Japan, focusing in particular on the career and afterlife of Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616), the founder of the Tokugawa shogunate. The story of Ieyasu illustrates the close ties between people, things, and politics and offers us insight into the role of material culture in the shift from medieval to early modern Japan and in shaping our knowledge of history.

This innovative and eloquent history of a transitional age in Japan reframes the relationship between culture and politics. Like the collection of meibutsu, or ""famous objects,""…