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A Foreign Affairs Best Book of 2020
How did one of the world’s "buzzy hotspots" (Fodor’s 2013) become one of the top ten places to avoid (Fodor’s 2018)?
Precariously positioned between China and India, Burma’s population has suffered dictatorship, natural disaster, and the dark legacies of colonial rule. But when decades of military dictatorship finally ended and internationally beloved Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi emerged from long years of house arrest, hopes soared. World leaders such as Barack Obama ushered in waves of international support. Progress seemed inevitable.
As historian, former diplomat, and presidential advisor, Thant Myint-U saw the cracks forming. In this insider’s diagnosis of a country at a breaking point, he dissects how a singularly predatory economic system, fast-rising inequality, disintegrating state institutions, the impact of new social media, the rise of China next door, climate change, and deep-seated feelings around race, religion, and national identity all came together to challenge the incipient democracy. Interracial violence soared and a horrific exodus of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees fixed international attention. Myint-U explains how and why this happened, and details an unsettling prognosis for the future.
Burma is today a fragile stage for nearly all the world’s problems. Are democracy and an economy that genuinely serves all its people possible in Burma? In clear and urgent prose, Myint-U explores this question—a concern not just for the Burmese but for the rest of the world—warning of the possible collapse of this nation of 55 million while suggesting a fresh agenda for change.
About the Author
Thant Myint-U is an award-winning writer, historian, and conservationist. He lives in Rangoon, where he currently heads U Thant House and the Yangon Heritage Trust.
Thant Myint-U is a writer with a humane sensibility and a delicate yet pointed touch....Learned yet also intimate, The Hidden History of Burma is an urgent book about a heavy subject.
— Jennifer Szalai - New York Times
Thant Myint-U's most impressive title to date, featuring anecdotes from the author’s own extraordinary life. — Jeffrey Wasserstrom - Wall Street Journal
Thant Myint-U is the greatest living historian of Burma…His profoundly humane and ethical meditations on national identity, plurality, and the dangers of hyper-nationalism are vital to anyone trying to understand the Rohingya crisis or wrestling with the complexities of modern South or South East Asia. — William Dalrymple, author of The Anarchy
At once absorbing, illuminating, and humane, Thant Myint-U’s work traces the complex gearings of race, identity, and money with the perspective of a scholar and the intimacy of an insider. It’s invaluable in helping us understand the complexities not just of contemporary Burma but of our postcolonial world. — Kwame Anthony Appiah, author of The Lies That Bind: Rethinking Identity
An engrossing new book about Myanmar’s troubled, unfinished transition from dictatorship to democratic rule...The Hidden History of Burma should become a guiding reference work for how we view the new Myanmar.
— Josh Reed - Financial Times
The book on Burma I’ve been waiting to read—a riveting behind-the-scenes account of the country’s political and social transition over recent years, a brave unravelling of well-worn myths, and an urgent plea to imagine a new story and better future for Burma. — Emma Larkin, author of Finding George Orwell in Burma
Thant Myint-U deftly weaves together factors as diverse as nationalism, capitalism, geopolitics, and social media into a clear-eyed analysis of Burma’s troubled past and present. An essential read for anyone who wants to understand Burma and the challenges it must face in the coming decades. — Kishore Mahbubani, author of Has the West Lost It? A Provocation
Few countries are as complex—or fascinating—as modern-day Burma. In these pages, Thant Myint-U explains the country’s fifteen-year transformation from military junta to peaceful democracy to divided and fractured post-crisis country. A must-read book, not just for those interested in Burma, but for those interested in broader questions of race, national identity and democracy in our 21st-century world. — Ian Bremmer, author of Us vs. Them: The Failure of Globalism
Acute yet empathetic, this book is essential reading for all those interested in the future of Asia and the subcontinent. — Shivshankar Menon, former foreign secretary of India