Can Asians Think? Paperback – 15 Apr 2010
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About the Author
Kishore Mahbubani is the Dean and Professor in the Practice of Public Policy at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKYSPP) of the National University of Singapore. He continues to serve in the boards and councils of several institutions in Singapore, Asia, Europe and North America. His articles have appeared in a wide range of journals and newspapers, including The Washington Quarterly, Survival, American Interest, the National Interest, the Wilson Quarterly, Time, Newsweek and New York Times. He is also the author of Beyond The Age of Innocence: Rebuilding Trust between America and the World (published in New York) and The New Asian Hemisphere: the irresistible shift of global power to the East . More information on his writings can be found on www.mahbubani.net.
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Top customer reviews
The revised edition is frankly, not as good as the original. Possibly buoyed by the success of the earlier book, Kishore Madhubani tries to use the present book as a diplomatic tool to the change the UN and the US. While these may no doubt be worthy goals, the particular essays aimed at that tend to be a little fawning, and a little manipulative.
The book is structured as a collection of essays, based on talks or articles which Madhubani gave or wrote over a period of time. However, this does not affect the quality of the book adversely, as his perspective remains unchanged, though evolving.
'Can Asians Think' helped give me a new perspective on the differences between the East and the West. It also helped me work out that the Western way was not the only one, and it may also not be totally and automatically relevant in East. We therefore need to go back and think how (and in what conditions) a particular Western solution emerged, before accepting it or evaluating it. This is particularly important, as there is a kind of 'thought imperialism' generated by the publishing industry in the West, which tends to swamp out non-Western ways of thinking. The strong publishing industry has also resulted in commercialisation of the intellect across the modern world, which may not be such a good thing for the future of the world.
Typically for an Eastern mind, Kishore Madhubani does not quote statistics or studies in support of his arguments. Not being tied down by the need to prove the validity of his arguments, he is able to develop and put across his perspective with ease. This also allows the reader to take him as a trusted friend rather than an intellectual adversary. (Read and compare The Geography of Thought by Nisbett to see what I mean in terms of writing style). Also the book is full of insights. I particularly recommend the Ten Heresies of journalism (An Asian Perspective on Human Rights and Freedom of the Press). Another gem on population control (Asian Hordes) is contained The Dangers of Decadence: What the Rest Can Teach the West. Another valuable essay is 'Japan Adrift'.
All in all, a good book. Let's hope the intellectual in Kishore Madhubani does not succumb to the diplomat in him!
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-- Tom Plate, Distinguished Scholar of Asian and Pacific Studies, Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, California
If you care at all about the world, READ THIS BOOK. Really, it's OK. Just treat it like one of those trashy novels whose cover you need to hide in public. It's really worth it.
As an impressionable youngster I was brought up to believe that what worked for me as a kid was best for the world: a single-family home in a semi-rural setting, public schools, democracy, free speech, and so on. It took my first visits overseas to appreciate that people can really flourish in apartment dwellings. It's taken Mahbubani's book to make me realize that today's free speech and universal franchise may have been the RESULT and not the CAUSE of American middle-class prosperity.
Mahbubani's views have vital implications regarding aid to developing countries. We've seen in the news how elections by themselves have failed to stabilize unstable countries.
He also has some very ripe comments about the Western press, which no doubt explains why the book is so rarely reviewed. He argues that the press is an unchecked power both overseas and within the US -- imagine if a tinpot dictator refused to talk to the American press? Unheard of!
Mahbubani believes that the public should demand the same level of integrity from their journalists that they expect of their politicians. Yet it's rare that journalists are raked over the coals for being bribed by corporations (just about every major journalist seems to have spent time on Enron's payroll as a "consultant") or for marital infidelity. Washington journalists are very good at casting the first stone when some politician is caught with his pants down, but it's rare for someone to question a journalist's integrity based on outside infidelities. Given how "access" equals "power" in Washington, Mahbubani argues that the press represents a large power bloc within the US that is largely unchecked with respect to integrity. While I find this statement a bit extreme, there is some truth to it.
Some people see Mahbubani as an apologist for the Singaporean government. It's true that his words make their government more palatable to Westerners. But it's important to consider his words, regardless of whether he's an apologist or not. Intellectuals listened to numerous fools extolling the virtues of Stalin in the '30s. Let us give this fellow a hearing, at least.
Is Mahbubani "right" or "wrong" ?? I don't know. But he provides some incredibly thought-provoking essays based on a lifetime of foreign service.
Mahbunai employs a relatively objective tone throughout his essays. His essays are well researched, cogently argued and incisively presented. The book written in a similar vein as that of Huntington's "Clash of Civilizations", but it differs by offering an Asian perspective on the changing global order. Now, that makes for essential reading (for both Asians and Westerners).
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