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Conversations with Lee Kuan Yew Citizen Singapore: How to Build a Nation (Giants of Asia Series) Kindle Edition
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Three particular irritations:
- Entire pages spent on describing the ambiance of the interview room in the palace, or LKYs coughing or fiddling with a heat pack. We get it. LKY was ill at the time. Tell us once, and move on.
- Lines of questioning which go nowhere. When the interviewer isn't making foolish or obsequious remarks (which clearly irritate LKY) and actually hits on an important issue, LKY sometimes gives a mordant reply. The interviewer is thereupon stumped, and wanders off on some navel-gazing exercise of his own. When the conversation resumes, it's on some entirely different topic.
- A peculiar obsession with Isiah Berlin's "The Hedgehog and the Fox", repeated references to it, and attempts to fit LKY into either the Hedgehog or Fox category, which (again) seems to irritate LKY.
Ultimately one is left with an impression of a poor writer and a poor conversationalist. A horribly botched opportunity which will never again present itself.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
The books are basically transcripts of dialogues with the specific subject in each chapter. They are easy to read. For those of you who don’t like to read, these books are quite entertaining as the author descriptively explained the background, situation, and his thoughts as if you were on the set meeting with these leaders.
I learnt that Lee Kuan Yew was a utilitarianism. He’s also a Confucian who believes in Wu-Lun (Five Relationships). I like his definition of Public Policy, which is the greatest good for the greatest number. I was happy to learn that his son, the current Prime Minister of Singapore, Hsien Loong, is known as PM Google because of how knowledgeable he is. Overall, Tom Plate concluded Lee Kuan Yew can be characterized as ‘Plato meets Machiavelli’, in that he’s searching utopia on earth but also realistic enough to get things done.
I was surprised to find that during Mahathir’s leadership tenure of 22 years, there was no terrorist bombing such as the one in Bali, Indonesia. Mahathir is a Muslim Fundamentalist and he was very big on affirmative action programs, which instituted a more fair distribution program for the Malays, indigenous population of Malaysia, who generally have lower income than the Chinese. This was Mahathir’s way to reduce poverty and prevent violence. In the end, Mahathir was able to maintain peace and create economic progress.
It’s interesting to read about a self-made billionaire who became the prime minister of a country, especially in Thailand, ruled by a monarch. The book talks about how Thaksin ruled Thailand like a CEO of a company. There are many good things he did for the country. For example, providing interest free loans for three years for the poor, giving out 800,000 scholarship, using lottery profit to fund capital for the poor, and many more. However, his way of conducting in politics, forgetting to act diplomatic to the Privy Councilors, who serve as advisors to the monarchy, caused the coup in September 2006. His sister, Yingluck, became Prime Minister in 2011. It’d be interesting to read Conversation with Thaksin 2.0 and see how Thailand is doing now.
From two soft-authoritarians to a democratic leader to a diplomat, Ban Ki-Moon. It was fascinating to learn of the Secretary General (SG) of United Nation devotion to public service started from being inspired by a meeting with JFK when he was a Junior Red Cross representative. He was never in private sector or university appointment. He’s very positive and hardworking. He uses both quiet and public diplomacy. Many criticize him in the media. I like the author’s recommendation in the beginning of the SG term to hire outside media image team. Unfortunately, the SG did not do so. In conclusion, people had too high an expectation of the United Nation, which only has limited power and resources. Utopia is not around the corner, but Tom Plate’s conversation enables the reader to picture Ban Ki-Moon doing his best as the humblest of international public servant who appear to be running the world.
They are all recommended reading! Enjoy!
The book is the result of a couple of hours worth of interview Mr. Plate conducted with LKY over the course of two days in July of 2009. Unfortunately, Mr. Plate spends too much of the text relaying his thoughts and his end of the conversation. I didn't buy this book to get some Western journalist's views and observations: I want to know what LKY thinks. I don't care what LKY looks like (I can watch him on the Charlie Rose show for that), or how much he coughs, and I found the Irving Berlin "fox or hedgehog" metaphor Plate kept trotting out to be imbecilic and disrespectful. I'm sure Mr. Plate is a nice enough fellow, and it's obvious his heart is in the right place. Unfortunately, despite all his impressive credentials, he wasn't the right person for this job. I don't know who would be these days. Certainly it needs to be someone more culturally conservative than Plate: you don't go asking a modern day Lykurgus what kind of dope he likes to take when he's stressed out. Not only is that not interesting: it simply isn't done by civilized people. Projecting your vices onto others is ... insulting.
While Plate is to be commended for not bothering LKY with the type of nonsense that usually obsesses Western reporters (aka, "why don't you accord more power to unaccountable Western type reporters, so we can make a mess of your country like we did our own?"), he also didn't ask enough interesting questions. What would I have liked are LKY's views on American politics and culture. I'm pretty sure he's thought about it, but nobody is asking him about it. As a citizen of a decaying empire, one which LKY has a selfish interest in preserving, I'd really like to know what he thinks of our problems. Not the silly problems: the big ones -the death of the family, the decline of civic life, corruption, the decline of the political class, the vastly complex politics between the races and interest groups in American society, the problems with immigration and assimilation, our halfwitted class of semi-educated "bohemian bourgeois" -and what about our oligarchs? How did LKY deal with them in his own country, and how did he co-opt his would be Singapura oligarchs towards the good of his society? What would he suggest if Barack Obama asked him for advice .... on any subject. Even a dumb policy nerd issue like Health Care: I'd like to know what LKY thinks, and how he did it in Singapore (yes, their system is superior by any measure, and from what I know about how it works, it will make nobody with a political axe to grind in America happy). Heck, I'd like to know what LKY thinks about the fertility crisis in his country. Since the same disease afflicts the entire civilized world, it might be interesting to know what someone with the LKY brain and honest tongue thinks about such matters. Nope; instead I know what LKY wore on a July afternoon in 2009, that Tom is a mush headed goofball who takes prozac, and that LKY gave Tom a nice hug afterwords. That's just plain weak-sauce. I'm no professor of Journalism, but if you stuck me in the room with someone as interesting as LKY for ... I dunno, 45 minutes, I could come back with more material for a book than this. And you know what? I wouldn't have gotten the Michael Fay date on page 33 wrong either, because I never made my brain into swiss cheese by taking Prozac. Jaybers.
Plate does provide a lot of useful connecting history for people who don't know anything about that part of the world; I suppose those passages were acceptable, but I would expect anyone interested in LKY to know about the opium wars, or the fact that caning was a British invention. Plus, what there is of LKY in here is fascinating and entertaining. As such, it merits a couple of stars above par.