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on 14 February 2007
The River of Lost Footsteps is mainly a straight-forward history of Burma, focusing on the modern period (with about half the book on the last sixty years or so), but including earlier (ancient and medieval)history as well. It is fast-paced, very well-written, and full of colourful, sometimes sad, and sometimes quite funny anecdotes and stories.

The book interweaves Burma's history with the history of the author's own family (on his mother's side, his grandfather was U Thant, the former UN Secretary-General and on his father's side the author is descended from 18th and 19th century Burmese aristocrats and courtiers). It also includes the author's own travels and experiences in Burma and recollection, such as his account of his U Thant's funeral in 1974 which led to a near uprising against the then military government. All this makes the book much more personal and interesting than a straight-forward history.

The author concludes (in the last few pages) which his analysis of present-day Burma and his criticisms of international policy. He is very at times devastatingly critical of the military government but believes that sanctions against Burma are counter-productive and based on a misunderstanding of Burma's problems.

There's a lot of British history this book as well, with a whole chapter on the first Anglo-Burmese war and much on Burma's colonial history and the British withdrawal from Burma in the 1940s. I'd recommend it to any armchair historian with an interest in the British empire, or Asia and certainly to anyone interested in Burma.
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'The River of Lost Footsteps' is a beautiful, eloquent history of Burma. It looks at the events from pre-colonial days that shaped the country's identity and allegiances, from various invasions and conquests to the rise and fall of internal kingdoms. It then looks at the British control and the implications this had on trade and the infra-structure and then lastly focuses upon Burmese life since independence and the struggles against dictatorship. Although my description may sound a touch dry this book is in fact very readable and is written in beautiful prose that really helps you imagine the life and scenes portrayed. The authors chosen chronology of the history and some of the unusual names created some confusion for me at times, but this is really a minor flaw in what is a masterly introduction to this fascinating and troubled country. This is well worth a read if you have even a remote passing interest in this country or region, you should not be disappointed.

Feel free to check out my blog which can be found on my profile page.
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on 9 April 2017
I wish that I had read this wonderful book before my recent fist visit to Burma. It explains chronologically the tragic upheavals that seem to occur every decade or so in the last two hundred years. Prior to that time he tells the wonderful history of Burma and of its people.
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on 9 May 2017
I've been impressing this book on a lot of people. Its very interesting and I hope there will be an update as lots of events happened since the book was written
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on 24 March 2010
Post colonial Burma hits the headlines for all the wrong reasons. During colonial times Burma has more recognition, though shamefully it was treated as a part of India from full colonization until 1935. Even little Sri Lanka always had a separate government quite divorced from the Indian administration.

This book is part ancient history, part modern history and also semi autobiographical weaving in the author's own involvement through his Burmese UN Secretary General grandfather U Thant, and his lineage to the last king of Burma Thibaw, leading to U Thant's relationship to Burma's last popular Prime Minister U Nu and rise as secretary general of the UN.

What were the mistakes and events that made Burma a modern basket case for a military dictatorship given it was a land full of potential in agriculture and natural resources with a theoretical head start under British imperialism? Surprisingly the author does not blame the British except in a subtle way, starting with Randolph Churchill to whom the takeover of Burma was an electoral ploy with disastrous consequences for its history.

This book is quite gripping and describes the entity that is Burma from its very beginnings to its peoples and diverse regions. I don't think the book pays enough attention to the relationship Burma had to Sri Lanka. Southern Buddhism more likely came to Burma from Ceylon rather than South India along with a number of cultural influences placed in South India. This aside, the book charts the rise of militaristic kings who were the bane of neighboring states like Thailand. The capitulation of Burma to the British in 1885 is both shameful and tragic and brought the country under Indian rule. Burma was probably treated as a backwater of the Indian empire and lost significant territory to Bengal. As a relatively successful colonial enterprise, it was a target for Japanese conquest and the country was bombed and taken over by the Japanese leaving the British shocked, stampeding back to India. Independence brought a withdrawl from the commonwealth and a slippery slope to civil war and chaos.

The writing is exciting and very moving highlighting many interesting details like a little known British Botanist Frank Kingdon Ward and how Rangood was Bombed around 1942. There is really good pace, adventure, analysis and profiling of politicians like U San and a final appraisal of the bleakness and how to cure it. Myint-U is very diplomatic at dealing with the culprits of the woes of Burma from the British to General Ne-Win who established the military government. His proposed solutions are intelligent and realistic.

This is a must read for political historians and colonial buffs about the politics of the golden land. Can't recommend it too heavily for SE Asians and interested parties from India and Sri Lanka.
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on 15 August 2008
The grandson of the former UN Secretary-General U Thant, the author is in a uniquely privileged position to comment on Burma.
For many Burma watchers in the West, the situation in Burma is seen in strictly polarised terms, in which Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) are pitted against the demonical generals of the military regime, and any wider picture runs the danger of being ignored. Thant Myint-U, while clearly a believer in democracy, helps give a more historical dimension to this situation, showing that many of the problems faced by Burma today have their roots in British colonialism and the way in which the British brutally and humiliatingly deposed the Burmese monarchy, leaving a power vacuum that has never really been filled.
In fluid and eminently readable prose, his historical and very human narrative is interwoven with information on his own family, among the most famous Burma has ever produced. The final section is a reflection on the seemingly insurmountable hurdle the opposition would have to mount in order to get into power; not only an increasingly powerful military who talk at cross-purposes to democratic politics and whose support from China and India make them almost invincible, but (pre Cyclone Nargis) increased material well-being and a population the majority of whom no longer remember the events of 1988.
Although he is far from being an apologist for the military regime, he is equally dismissive of Western sanctions, making a persuasive argument that in a world where China is increasingly dominant they have little impact, and in many ways are counter-productive, as they serve to increase Burma's isolation, thus playing into the hands of the military generals.
Highly recommended for anyone with an interest in Burma.
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on 4 February 2012
I visited Burma in 2009 and I really wish I had read this book before I went because it would have enhanced my experience greatly.

There are about 2 typos in the whole Kindle version. It is fully navigable. The last 30% of the book is index so don't do what I did and wonder what the heck he was going to write about for another 300 pages after the military took over! I spent ages trying to figure out why the last chapter was so long.

Thant Myint U gives a fascinating overview of Myanmar's complex history as a country and some insight into its people (as much as is possible with such a diverse mix). His writing stye flows nicely and is easy to follow. He includes personal elements which I found to be the most enjoyable parts. He does not over-emphasise the importance of Aung San Su Kyi which is a change to the media view of Burma. He openly states that it is impossible to know the internal machinations of the current regime so if that's what you are looking for you'll be disappointed.

This is an enjoyable read and will give you an insight into how Myanmar got into the state it is in now.
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on 10 April 2017
One of my favourite books - inc those not just about Burma!

A stunning tale of Burmese history that's good when paired with his other writings
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on 13 July 2013
I chose this book particularly because it was written by someone Burmese; I wanted not just the details of Burmese history but also the element of Burmese perspective. This author fits the bill particularly well being a western educated academic as well as having family connections close to the significant figures of the 20th century era. British colonialism is dealt with in a remarkably pragmatic way; it would be impossible not to have some criticism of the capitalist machinery which so dominated South East Asian countries over such a long period of time. Colonial history in this region of the world has left its indelible mark on all of the societies it eventually left behind; not to confront it would be a failure to understand anything of the current day situation or what needs to be done in the future. The majority of the book covers the internal politics of ancient and modern Burma and the complex makeup of its peoples together with its relationship with its neighbours; both factors have had a significant impact on the difficult path Burma has found itself on.

Overall the book is a gripping read (although a little hard to follow in places) and has some amusing stories that at least partly offset the feelings created by tragic events that have occurred in this country's unfolding history.
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on 3 June 2009
Excellent book about the history of Burma. Not the expected dry tome but written with a lot of personal experience and family background.
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