A while back I requested random recommendations from readers about the best books to read about particular countries. I call them “stochastically best” because I have some faith in your judgments, yet without really trusting you one whit. Here is one of the two very last installments in that series, taken and collated from comments you all have submitted:
…or Australia it’s still Year of the Angry Rabbit:Bill Bryson’s Down Under for a casual read on an outsider’s perspective or Phillip Knightley’s Australia: A Biography of a Nation, Russell Ward, The Australian Legend
Turkey? I liked Crescent and Star by Stephen Kinzer.
I liked Hugh Pope’s Sons of the Conquerors: The Rise of the Turkish World
Norman Stone wrote a very readable short history of Turkey.
For the Philippines, either “In Our Image” by Karnow or “Touch Me Not” by Rizal
I thought this book on Cambodia was fantastic: Cambodia’s Curse: The Modern History of a Troubled Land. The author won a Pullitzer Prize for his reporting on the Khmer Rouge.
On Myanmar: “Blood, Dreams and Gold: The Changing Face of Burma” by Richard Cockett
Indonesia…etc. for… Indonesia (Elisabeth Pisani)
I second this opinion. Pisani was illuminating for me.
For Thailand: “Thailand’s Political History: From the Fall of Ayutthaya to Recent Times” by B. J. Terwiel is a fresh look. Many of the other books I have read follow the same boiler-plate narrative that’s been published for decades. His work also brings to light some unique source material that is valuable to the discussion.
Michael King’s “A Penguin History of New Zealand”
The Search for Modern China, China – Age of Ambition by Evan Osnos
RE: #17 China Chinese History: A New Manual; Fourth (2017 “bluebook”) or Fifth Editions (2015 “greenbook”) by Endymion Wilkinson
Yeah, and for a more contemporary take, the late great Richard Baum’s Great Courses lecture series (2010), Fall and Rise of China, completes the picture (Still noting that Tyler speaking of books, Baum’s lectures are so elegant, that the transcripts serve as a wonderful book.). All and all, Endymion’s work is the best out there in the Chinese scholarship community.
If you collected all of Simon Leys essays on China that would be a very insightful book on the country – mostly touching on culture and politics. Beautifully and memorably written too. Simon Leys seems to me one of the most under-rated essayists of recent decades.
Pakistan, Breaking the Curfew by Emma Duncan
The Old Social Classes and the Revolutionary Movements of Iraq by Hanna Batatu.
India: the Idea of India, Subaltans & Raj: South Asia since 1600, Richard Lannoy : The Speaking Tree
Does anyone have any opinion of India After Gandhi by Ramachandra Guha?
For India, one of my favourite books is “India: A History” by John Keay. It focuses much more on historical facts and events without passing judgement. I believe it is an extremely good and unbiased summary of Indian history from the Indus Valley Civilization to modern India.
While I haven’t found any properly good book that covers South India history, “A History of South India” by K.A. Nilakanta Sastri and “A Concise History of South India: Issues and Interpretations” by Noboru Karashima do address this topic.
I am on a Tamim Ansary kick, so I’ll propose “Games Without Rules” for Afghanistan.
Daniel Tudor’s “Korea: The Impossible Country” is a good read, which has chapters dedicated to antiquity and its influence on modern (South) Korea but mostly does concentrate on how the country is now and recent history. Tudor recommends “The Koreans,” since updated as “The New Koreans,” by Michael Breen, and “The Two Koreas” by Robert Carlin as “two foundational texts.” Barbara Demick’s “Nothing to Envy” is a fascinating book about what life in North Korea is like for ordinary North Koreans.
Burma / Myannmar: The River of Lost Footsteps
Haiti: Dubois’ Aftershocks of History? (though you’d know better)
Here are previous installments in the series.