'Tis the season for Top Ten lists, and we at Asia Society are as susceptible to these guilty pleasures as anyone else. Our favorite kind of year-end "best-of" roundup, though, just might have to be the ones devoted to the year's best books — possibly because a number of their authors have come through our doors in the preceding twelve months.
Herewith, a look at some of the writers currently being recognized by the Financial Times, NPR, The Economist, and other outlets, with a reminder that any one of the books in question is worth catching up with in 2015 if you didn't have time for it in 2014.
In May, journalist Anand Giridharadas spoke to Asia Society about his nonfiction book The True American: Murder and Mercy in Texas, which recounts the fallout from a violent post-9/11 encounter between a Bangladeshi immigrant and a white supremacist. The True American was named one of the "100 Notable Books of the Year" by the New York Times and made a year-end top-ten list from public radio's The Takeaway. An excerpt from Giridharadas's Asia Society talk appears below; watch the complete program here.
New Yorker staff writer Evan Osnos also appeared at Asia Society in May, for the launch of his book Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China. Based on his eight years of living in Beijing, Osnos's book made the Economist and Financial Times year-end lists (and went on to win the National Book Award in Nonfiction). In the excerpt below, Osnos tells Orville Schell about the kinds of "radical transformation" he witnessed in China (complete program available here).
In June, NPR China correspondent Louisa Lim gave Asia Society Texas Center a talk centered on The People's Republic of Amnesia: Tiananmen Revisited, her look back at the 1989 crackdown and how it has effectively been erased from China's historical memory in the ensuing quarter-century. The Economist named it one of 2014's best in the category of politics and current affairs.
The Financial Times recognized this debut by Asia Society's Chief Content Officer as one of the year's best, claiming that it "weaves colourful narratives to document the rising popularity of golf in China." In the clip below, Washburn relates some of the ironies, as well as the human costs, inherent in the frantic rush to develop golf courses in traditionally rural areas. (Watch the complete program here.)
The one fiction entry on our list, Xiaolu Guo's novel I Am China, weaves between China and England through the letters and diaries of an exiled Chinese underground rock musician as they are rendered into English by a translator based in London. Naming it one of the best books of 2014, NPR said that "Xiaolu Guo's novels are bold expressions of individual will in the face of state control." Guo joined Asia Society for author talks in New York City, where she was joined by ChinaFile editor Susan Jakes:
... and in Houston, where she shared the stage with Asia Society Texas Center Board Member Y. Ping Sun.
The latest book by The Atlantic's veteran foreign correspondent, which received a "year's-best" nod from the Financial Times, is a survey of tensions in the South China Sea and their implications for peace and security worldwide. Joining an Asia Society panel on the South China Sea in November, Kaplan argued that those tensions mean we've entered "a more crowded, nervous, anxious world."
Finally, in December Elizabeth Pisani gave a talk behind her new travel book Indonesia Etc. that was entertaining and enlightening in equal measure. Based on the author's 26,000-mile journey around the archipelago nation, Indonesia Etc. was one of the Wall Street Journal's ten best nonfiction books of the year, and also grabbed a spot on The Economist's politics and current affairs list, just below Louisa Lim and Evan Osnos (above).