Beyond the Age of Innocence by Kishore Mahbubani (thoughts)
I wanted to read Beyond the Age of Innocence by Kishore Mahbubani (a Singaporean), because I’ve read a few of his articles and his pro-Asia attitude made me curious. Also, it’s published by PublicAffairs Books whose motto “good books about things that matter” I find irresistable. ;) The book was published in 2005, and Mahbubani’s goal is to explain to Americans why anti-American sentiment is growing in the rest of the world. I find this an intriguing premise and settled in for a nuanced, sophisticated account of twentieth century US foreign policy and its ramifications on ordinary people living around the world.
Sadly, that’s not exactly what I got. I noticed once I’d finished the book that Samuel Huntington has a gushy blurb on the back. That and Mahbubani’s frequent references to ‘Tom Friedman’ should give you an idea of the book’s approach: one sweeping generalisation after another, arguments supported by nothing but stereotypes and a personal anecdote or two, and a shocking distillation of complex historical events into glib sound bites. I suspect Mahbubani is the kind of person who, in a conversation about race, would refer to his “black friend who says he’s never been discriminated against”.
Why did I keep reading then? Well, because it was only two hundred pages and a quick read (which tells you something right there about how in depth it could get into such a complicated topic), so it’s like not like I had to make a giant investment. But also because in between the cringe-worth-iness, Mahbubani did present some interesting observations, ones I hadn’t see before. They made it worth the minimal effort involved to read it.
I wouldn’t recommend this book to a general audience, unless you already have enough of a background to see all of the problems in it. And if you already have that background, you’re probably looking for a more complex kind of book anyway. I won’t be seeking out more Mahbubani, but I’m not sorry that I read this. And it did remind me to check out more books from PublicAffairs in the future!