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Beyond the Age of Innocence by Kishore Mahbubani (thoughts)

April 18, 2013

Beyond the Age of Innocence
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!

3 Comments leave one →
  1. April 18, 2013 8:47 pm

    Ugh. Sorry this one was a big disappointment. I still might give this book a shot and just see where things go.
    Thanks for the review!

  2. aartichapati permalink
    April 19, 2013 9:01 pm

    Oh, disappointing! It isn’t that I am surprised that the developing world is growing more anti-American but in general, I’ve always thought those regions were more anti-European due to (sweeping generalization, I know) colonialism. I know America has done all sorts of crazy and horrible things, too, but I would think in those countries, Europe would be held in just as much dislike as we are.

    That’s besides the point here, though, isn’t it? :-) I’m glad you weeded this one out so I don’t have to.

    And I miss you!

  3. April 22, 2013 10:06 am

    I live in Singapore and heard Kishore Mabuhbani speak at a public forum some years back. I was suitably impressed by his speech and subsequently, picked up his book ‘Can Asians Think’ but never got around to reading it. Your post reminded me that I should try reading it one of these days and see how I feel about his thinking.

Thank you for commenting! For a long while, my health precluded me replying to everyone. Yet I missed the conversation, so I'm now making an effort to reply again. It might take a few days though, and there will be times when I simply can't. Regardless, I always read and value what you say.

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