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Precariously positioned between China and India, Burma’s population has suffered dictatorship, natural disaster, and the dark legacies of colonial rule. But when decades of military dictatorship finally ended and internationally beloved Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi emerged from long years of house arrest, hopes soared. World leaders such as Barack Obama ushered in waves Precariously positioned between China and India, Burma’s population has suffered dictatorship, natural disaster, and the dark legacies of colonial rule. But when decades of military dictatorship finally ended and internationally beloved Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi emerged from long years of house arrest, hopes soared. World leaders such as Barack Obama ushered in waves of international support. Progress seemed inevitable. As historian, former diplomat, and presidential advisor, Thant Myint-U saw the cracks forming. In this insider’s diagnosis of a country at a breaking point, he dissects how a singularly predatory economic system, fast-rising inequality, disintegrating state institutions, the impact of new social media, the rise of China next door, climate change, and deep-seated feelings around race, religion, and national identity all came together to challenge the incipient democracy. Interracial violence soared and a horrific exodus of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees fixed international attention. Myint-U explains how and why this happened, and details an unsettling prognosis for the future. Burma is today a fragile stage for nearly all the world’s problems. Are democracy and an economy that genuinely serves all its people possible in Burma? In clear and urgent prose, Myint-U explores this question—a concern not just for the Burmese but for the rest of the world—warning of the possible collapse of this nation of 55 million while suggesting a fresh agenda for change.


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Precariously positioned between China and India, Burma’s population has suffered dictatorship, natural disaster, and the dark legacies of colonial rule. But when decades of military dictatorship finally ended and internationally beloved Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi emerged from long years of house arrest, hopes soared. World leaders such as Barack Obama ushered in waves Precariously positioned between China and India, Burma’s population has suffered dictatorship, natural disaster, and the dark legacies of colonial rule. But when decades of military dictatorship finally ended and internationally beloved Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi emerged from long years of house arrest, hopes soared. World leaders such as Barack Obama ushered in waves of international support. Progress seemed inevitable. As historian, former diplomat, and presidential advisor, Thant Myint-U saw the cracks forming. In this insider’s diagnosis of a country at a breaking point, he dissects how a singularly predatory economic system, fast-rising inequality, disintegrating state institutions, the impact of new social media, the rise of China next door, climate change, and deep-seated feelings around race, religion, and national identity all came together to challenge the incipient democracy. Interracial violence soared and a horrific exodus of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees fixed international attention. Myint-U explains how and why this happened, and details an unsettling prognosis for the future. Burma is today a fragile stage for nearly all the world’s problems. Are democracy and an economy that genuinely serves all its people possible in Burma? In clear and urgent prose, Myint-U explores this question—a concern not just for the Burmese but for the rest of the world—warning of the possible collapse of this nation of 55 million while suggesting a fresh agenda for change.

30 review for The Hidden History of Burma: Race, Capitalism, and the Crisis of Democracy in the 21st Century

  1. 5 out of 5

    Mikey B.

    I read this book for the purpose of enlightening myself on Myanmar. I have been reading of the crisis of the Rohingya refugees and of the new leader of Myanmar – Aung San Suu Kyi who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990. The author grew up in the United States. In the last twenty years he has participated in U.N. projects to develop Myanmar. He implies that Burma’s new name of Myanmar has a strong tribal nationalistic meaning – throughout his book he uses the name “Burma” rather than Myanmar I read this book for the purpose of enlightening myself on Myanmar. I have been reading of the crisis of the Rohingya refugees and of the new leader of Myanmar – Aung San Suu Kyi who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990. The author grew up in the United States. In the last twenty years he has participated in U.N. projects to develop Myanmar. He implies that Burma’s new name of Myanmar has a strong tribal nationalistic meaning – throughout his book he uses the name “Burma” rather than Myanmar – so I will use Burma to keep in sync with the book. Burma is a complex country made up of many different nationalities and languages with a mix of Buddhism, Muslim, and some Christian religions. There is constant discussion in Burma as to who really belongs; there was much migration over years. This diversity is spread out in different regions of the country, many near the border areas of India, Bangladesh and China. Some of these groups have their own militias which have clashed frequently over the years with the Burmese army. Burma, due to a long-standing military dictatorship, was a very isolated and poverty-stricken country – almost considered as a failed state – until “democracy” started in 2010 and Aung San Suu Kyi became president in 2015. Page 187 (in my book) in 2013 There was the peace process involving the government (which in turn was divided between the president, his cabinet, the army, and parliament) and dozens of Ethnic Armed Organizations, with other insurgencies and militia sitting on the sidelines; the contest between the generals and ex-generals and Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy, as well as dozens of other political parties and hundreds of civil society organizations, all wanting a say in the future of the country; and the rising violence between Buddhists and Muslims, mainly in Arakan but spilling over into other parts of the country. And the big powers – including China, the US, Japan, India, the UK, and a host of other governments were jostling for influence. At the heart of the problems was a state that still did not control its territory and a society divided on who belonged and who did not. Ethnic and regional tensions continue to exist. There are areas where the government has little control. One such area is on the Chinese border where there are large casinos for Chinese customers, drug trafficking (opiates and heroin), and child sex trafficking. Page 198-99 Estimates of the value of Burmese jade exports in the early 2010s run from a few billion dollars a year to $30 billion in 2014… Every day [in Hpakant in northern Burma] in 100F degree heat or under relentless monsoon rains, masses of emaciated men combed through the muddy heaps with their bare hands, hoping to find tiny fragments of treasure. To keep from collapsing from exhaustion they shot themselves with heroin… sharing needles. Women, also poor migrants and also high on heroin, offered sex in little hovels. It was near the border with Bangladesh that ethnic tensions with the Muslim Rohingya population violently escalated. Some of this was due to outrageous and racist postings on Facebook. Page 240 By mid-September [2017], as many as 400,000 refugees, nearly all of them Muslim, had crossed the border into Bangladesh, many having walked for days without food or rest. Aung San Suu Kyi has been largely ineffectual with the escalating problems within her country, in fact she has denied their existence blaming the international community of exaggeration which plays well with her popularity and the nativists in her country.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Hadrian

    From the West, it is easy to romanticize Burma. It was easy to portray it as all innocent people slumbering under the reign of tyrants, as the British did before they invaded and despoiled it. It is easy to romanticize it as a land of pagodas and rolling hills alone, as Rudyard Kipling did, and as Hollywood did, but in different ways. These simple narratives obscure the long history of the place, and following these stories which so many believed to be true led to serious mistakes in understandi From the West, it is easy to romanticize Burma. It was easy to portray it as all innocent people slumbering under the reign of tyrants, as the British did before they invaded and despoiled it. It is easy to romanticize it as a land of pagodas and rolling hills alone, as Rudyard Kipling did, and as Hollywood did, but in different ways. These simple narratives obscure the long history of the place, and following these stories which so many believed to be true led to serious mistakes in understanding. Thant Myint-U is uniquely placed to write a book about modern Burma. He is the grandson of the independence activist and UN Secretary-General U Thant, and he was involved as an informal envoy across the years of reform. He has also spent years in Yangon itself and worked as a conservationist for its historical architecture. He livens up his analysis with an anecdote about the setting, and its clear he's spoken to many of the people he writes about. When the ruling military junta began the process of reform, it could have been assumed that Thein Sein - first a high-ranking general and appointed as prime minister in 2007, had a conversion experience to democratic rule. It is not so simple. There were many reasons why the ruling elite needed reform, but even they had recognized that their country had fallen behind. Burma was one of the poorest countries in Asia, it was classified by the UN as a "least-developed country" along with Afghanistan, Cambodia, and Laos. The sanctions of the Bush administration hindered trade. Its only major trading partner was China, whose population migration and overbearing attitude did not endear them to the domestic population. One of the last straws was the catastrophic Typhoon Nargis in 2008, which overwhelmed the state's response. Reform came from a recognition that the previous system - a corrupt, isolated, military regime - could not go on. But here is where the "hidden history" that the author discusses comes into play. The Burmese people, and their many neighbors, have had a long and storied history. Any reform cannot be written onto a blank page. The borders of the state that is now called either Myanmar or Burma did not resemble any previous state of the Bamar people, and this arrangement was the direct result of British colonial administration, plunder, and population transfer. After independence in 1948, a series of wars broke out almost immediately with rebel groups who demanded further autonomy (associated with the Shan, the Karen, the Kachin, etc., etc.), communist insurgencies, and later on the remnants of Kuomintang armies. A military junta under General Ne Win and the Burma Socialist Programme Party took power in 1962, and thus established a "Burmese Way to Socialism" - that is to say, approaching Stalinism but the dictator loved astrology and bathing in dolphin blood. The wars did not stop. Reform still happened. In the happier years between 2011 and 2015, Burma opened itself up to the outside. Freedom of speech restrictions were relaxed, censorship ceased, news outlets reopened. Aung San Suu Kyi, still then an international symbol, was released from house arrest. The central government began peace talks with tens of different rebel groups. This triumph, it seemed, culminated in the peaceful election of Aung San Suu Kyi's National League of Democracy in 2015, which resulted in the first peaceful transfer of power in 55 years. The good times were not so easy, and such reforms, as helpful as they were, still faced against an army of problems. Older anguishes about peoples and identities flared up again, and stories about the fear of a Muslim invasion were spread over cellphones and a completely unmoderated Facebook. In August 2017, a violent group calling itself the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army attacked a series of military outposts in Rakhine State, and in response, the government launched a brutal and disproportionate crackdown. Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya fled to Bangladesh or elsewhere and thousands more had died. When Aung San Suu Kyi went to the United Nations, she refused to condemn the military's actions and instead said very little - a silence which is acceptance. In Thant Myint-U's view, her isolation from the outside world meant that outside observers could project their own views upon her. Instead of an idealistic freedom fighter, she more resembled other Burmese with their own views on ethnic minorities. Yet as the West balked, China has stepped in once again as a willing partner, defending the government's actions and stepping up direct investment. The book is a story about continuity as much as it is about change. What can be done? The authors' suggestions are extremely broad, almost wishful - a social welfare state, a more robust media, more inclusion of ethnic and religious minorities in state institutions, and in the construction of a pan-ethnic national identity. Such proposals speak to the intractability and complexity of the issues. I learned a lot from this book. The author conveys much detail in a book that's only ~300 pages. The story he tells makes this book almost a standard reference for trying to understand what is going on. I have no idea what will happen next, but the author might have a good guess.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Geoffrey

    (Note: I received an ARC of this book courtesy of NetGalley) Having already written several great works on Burma’s history and its modern challenges, Thant Myint-U once more rises to the challenge and again shows himself to be one of its foremost experts with his latest book, The Hidden History of Burma. After being deeply personally involved in the momentous shifts that Burma has undergone in the last few years, he has combined his extensive personal and professional experiences with his scholar (Note: I received an ARC of this book courtesy of NetGalley) Having already written several great works on Burma’s history and its modern challenges, Thant Myint-U once more rises to the challenge and again shows himself to be one of its foremost experts with his latest book, The Hidden History of Burma. After being deeply personally involved in the momentous shifts that Burma has undergone in the last few years, he has combined his extensive personal and professional experiences with his scholarship to craft a simultaneously wide-spanning but also uniquely intimate look into the country at present. His thorough coverage includes (but of course is not limited to): - The country’s rapidly changing and fractious political system - The fierce identity conflicts that have already long-wracked the nation and continue to fiercely do so - A recent economic rollercoaster that has created great wealth for some but has proven to be underwhelming for the majority of the nation’s people - Burma’s particularly acute and growing vulnerability to climate change And although each one of the aforementioned is a highly complex topic in its own right, they are all brilliantly condensed into a highly accessible narrative. Any reader with so much as a passing interest in this nation yet has little to no prior background knowledge can still pick this book up and come away feeling like a minor expert on a country of nearly 55 million that now finds itself at a major make-or-break crossroads. Through The Hidden History of Burma, Thant Myint-U has more or less crafted what can serve as the perfect how-to guide to understanding present-day Burma, or at least until he writes his next book.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

    The Hidden History of Burma: Race, Capitalism, and the Crisis of Democracy in the 21st Century, by Thant Myint-U, is an interesting and concise account of Burmese history from pre-colonial times to the present (2019). The author is the grandson of former UN General Secretary U Thant, and his family have been a part of Burmese politics since that point - his grandfathers funeral being an important early moment in the Burma's fledgling democracy movement. The author utilizes a narrative history st The Hidden History of Burma: Race, Capitalism, and the Crisis of Democracy in the 21st Century, by Thant Myint-U, is an interesting and concise account of Burmese history from pre-colonial times to the present (2019). The author is the grandson of former UN General Secretary U Thant, and his family have been a part of Burmese politics since that point - his grandfathers funeral being an important early moment in the Burma's fledgling democracy movement. The author utilizes a narrative history structure in this book, using his intimate knowledge of Burmese politics and his personal connections with many key players in Burma to write the book. Accounts of important politicians - Aung Su Kyi and so on, are given, as well as their personally stated motivations. The author also looks at Burmese history through an even perspective, shying away from Western fetishization of Su Kyi, or Burma in general, as well as the Army's narrative, to give a relatively unbiased account of his countries recent history. We start with a rapid account of Burma as an imperial kingdom in the pre-British colonial era. Burma exerted control beyond its present borders into both Thailand and Bangladesh, and north into China. It's power was curtailed by its colonization by the British, who dismantled the existing system to fit in a colonial mold. This has disastrous consequences on future Myanmar: ethnic and racial identity became a major factor in British policies, and some of these factors exist in the present. Thant then looks closely at modern Burma, writing of Burma's slow transition from an isolated military dictatorship, into the fragile democracy of today. He discusses issues like the Rohingya massacre, the rebel armies in Shan, Kachin and along the Chinese borders, corruption, autocracy and reform in the government and so on. He also closely looks at the diplomatic situation in Burma in recent history - Western fascination with Burma is massive and (to me) strange. Hilary Clinton, Laura Bush, Mitch McConnell, and Tony Blair all had very intimate connections with the country, and looked up to Aung Su Kyi in particular, lauding her with praise and gifts. This strange dynamic has led to a competitive diplomatic struggle between the West and China. China has been a historic ally of the military junta, but in the early 2010's, this relationship began to shift, as the junta transitioned to a more democratic system, and began to crack down on the border armies. Burmese planes accidentally strayed over the border into China a few times, killing some civilians. Chinese nationalists also support the ethnic Chinese militias and rebels in the border regions. The West saw this as an opportunity, and made do with Obama's pivot to Asia strategy. This greatly increased the strategic importance of Burma, both to the West and to China. This strategy began to fall apart in the later 2010's due to mutual hostility. The West was never a trusted ally in Burma, and many in the administration did not wish to engage with the West too intimately. When Aung Su Kyi was elected, this was the climax of Western democratic discourse in Burma. Things quickly fell through as the Rohingya massacre gained steam, and Su Kyi stood by and did little to stop it - delving into the realpolitik of the nation as its Prime Minister. This has led to a feeling of betrayal in the West, and a rapprochement with China, who continue to roll out the red carpet and support Burma, ostensibly on anti-terrorism grounds. The West sees the Rohingya massacre as just that, a massacre or potentially a genocide. This leads up to modern Burma - a pillar of China's Belt and Road Initiative, and also coveted by the West, Burma is in the hot seat in some respects. Its geo-strategic importance has increased to heights not seen since WWII. Thant Myint-U has written an engaging and concise history of Burma/Myanmar. It is engaging , unbiased, and interesting to see a some of the nuances of a country not very well understood in the West. This book is timely, as the Rohingya crisis continues to be an off and on issue for the region. A fine book through and through, and worthy of a read.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Aung Paing

    Really opened up my eyes to what's actually happening in Burma, and this is coming from a Burmese citizen

  6. 5 out of 5

    Taylor

    I really wanted to love this book but I just did not. Myint-U’s writing style was to me mediocre at best. It often times felt like I was reading a 9th grade term paper. I could not help but feel anxious for the book to be over. There was a lot of informative information about the history of Burma and the current political situation but it felt oddly biased and I could not get past the poor delivery. This book may be for some people but it was certainly not for me and I would not recommend it des I really wanted to love this book but I just did not. Myint-U’s writing style was to me mediocre at best. It often times felt like I was reading a 9th grade term paper. I could not help but feel anxious for the book to be over. There was a lot of informative information about the history of Burma and the current political situation but it felt oddly biased and I could not get past the poor delivery. This book may be for some people but it was certainly not for me and I would not recommend it despite the fact that I am a lover of history and non-fiction.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    http://www.bookwormblues.net/2020/07/... I have a fascination with other places. Specifically other places I know nearly nothing about. The less I know about it, the more interested I tend to be. Burma/Myanmar is absolutely that kind of foreign local for me. I know where it is on a map. I know it has a very harsh, military rule, and I know the bullet points of the recent Rohingya genocide. Also, Aung San Suu Kyi. As for people in the West, I’m pretty sure I knew basically the same amount of infor http://www.bookwormblues.net/2020/07/... I have a fascination with other places. Specifically other places I know nearly nothing about. The less I know about it, the more interested I tend to be. Burma/Myanmar is absolutely that kind of foreign local for me. I know where it is on a map. I know it has a very harsh, military rule, and I know the bullet points of the recent Rohingya genocide. Also, Aung San Suu Kyi. As for people in the West, I’m pretty sure I knew basically the same amount of information about this region of the world as most other people around me. Not much. Not enough. Just the vaguest details. I stumbled upon this book when I was trolling Amazon, and I instantly knew I had to read it. The Hidden History of Burma might give you the impression, from the title, that it is about secrets, and covered up things that the author is just bringing to light, breaking news style, but that’s really not it at all. In this respect, it’s considered a “hidden history” because it’s just so unknown by the larger world. As I’ve said above, how many of us really know much about this region of the world? In so many ways, this country has been cut off from the rest of the world, and so there is very little known about it. This book makes a dedicated effort to change that fact. Thant Myint-U has worked with UN peacekeeping missions in several countries in the world, and has a personal tie with Burma, as that’s where his family hails from. In this book, he shows his knack for distilling complex topics into easily digestible bits of information. His personal connection to Burma also gives this book a more intimate flavor. While this is a scholarly work in a lot of respects, the author manages to keep it from feeling like you’re reading a work of academia, and his personal experiences and insights give everything he covers a far more human perspective than you’d get from, say, some Western scholar who has studied enough about the region to write a book, but had never actually been there. In fact, when I started reading this book, it was late at night and I (I know this will sound horrible) thought to myself, “Well, this book will certainly put me to sleep, so it’s perfect to read right now.” The truth is, after thinking that very thought, I was awake for nearly four more hours telling myself, “One more chapter. I swear to God, just one more chapter and I’ll go to sleep.” That’s the thing about this book: It sneaks up on you. You start reading it, and before you realize what’s happening you’re so sucked into the drama and the history, the captivating writing, and the personal connection that you just can’t stop reading. It helps that Burma is such an unknown country, full of people I know so very little about. For example, I was ignorant to the fact that Burma, a country sitting between the two powers of India and China, was once also a colony of Britain once upon a time. What, perhaps, interested me the most about this was how so many of the issues faced today, seem to find their roots in this colonial relationship with Britain. Britain, as it happened, seemed to divide Burma up largely along racial lines, and that legacy still lives in the country today, and is still very much a part of so many of the issues and insecurity so many Burmese people face. I also did not know how ancient this particular civilization was, nor did I know about the kingdoms that rose and fell, the wars, the strength, education, and so much more. Everything changed when the English came, as it was wont to do, but before that, the civilization stretched back a long, long time, and while it had many different shapes and forms, it was, in every way, a power in that region of the world. The situation in Burma is fluid and quickly moving and there are a lot of things that impact what is happening over there. The economic situation is precarious at best. A lot of problems, the Rohingya issue, for example, find their roots in the colonial days, which modern times hasn’t quite managed to get away from. In a lot of ways, I felt like Burma is a land with one foot in the past, and one in the future, and hasn’t quite managed to find their balance straddling that particular line. It is the people who end up paying for all of this. Poverty is widespread and rampant. A lot of the money that was spent on education was cut off, and funneled into the military, so the education is lacking, if it exists at all in some regions. Depending on where you are, and who you are, you may or may not be incredibly oppressed, or face very real danger for being part of a certain ethnic group. There is a push for modernization, but so many of the problems the Burmese face have their roots in issues involving race and identity, that spring forth from those good old colonial days, and until those issues are dealt with, I fear that Burma will never be able to reform in the way so many wish. “Burmese nationalists would blame the British for following a divide-and-rule policy. The truth was that the British took over a mixed and ever-changing political landscape and fixed boundaries to suit themselves. But by administering areas differently, they set up the fault lines around memory, identity, and aspiration that have vexed all attempts so far at nation-building.” What, perhaps, surprised me the most was part of the book, early on, where the author spoke about economic sanctions. He tells a story about a hurricane that blew through an area of the country. It was catastrophic. No one was prepared for it, and a whole lot of people died. Due to the political situation, Burma was party to some of the most heavy-handed economic sanctions in the world. This meant that once the hurricane blew through, and people were trying to pick up the pieces of their lives, they could get almost no help from anyone, because every bit of aid offered to the country turned into a huge political flexion of willpower. I’d never really thought of it like that. I’d never really thought of the human price paid for the sanctions that other countries have to deal with. Another aspect of the book that keeps ringing in my head is just how dramatic an impact colonialism had on Burma, and, through extension, all of the other countries that fell (or still fall, in some cases) under the fist of a power so far away. So many of the issues faced by Burma may or may not have existed in one form or another long before the English came a-calling, but it was certainly made worse after they appeared. Colonialism drew lines in the sand, divided a society that had been in place for a long, long time, and made distinctions between race and identity the foundation upon which the modern Burma struggles. This sort of division is in every aspect of life. An example of this would be an 1824 (harkening back to those Colonial days I mention) law that divides those considered “native” to Burma (as in, those who had family living there before 1824 were “native”) while everyone who had arrived after 1824 are largely considered “guests” to the region, and thus, have very little actual power or say in anything that happens in the country in which they reside, regardless of how long they’d lived there. And that’s no small amount of people. A whole lot of migrants from, for example, India, came over to Burma after 1824 due to work and financial opportunities offered there that they didn’t have in their native country. They put down roots, and stayed. ‘The late 20th-century military regime would make 1824 the cut-off date in determining who belonged in Burma and who did not, whose ancestors were “natives” and whose came as a result of foreign occupation and therefore were, at best, “guests.”‘ I don’t know what the future holds for Burma, but I do know that it is a fascinating, multi-layered country full of a diverse tapestry of people. An ancient civilization still bucking the echoes of colonialism, with a government that seems only capable of forward motion as long as it has an equal amount of repression. There has been a strive, recently, for democracy in Burma, and with an increasingly connected world via the internet, I do have hope that the young people will answer the call that so many Burmese have been offering up for a better, more just, more equal future. Things are changing. In many ways, I feel like this book was written as much for the people of Burma so to educate the rest of the world about the plight of the Burmese. It was richly informative, well-written, and nuanced. Thant Myint-U weaves together a stunning three-dimensional tapestry of a nation that so many of us know not nearly enough about. Captivating and informative, this book really made a profound impact on me.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Htet

    What happened when the 'local' (the generals, the activists, the academics, the businessmen) and the 'international' (the diplomats, the experts, the samaritans, and the global capitalists) suddenly came together to negotiate and deliver goals as elusive and intractable as democracy, development, modernity, and peace to a country like Myanmar whose history and complex realities have usually been, both domestically and aboard, reduced to narratives of 'good versus evil' and 'us versus them'? To m What happened when the 'local' (the generals, the activists, the academics, the businessmen) and the 'international' (the diplomats, the experts, the samaritans, and the global capitalists) suddenly came together to negotiate and deliver goals as elusive and intractable as democracy, development, modernity, and peace to a country like Myanmar whose history and complex realities have usually been, both domestically and aboard, reduced to narratives of 'good versus evil' and 'us versus them'? To me, this book comes across as an honest attempt to answer this question from the perspective of a person, who belongs to both the 'local' and the 'international' but perhaps does not fully identify with either. The book takes the reader through the author's intellectual, personal, and political journey in Myanmar in the past decade - in doing so, it paints a vivid picture of politics of hope, politics of cynicism, and politics of opportunism taking place in the same country at the same time. Only time will tell which ultimately wins out but the book suggests that the writing is on the wall. Highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in Myanmar, especially to the current generation of Myanmar youth asking themselves the question of what they can do for the country.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Sébastien

    It is impossible for me to read a non-fiction book in one sit and to finish it within days is even far more unlikely. But this book, I completed it in two days. It was also the first book in 2020 which successfully separated me from Netflix. This book is a riveting account of what Burma has been through over the period with its complex issues over race and identity. Being a historian as well as a former diplomat, and a presidential advisor, Thant Myint-U splendidly and most-humanely told a behin It is impossible for me to read a non-fiction book in one sit and to finish it within days is even far more unlikely. But this book, I completed it in two days. It was also the first book in 2020 which successfully separated me from Netflix. This book is a riveting account of what Burma has been through over the period with its complex issues over race and identity. Being a historian as well as a former diplomat, and a presidential advisor, Thant Myint-U splendidly and most-humanely told a behind-the-scenes of how the political landscape of Burma has come to shape and its interweaving factors. From the old Burma in its early civilization to today’s modern Burma, it covered briefly on the issues from ancient monarchy to the colonial years, thoroughly on post colonial days to socialist party years, and extensively on the changes of Burma’s political landscape in past two decades. As the title suggests, it is the hidden history, or perhaps the untold story of Burma cause it includes several information with facts both local and International media failed to bring up. It also gave you the front row seat of the effort to try to improve things during Thein Sein administration as well as the multiple attempts in the NLD’s administration. Both have some failure, some rather quite successful, he wrote with no partisanship. In his book, he points out multiple time that the two main catalysts of Burmese political landscape are race and identity. Without handling these issues, political and economic reform in Burma seem rather impossible. Yes, all these racial and political issues are tied to the country’s economy but now in 21st century, we can’t just focus only on the crisis rooted long in our country before. There are issues to be addressed like inequality, climate change, etc. We simply can’t give 20th century solutions to the 21st century challenges. It was an insightful read from cover to cover. A must read to understand the contemporary history of Burma and the multiple crises it has been facing. 5 out of 5 stars.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Thuzar

    To be honest, I do not have much knowledge about Burmese History and Politics. As a Burmese, I always think like "What? Why? Should we have some significant changes by now? What is happening? Which news outlets should I trust to be able to understand Rohingya issues?" Burma and its issues are too complex. Getting to know all the information with a proper timeline while backing up with solid reference data is nearly impossible for a reader like me. In this book, you will be able to find the writer To be honest, I do not have much knowledge about Burmese History and Politics. As a Burmese, I always think like "What? Why? Should we have some significant changes by now? What is happening? Which news outlets should I trust to be able to understand Rohingya issues?" Burma and its issues are too complex. Getting to know all the information with a proper timeline while backing up with solid reference data is nearly impossible for a reader like me. In this book, you will be able to find the writer- describing the facts without expressing any bias to different political parties or expressing his perfect storytelling skills which won't bore you even though there are full of facts. Do I recommend this book? Yes, 100% to those who are interested in Burmese Politics and its recent issues.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Charit

    Thant Myint U writes so well, clearly and simply about a country and its issues that are complex in the least. Fascinating, immediate account of a country that seems to have captured the attention of the western world because of a single lady and because of her, again seems to be losing interest, which is a tragedy!

  12. 5 out of 5

    Su Mon Myo

    Starting from 18th Century to 21st century, the book depicts about the colonial times, the socialist times, the military junta takeover, the economic resurrection during U Thein Sein presidency, the democracy of 21st Century and the most recent Rohingya Crisis. The book is very easy to read and such a page turner. Definitely for those who are interested in the background of contemporary Burma.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Naung Bayint

    I first learnt of Thant Myint-U from his book The River of Lost Footsteps. I was overjoyed with this work as this was the first modern era history book on Burma written in English. In Hidden History, Thant Myint-U has nicely laid out the historical basis for the current politics of identity in Burma. Beginning with the British colonial rule in the 19th century where the seeds were laid to current day ethnic armed conflicts that dominate the more recent news cycle on Burma in international media. I first learnt of Thant Myint-U from his book The River of Lost Footsteps. I was overjoyed with this work as this was the first modern era history book on Burma written in English. In Hidden History, Thant Myint-U has nicely laid out the historical basis for the current politics of identity in Burma. Beginning with the British colonial rule in the 19th century where the seeds were laid to current day ethnic armed conflicts that dominate the more recent news cycle on Burma in international media. That story was layered in with the recent history of Burma's transition from a military dictatorship to a quasi-democracy with a completely autonomous military that answers to no one but themselves. In effect, this is two books in one. In that respect, he has succeeded in doing both just adequately enough for a reader to get a grasp of the complexities involved, but perhaps without the depth. The book however is a successful meshing of the two, interweaving the two stories through the timeline, and making it readable. That is an achievement in itself. His book does give credit (where it's due and often over-looked in international media accounts) to the civilian generals, "elected" in 2011, who undertook unexpected policy changes that led to an opening up of the economy, freedom of movement and civil liberties that did not exist in the prior decades. As an example President Thein Sein's government for the first time in decades tolerated open criticism of the government that would have resulted in being snatched up and thrown in jail under prior rulers. The liberalization of trade and business has led to the current economic growth that's brought about prosperity to some and great wealth to the very few. Thant Myint-U's lack of access to the Suu Kyi's government is obvious in the book as their voices and view points seem to be quite absent - the challenges the NLD and Suu Kyi took on literally going from being in jail for decades to governing a country overnight with the threat of a veto or a coup by an entirely independent and powerful military looking over your shoulder while lacking the resources, knowledge and personal expertise to adequately tackle the challenges that lays before them. Their learning curves have been and are likely to be long and steep. His conclusions are fraught with fears of impending disasters that looms over the country. He laments over the popular focus on identity politics over the lack of concern for economic inequity or climate change. Or the threat of large private and rebel armies and powerful China along with technological change that might wipe out the livelihood of millions of Burmese. He could not see answers being provided by Suu Kyi and NLD to address these threats. Hidden History is not a history book in the traditional sense. Rather it is a well-researched personal account of an influential Burmese whose future aspirations are very clearly laid out in the book. At every opportunity Thant Myint U is laying down his credentials: his involvement in pro-democracy activities or events since university days, his involvement in the UN's peace initiatives, and later on in serving as advisor to the last military-led regime and currently as a historian and involvements in NGOs in Burma. What's not mentioned in this book is that his grandfather U Thant is the 2nd most popular post-WW2 historical figure in Burma behind the father of current leader, Aung San Suu Kyi. His family connection brings instant recognition and respect in Burma. His last sentence in the book was most telling: "Perhaps most of all, Burma needs a new project of the imagination." Perhaps, someone might be getting ready to provide the answers.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Sean Lee

    Never knew anything about Burma before this. Author is an authoratitive figure on the politics concerning the region in the present-day. Would recommend for anyone looking to learn a thing or two about the country's history.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Zin Yaw Lwin

    Great account on Burma's recent history and its problems. A must read if you want to understand the challenges and issues Burma faces today including Rohingya issue.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Stephen King

    I very much enjoyed this, as I have other histories by Thant Myint-U. It provides much little known historical context for the continued communal tensions in Burma and a perspective from an insider during the considerable upheavals and reforms of the last ten years.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Mark Walker

    This book is a must-read, by the grandson of former Secretary-General of the United Nations U Thant. There are uncanny analogs (in substance, not necessarily degree) between Burma/Myanmar and other countries, including the US. Here you'll find a narrative in objective voice of tribal conflict, racial hatred, populist and nationalist resentment, as well as fear and loathing of immigrants and the resultant persecution of them. Add to this mix a long history of post-colonial authoritarian military This book is a must-read, by the grandson of former Secretary-General of the United Nations U Thant. There are uncanny analogs (in substance, not necessarily degree) between Burma/Myanmar and other countries, including the US. Here you'll find a narrative in objective voice of tribal conflict, racial hatred, populist and nationalist resentment, as well as fear and loathing of immigrants and the resultant persecution of them. Add to this mix a long history of post-colonial authoritarian military rule and the normalized corruption accompanying it, along with the related destructive social and environmental effects of unrestrained crony Capitalism producing caste-like inequality. Even after advice a few years ago from Nobel economics laureate Joseph Stiglitz, (my impression from the book is that) much of the population still seems to accept neoliberalism as the order of the day. There was and still is hope that the rise of Aung San Suu Kyi, once imprisoned but now the country's "State Counsellor" (in effect the practical head of state), will solidify truly democratic reforms and begin to improve the economy and social relations between the disparate ethic groups that comprise the population of Myanmar. The allegations of genocide against the Rohingya that occurred while Suu Kyi was in power provide a stark reminder that no human is perfect, and that reform is rarely easy. I see lessons for the US in all this. At whatever point the Democrats regain control of the state mechanism, it would be tragic if they then claimed that by just getting there their task was completed. There is and will be a lot more work to do—by everyone. We all must ensure that we see to getting it done.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Evocati

    An incredibly insightful overview of the history of Burma that seeks to outline the country’s most pressing issues today, how all the pieces came into place, sometimes in the wrong times and places. It is a story “Hidden” from the West, who had seen the country, and Aung San Su Kyi, as a darling for democracy, without also seeing the internal conflicts of power she has to balance- forced into a bureaucratic web gifted to her by her predecessor. It also sheds light on the other side of the Rohing An incredibly insightful overview of the history of Burma that seeks to outline the country’s most pressing issues today, how all the pieces came into place, sometimes in the wrong times and places. It is a story “Hidden” from the West, who had seen the country, and Aung San Su Kyi, as a darling for democracy, without also seeing the internal conflicts of power she has to balance- forced into a bureaucratic web gifted to her by her predecessor. It also sheds light on the other side of the Rohingya issue- justification, even if partial, to the otherwise (apparently) unthinkable atrocities committed against the minority. The story is also Hidden from most ordinary people in the country who can’t be bothered with the inner workings at the higher echelons of politics; too preoccupied with simple sustenance. The book itself hides a message, quiet but clear; unspoken but only a step away: the reason why the country seems stuck in a perpetual transition state instead of riding the promised rocket ship to first-world status, why the economy has failed, why the very saint of democracy in Asia, Aung San Su Kyi has failed, ultimately is the same source of all disappointment: expectations. A great read for anyone wanting to learn more about Burma’s rich history to provide some context to the commonly heard sound bites in Western media; an even greater read for someone already familiar with the country and the people. U Thant Myint’s writing is intelligent, articulate, and sparse with personal anecdotes.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Paul Downs

    Picked this up as I know absolutely nothing about Burma, and it looked interesting. Who knew Burma had such a complex history? Not me: one of the luxuries of being a prosperous American is that I can remain utterly ignorant about much of the world without much harm to my own success. My brother and sister visited Burma in 1984 and took some beautiful pictures of the temples of Pagan (?). Otherwise, to me, Burma is a blank slate. Now I know more. Frankly, Burma is a mess: warring ethnic groups ov Picked this up as I know absolutely nothing about Burma, and it looked interesting. Who knew Burma had such a complex history? Not me: one of the luxuries of being a prosperous American is that I can remain utterly ignorant about much of the world without much harm to my own success. My brother and sister visited Burma in 1984 and took some beautiful pictures of the temples of Pagan (?). Otherwise, to me, Burma is a blank slate. Now I know more. Frankly, Burma is a mess: warring ethnic groups overlaid with colonial and post-colonial governments, and military junta, difficult neighbors (China, India, Bangladesh, Thailand) etc. Yugoslavia of the east with ecological devastation added. This book is one guy's opinion, but he seems to be a qualified commenter and he doesn't pull any punches. He doesn't spare the Western powers who convinced themselves that backing an apparently liberal dissident would solve all the problems. If you want a succinct, very readable introduction to Burma, I highly recommend this book.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Marc Menz

    Quite an eye opener. Well written, pithy and mostly unbiased, this was a brilliant introduction to the complexities of Burma’s 21st century messiness. Of course the West’s view of things isn’t always as simple as the media makes them out to be, and simply criticising leaders or sanctioning entire nations isn’t really the best way forward. Understanding the legacies of colonialism, the ethnic complexities and the fragility of democracy in nations like Burma is key - and this book does a fantastic Quite an eye opener. Well written, pithy and mostly unbiased, this was a brilliant introduction to the complexities of Burma’s 21st century messiness. Of course the West’s view of things isn’t always as simple as the media makes them out to be, and simply criticising leaders or sanctioning entire nations isn’t really the best way forward. Understanding the legacies of colonialism, the ethnic complexities and the fragility of democracy in nations like Burma is key - and this book does a fantastic job at spelling out the above. If only there were more writers like Thant for nations all around the world!

  21. 4 out of 5

    Lachlan

    A lucid, insightful and intimate history of Myanmar, aimed primarily at explaining the roots of the country’s current political situation (crimes against humanity against the Rohingya, deepening wealth inequality, reignited insurgencies, and the West’s disillusionment with ASSK). Highly readable, and recommended.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Anthony Nelson

    A modern tragedy, Thant Myint-U's beautifully written, insightful, and deeply sad narrative takes us through the failures, mistakes, and systemic challenges that have plagued Myanmar and its leaders as they try to remake their country into a modern, prosperous nation. I spent a great deal of time in Myanmar during this period and worked closely with many of the authors he mentioned, and his portraits are spot on, but he explores depths that will reveal new truths even to those who know the count A modern tragedy, Thant Myint-U's beautifully written, insightful, and deeply sad narrative takes us through the failures, mistakes, and systemic challenges that have plagued Myanmar and its leaders as they try to remake their country into a modern, prosperous nation. I spent a great deal of time in Myanmar during this period and worked closely with many of the authors he mentioned, and his portraits are spot on, but he explores depths that will reveal new truths even to those who know the country well.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Lynn

    Surprisely, Egress team helped a lot ex-generals (ministers, especially U Aung Min) for the reforming ideas during U Thein Sein led government.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Benny

    Written by the grandson of an UN Secretary General, it is an engrossing account of Myanmar's relatively peaceful transition from the military junta regime to democracy. This book also examines the recent plight of the Rohingya refugees and the historical drivers that have brought us to where we are today.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Kedar Deshpande

    This is a slipshod, loosely-told book about the recent history of Burma. It is missing details, incoherently skips around and doesn't give the reader enough historical insight about the people, tribes, races and religions of the Southeast Asian country. It's also deceptive in calling itself a "history" when in fact it's essentially an affirmation of Burmese-Buddhist mainstream xenophobia that glosses over the Rohingya genocide and its origins. If anything, Thant Myint-U comes across as an apolog This is a slipshod, loosely-told book about the recent history of Burma. It is missing details, incoherently skips around and doesn't give the reader enough historical insight about the people, tribes, races and religions of the Southeast Asian country. It's also deceptive in calling itself a "history" when in fact it's essentially an affirmation of Burmese-Buddhist mainstream xenophobia that glosses over the Rohingya genocide and its origins. If anything, Thant Myint-U comes across as an apologist for the Burmese military and the racism of of Burmese-Buddhist nationalists. The book's overall thesis is that Burma's postcolonial history is messy and driven by a lack of a unifying idea about who and what a "Burmese" person is. The country's mix of races, religions and languages didn't make the task easy; unlike its neighbor India, which decidedly made itself a secular democracy to accommodate its vast diversity, Burma instead almost immediately became a dictatorship based around a vague sense of Burmese-Buddhist nationalism. Thant Myint-U would have done well to at least list out the major ethnic groups and describe their goals and beliefs. Instead, he haphazardly talks about a few of them in a disconnected fashion, or as sub-topics related to Burma's complicated relationship with China, or as historical legacies of British colonialism and linkages to India. Much of the book consists of Thant Myint-U blurring the lines between activist, politician, translator and UN development representative (with a dash of historian) and telling his own personal story as it interweaves with "the generals" and Aung San Suu Kyi. As time goes on, Thant Myint-U stops believing in Western sanctions long imposed on Burma. He becomes a believer in the dictator-to-democrat conversion many of the former ruling junta generals underwent in the 2010s (which was entirely at the command of the former junta leader Than Shwe). Myint-U stops short of lauding the former dictators, but he takes their side, tells their stories in great detail and highlights their nicer activities, while disregarding any of the horrors they inflicted earlier in their lives. Aung San Suu Kyi comes across as a haughty, aloof, arrogant person who had essentially dictatorial ideas all along, and has more in common with the militaristic former junta leaders than one would imagine. Her appointment of mostly former military members to her cabinet, and later race-baiting disdain for the Rohingya, seems to affirm that. As for the Rohingya, Thant Myint-U does nothing to disprove the racist and xenophobic ideas spouted by many Burmese-Buddhists. He dutifully outlines the Buddhist majority beliefs about Muslims, details the atrocities committed by violent Muslim insurgents, but does zero analysis or probing of the genocidal campaigns launched by the Burmese military (which ultimately led to the largest refugee crisis in human history). When it comes to military atrocities, Myint-U dryly cites horrific data from Amnesty International, giving the impression that he doesn't actually believe a genocide has taken place (which is precisely what most Burmese-Buddhist believe, including Aung San Suu Kyi). If anything, it seems like he basically agrees that the Rohingya are outsiders, illegal immigrants and can't be considered "Burmese" (which, by the end of the book, you realize means lighter-skinned people who are a) not Muslim and b) have no association or ancestral ties to the modern nations of India, Pakistan or Bangladesh). At the very least, Myint-U devotes little effort to attempting to embrace the Rohingya or validate their place in Burmese society, though he makes half-hearted attempts to highlight the dubious nature of identity politics in a place where everyone is mixed. This is ultimately a sad book in many ways. I think Thant Myint-U's heart is in the right place, but he's too close to the subject and seems at-odds to reconcile liberal western ideas with the racism of his ancestral homeland. By not giving a full-throated telling and denunciation of the Rohingya genocide, and the depth of the racial animosity behind it, Myint-U does himself and the reader a disservice. I don't feel I know more about Burmese society and history after reading this book.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Graham Page

    Tragically, the book does not end on a high note. Reality is brutal and Burma (Myanmar) is a country that has been at the crossroads several times in its history only to neglect strategic or forward thinking every time. I pray that this will not happen this year but history has not been kind to this place filled with wonderful and delightful people. Pray for Burma and remember them during this chaotic times.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Ellen

    This is the most spot-on analysis of Burma's current political, economic, and cultural conditions that I have seen in popular literature in years. Thant Myint-U is insightful, apt in his evaluations, and clearly well-informed on the multifaceted nature of Burma's problems, both historical and contemporary. This is not your typical re-hash of Burma's political past, rather it examines those issues in context of modern ones. The epilogue includes information up to May 2019, which is one of the mos This is the most spot-on analysis of Burma's current political, economic, and cultural conditions that I have seen in popular literature in years. Thant Myint-U is insightful, apt in his evaluations, and clearly well-informed on the multifaceted nature of Burma's problems, both historical and contemporary. This is not your typical re-hash of Burma's political past, rather it examines those issues in context of modern ones. The epilogue includes information up to May 2019, which is one of the most up-to-date books as of now as well. Personally, I felt that Thant Myint-U made numerous really strong points and arguments which reveal a great deal about Burma's situation. This book really needs to be read more widely because it certainly suggests that there is more to the country than just what one hears in Western media. Economic inequality, identity issues, and a burgeoning/struggling democracy are all core factors. Most importantly, I appreciated his closing analyses which bring up good points about whether Burma was ready at all for democracy and his view on why the NLD government has not lived up to people's expectations. He addresses that from both Burmese and foreign points of view, which I think is important. While it is clear that some of the conclusions he draws are his opinions, I tolerate this because his opinions are well-informed and come from years of working within the system. Thant Myint-U is a positive force for change and I think that rather than dismissing his comments about democracy, people should focus more strong on those implications.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    Very informative book on the current events and politics in Myanmar, especially the last third - 4 stars.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jim Rimmer

    I was lucky enough to visit Burma 10 years ago and have long been fascinated by this too often forgotten country. So I've also read a number of Thant Myint-U's earlier books which I've enjoyed, and work of many others focusing on Burma's history and more recent current challenges. For some reason this one didn't do it for me so much. It may be that I've become too familiar with the topic or it may just be a lack of connection at a point time. That said, I can't encourage people enough to discove I was lucky enough to visit Burma 10 years ago and have long been fascinated by this too often forgotten country. So I've also read a number of Thant Myint-U's earlier books which I've enjoyed, and work of many others focusing on Burma's history and more recent current challenges. For some reason this one didn't do it for me so much. It may be that I've become too familiar with the topic or it may just be a lack of connection at a point time. That said, I can't encourage people enough to discover this intriguing part of the world through further reading or, better yet, visiting.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Myitzu

    Having grown up in both Burma and the outside, I had always struggled with the identity of what being a Burmese, or an ethnic Bamar (with mixed Chinese ancestry) really means. I had always struggled to explain what Bamar identity markers are like - ranging from outright denial of how Bamar food is not Chinese or Indian inspired, to mellow acceptance of how Bamar clothing is a hodgepodge of lungi and sari from India and Mandarin knot buttons and collars from China. But after reading some of Thant Having grown up in both Burma and the outside, I had always struggled with the identity of what being a Burmese, or an ethnic Bamar (with mixed Chinese ancestry) really means. I had always struggled to explain what Bamar identity markers are like - ranging from outright denial of how Bamar food is not Chinese or Indian inspired, to mellow acceptance of how Bamar clothing is a hodgepodge of lungi and sari from India and Mandarin knot buttons and collars from China. But after reading some of Thant’s works (including this), it starts to make sense to me how Burma is essentially a country nestled between two herculean forces, whose people come from a diverse range of backgrounds and identity is always in a state of flux. And that identity and nationalist politics would not work well in this country. The oracle for Burma appears foreboding - and in this book, Thant successfully managed to map out how Burma is burdened by its history and explained how its twenty first century woes cannot be solved by twentieth century solutions, and posed provocative questions that its septuagenerian ruling elite would urgently need to address.

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