Book Notes: The New Asian Hemisphere

It’s the last day of the St. Gallen Symposium, and I’m gathering my bags ready to head back to Zurich. A young, dark skinned woman comes up to me.

“Are you American?” she asks.
“Yes,” I reply.
“Then you need to read this book. It’s by the dean of my school. We want it in the hands of as many Americans as possible.” She thrusts the book in my hands and walks off.

The book was The New Asian Hemisphere: The Irresistible Shift of Global Power to the East by Kishore Mahbubani. I turned the book over and saw effusive blurbs by Larry Summers, Amartya Sen, Jagdish Bhagwati, and Zbigniew Brzezinski. The Summers blurb caught my eye:

They called it the Industrial Revolution because for the first time in all of human history standards of living in a human life span — changes of perhaps 50%. At current growth rates in Asia standards of living may rise 100 fold, 10,000 percent within a human life span. The rise of Asia and all that follows will be the dominant story in history books written 300 years from now, with the Cold War and rise of Islam as secondary stories. – Larry Summers

That’s an interesting thought. I read the book and loved it. Here are my detailed notes.

There are many books on the rise of Asia, on globalization, etc. What makes this book different is its emphasis on how the West fails to understand Eastern perspectives on Western actions and attitudes. An oft-repeated stat in the book is that there are 5.6 billion people not in the West and only 900 million people in the West (broadly defined as US + Europe + a few other places), and that those 5.6 billion have their own view on politics and security and history. This shouldn’t be too controversial a claim but Mahbubani nicely illustrates a range of examples that show Western elites hardly acknowledge this possibility. With a shift in economic and political power to the countries housing the 5.6 billion people, it’s about time Americans and Europeans start understanding how the East conceives of itself and the world.

I have not seen much written about this book and I suspect this is due to the release of Fareed Zakaria’s book which came out at the same time. Zakaria’s covers similar ground but is fundamentally from an American perspective, whereas Mahbubani tries hard to contrast the usual American perspective with the point of view of the East.

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