My Summer Reading is Heavily Skewed Towards East Asia and Stephen King

Like many people, I’ve been trying to catch up on some recreational reading before the summer ends.

I’ve been reading a lot on East Asia, especially China recently. I’m almost done with Deborah Brautigam’s (2009) “The Dragon’s Gift: the Real Story of China in Africa”, which I skimmed through in 2011 for school essays. Brautigam’s main thesis is that China’s engagement with Africa, aimed at mutually beneficial partnerships, is inspired by its experience with Western and Japanese donors during its process of development. I recently started Martin Jacques’ (2009) “When China Rules the World: the End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order”, I picked the book after……watching his TED Talk. It really isn’t as triumphalist as it sounds.

A good counter-point is Joseph S. Nye’s riposte of sorts, “Is the American Century Over?” published this year in which he counters the narrative that China and the ‘Rest’ will eclipse the U.S. His main argument is that though America will decline relatively as the Rest rise, its large population, military power, projection of soft power (Hollywood, media etc) among other factors will enable it maintain its global dominance. I haven’t read it.

Still on the conveyor belt is Joe Studwell’s (2013) “How Asia Works: Success and Failure in the World’s Most Dynamic Region” which was highly recommended by Bill Gates in a blog post last December, but also the biography of General Park Chung Hee and his transformation of South Korea (2013). My interest in East Asia’s transformation stems from the focus of my own doctoral research on the politics of structural economic transformation in Nigeria, because I co-run the Oxford University China-Africa Network (OUCAN), but generally because the ‘rise’ of the East is one of the most game-changing phenomena of our generation with immense economic, social and geopolitical implications.

I just finished Tom Burgis’ (2015) “Looting Machine: Warlords, Tycoons, Smugglers and the Systematic Theft of Africa’s Wealth”. I’ll be reviewing it for the OUCAN blog soon.

Other books on my radar include, Morten Jerven’s provocative “Africa: Why Economists Get It Wrong” following his tour de force, (2013) “Poor Numbers: How We are Misled By African Development Statistics and What to Do about It”. I got a gist of the book’s thesis after reading a couple of reviews and attending the book launch in Paris several days ago; its partly a polemic directed at development institutions and mainstream economists like Professor Paul Collier. Speaking of which, I am also reading Paul Collier’s (2013) “Exodus: Immigration and Multiculturalism in the 21st Century”. Despite several scathing reviews, I personally think the book is incredibly relevant to understanding policy responses to the politically explosive issue of migration in Europe as Sir Collier is an influential adviser to the British and several other European governments.

For more recent publications, this list by the Financial Times’ Summer Books list has a good coverage especially the economics and politics sections. The magazine, Foreign Affairs, also has a good range, in its May/June capsule reviews. The book by John Siko “Inside South Africa’s Foreign Policy: Diplomacy in Africa from Smuts to Mbeki” seems very promising.

My taste in fiction is rather er… unconventional (or maybe too conventional!). I’m currently bingeing on Stephen King’s (2014) “Revival” and will soon move to (2014) “Doctor Sleep”, the sequel to the critically acclaimed “The Shining”. King is a fine writer, the scope of his imagination is unparalleled, and his characters have a certain depth to them, not to mention his ability to combine a vivid portrayal of the daily grind in small-town America with the supernatural. My idea of fiction is purely for the entertainment value, that distracts me from reality as I deal with complex socio-political, economic and global themes on a daily basis in my research. So, I generally go for exciting plots for the temporary high, and tend to avoid deep, emotional, dramatic types. Occasionally I do stray, which is why I just got a copy of the Kenyan author, Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor’s “Dust”. I’m also hoping to finally read Harper Lee’s (1960) “To Kill a Mockingbird”.

What are you reading?

15 thoughts on “My Summer Reading is Heavily Skewed Towards East Asia and Stephen King

  1. You have a very impressive reading list, Zainab. Either you read fast or you never sleep! I’m reading Racing to Justice: Transforming Our Conceptions of Self and Other to Build an Inclusive Society. The author John A. Powell is an internationally recognized expert on civil rights. I finished All the Light We Cannot See – loved it. Really light – Alexander McCall Smith’s The Forever Girl. Invited to book group discussion of Americanah which I read ages ago. Will lecture about it in October.

    1. Thanks Catherine. The book by Powell sounds very interesting. Still haven’t got round to reading Americanah, I hope to soon – I chose to read ‘Dust’ instead because I haven’t read much fiction on Kenya.

  2. Wow, you do read a lot. You were here in Nigeria at ABU Zaria for at least four years so I guess you know the reading culture here; which is that there is no reading culture here. People just don’t ‘read’. I was reading Bill Gate’s Business at the Speed of Thought last month and whenever I walked into class or sat somewhere with it, people gave me the ‘what are you doing with that?!’ look. The point is people don’t read beyond their course of study, only a few do.

    For me, the most remarkable one’s I’ve read this year are The Jewish Phenomenon by Steven Silbiger, Larry King’s How to Talk to Anyone Anytime Anywhere, Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill, An Enemy Called Average by John L Mason, and the Autobiography of Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley. I’ve already mentioned Business at the Speed of Thought by Bill Gates. I find these books fascinating. Please tell me if you’ve read any of these books. It’s nice to find someone who has read a book you’ve read.

    I’ve seen To Kill a Mocking Bird (the movie). The movie is based on the book. I don’t read fiction much. I’ve limited myself to John Grisham, George RR Martin, and JRR Tolkien. If you watch Game of Thrones then you might want to read the books. African literature… not so much. I have a lot of biographies waiting to be read. I prefer reading those to any other. I’m a law student, so above all I read law books, Nigerian law books to be specific. Any interest in those?

    1. Thanks InuwaFari. I’ve read the one on Malcolm X – it’s a powerful book. I guess our interest in specific genres also evolves with time. I hardly read thrillers like John Grisham these days maybe because I read my fair share during my undergrad days. 🙂 I also hardly read George RR Martin and other fantasy types because they are so bulky, so un-putdownable and engrossing, so I prefer to watch their movie/series adaptations.

      I think the deterioration of the reading culture in Nigeria is reflective of a global trend I don’t think it’s a Nigerian thing though. And I disagree with you that “people just don’t read”. Those people selling books in traffic and outside conference centres would be out of business if no one was buying their wares. :-0

  3. I’m currently reading “Stephen King on writing, it’s a writing guide and his coming of age story wrapped in one book. Thanks for the South Asia titles, will try to get a couple;as a mother of 2 under fives I won’t be able to read all this year.

    To kill a mocking bird is definitely among my top favourites,I hope her new book will be good too.

    1. Hi Nana Ann, I understand what you mean. Even I don’t think I’ll cover all these books, maybe just about 70% of them. 🙂

      Seems there’s a lot of controversy over Harper Lee’s new book though because her estate caretakers are suspected of publishing the manuscript against her wishes… I’m not sure I’ll read it

  4. There are numerous books to be read – short term, medium term and long term. The books of interest never end, so you must plan the reading process.

    How Asia works is among the immediate; everyone need to learn, unlearn and relearn from the Asian dynamism. I also saw it recommended by Bill Gates in his post you cited. From third world to first: the Singapore story is another eye opener about to be explored. The Startup Owner’s Manual: The Step-By-Step Guide for Building a Great Company by Steve Blank is also on the table – to sharpen the entrepreneurship zeal. Becoming a Better Programmer: A Handbook for People Who Care About Code by Pete Goodliffe is the last on the short term reading mission.

    The medium term reading books are No Ordinary Disruption: The Four Global Forces Breaking All the Trends by Richard Dobbs; In Defense of a Liberal Education by Fareed Zakaria; Domain-Specific Application Frameworks: Frameworks Experience by Industry by Mohamed E. Fayad

    In the long run Biographies of Mahathir Mohammed, Aliko Dangote, Mohammed Maktoum of Dubai and Big Data Masterpieces would be read

    Reading is eye opening in benefit but its mentally tasking cost can not be overlooked – hence its low patronage by the majority of people.

    Keep up the posts Zainab and Eid Mubarak

    1. Thanks. I haven’t been doing a lot of biography reading lately. But all the three you mentioned – Mahathir Mohammed, Dangote and Maktoum – are certainly worth checking out! Best wishes.

  5. I have read “The Looting machine” and “How Asia works”. indeed I reviewed “How Asia Works” and gave a few copies of it out to people in government and academia. The “Looting Machine” is a very good book and as someone working in oil and gas, I can say it was spot on. I do read a lot of philosophy to make up for my lack of such knowledge as a science major. I recommend the writings of Cicero especially “On Friendship and On old Age”. Other gems I read a few months ago and I recommend highly are “How Adam Smith can Change your Life” by Russ Roberts and “A Guide to the Good Life” by William Irvine”. I also just finished re reading Clayton Christensen’s “How will you Measure your life”, another excellent thoughtful book. Where would we be without books?

  6. As I read this piece, my mind quickly remembered ‘book-worm’ – the term you used to describe yourself in an article you wrote long time a go. Indeed there’s nothing left to prove to anyone that you are book-worm!
    Earlier this year I read basically books about writing : Elements of Style by Strunk and White, On Writing by Stephen King and the classic On Writing Well by William Zinsser – you are sincerely one of those that motivated to read books about writing. Thank you. I also read John Perkins’s provocative Confessions of an Economic Hitman. And presently I’m reading Why Nations Fail by Robinson and Acemoglu.
    In my Summer Reading folder, the books for which I desperately like to read before the end of this year include Henry Kissinger’s Diplomacy, Fareed Zakaria’s Post-American World, Joseph Nye’s Soft Power, Jeffrey Sachs’s End of Poverty, Slylvia Nasar’s A Beatiful Mind and Steven Levitt’s Freakonomics. I also recently bought a copy of Adichie’s Americanah. It’d be great if you could suggest which I should start from.
    Thank God, InuwaFari admitted making ‘sweeping statement’ cause I’m also a student at ABU.
    So my summer reading is positively skewed towards U.S. and Economics, not mutually exclusive from yours, though.

    1. @Abdul While you are at it, I will recommend “Keys to great writing” by Stephen Wilbers. It is excellent and complements the other 3 you mentioned which I also have. I have read all the freak books, Sach’s book and you can read my review of why nations fail here:

  7. Thanks Ms. Amina. I’ll try to find it.
    I think you’re also a book-worm like Dr Zainab! 😀

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