Demographica Book Club: March 2020

Updated: Jul 27, 2020

Welcome to the inaugural edition of what we’re calling the Demographica Book Club. The hope is that every month or two we’ll publish one of these articles where we do a roundup of what the Demographica team have been reading recently. The hope is that by publishing these articles we can give you some pointers towards literature we have found informative, enlightening or an enjoyable page-turner. By coincidence, we have an Asian theme running throughout all of the reads discussed, with topics ranging from Chinese infrastructure projects, Japanese war crimes and corrupt Russian oligarchs.

1. The New Silk Roads: The Present and Future of the World--Peter Frankopan

2018, Bloomsbury, RRP: £9.99

Following up on his informative history of Asia through trade in 2015’s The Silk Roads, Peter Frankopan moves into a discussion of the present and future of world relations, trade and influence. The main premise through which Frankopan frames his argument is that while issues such as Brexit and Trump’s rhetoric of America First are symptoms of a rising tide of division and nationalism within the Western world, in Asia the reverse is happening. The demonstrable example that Frankopan gives is China’s so-called ‘Belt and Road Initiative’, which will see the country invest nearly $1 trillion in infrastructure projects throughout its asian neighbours in the hope of reviving the ancient Silk Road trade routes, in turn creating an ‘interlinked world of train lines, highways, deep-water ports and airports.’ What makes the book such a fascinating read is that it breaks the western-centric view that the USA and Europe are the infallible economic kings of the globe. It is made clear that as the 21st century progresses, unless the West makes rapid and substantial changes, Asia is set to become the new economic powerhouse of the world. To quote from the introduction: ‘one estimate suggests that the combined GDP of cities across Asia will be greater than those of North America and Europe combined by 2027--and will surpass them by 17% just eight years later.’ This, in a nutshell, summarises what makes the book both highly informative and so incredibly compelling.

2. Red Notice: How I Became Putin’s No.1 Enemy--Bill Browder

2016, Corgi, RRP: £9.99

Red Notice is this month’s second pick and is peculiar because it combines so many different genres. It is all at once a memoir, a political thriller in the style of John le Carre or Tom Clancy and a damning expose of the rife corruption within Putin’s Russia. The author, Bill Browder, once headed the largest foreign investment bank within Russia and the book begins with Browder examining how this came to be. The opening chapters possess a joyous optimism that the cold war is over and the former Soviet republics are ready to join the West, but this optimism quickly mutates into a Kafkaesque nightmare of impenetrable bureaucracy, police corruption and illegitimate trials when it becomes clear that a few elites known as the oligarchs have seized control of Russia. At times, the story can be a little jarring due to the constant globe-hopping and the vast amount of characters who are quickly introduced, but this all adds to the swirling tension and anxiety of Browder’s situation. By the end, it had become clear to me why it is so important that this story is shared and not allowed to be forgotten. If you decide to only read one of the books listed here, I implore that it be this one.

3. The Rape of Nanking--Iris Chang

2012, Basic Books, RRP: £14.99

It is the so-called ‘forgotten Holocaust’ that the Japanese government still denies occured to this day. December 1937 saw the Japanese army sweep into the then capital city of China Nanjing (Nanking) and saw 300,000 citizens systematically raped, tortured and murdered within a matter of weeks. Whereas Germany has been open and upfront about condemning the atrocities committed by the Nazis as well as educating later generations about how the events occurred, Japanese textbooks often only briefly mention the massacre. Iris Chang’s The Rape of Nanking is a superbly-written history of these abhorrent events, using newly discovered documents and harrowing interviews with survivors. The following attempts to cover-up and revise the massacre that remain persistent within the Japanese far-right make the events all the more difficult to stomach. At a time when we are seeing plenty of attempts at historical revisionism, from Turkey’s denial of the Armenian genocide to China’s refusal to admit to the Tianamen Square massacre, this book only grows in importance. Like the previously discussed Red Notice, Chang’s work is effectively literary resistance against regimes who wish to deny any wrongdoing.

Have you been inspired by our list? Maybe you’ve been reading something great that more people should know about? Either way, get in touch with us in the comments below, as well as on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. #bookclub #books #demographica1

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