Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists for The New York Times and authors of China Wakes, return with an eclectic collection of reportage from Asia. Thunder from the East lacks an overarching thesis, except perhaps the claim that Asia is an incredibly important part of the world whose influence will only grow in the 21st century. (Toward the end of the book, in an amusing speculation about the year 2040, the authors wonder about "the Indian landing on Mars, the Kim's Riceburger acquisition of McDonald's, and now this basketball loss" of the Americans to the Chinese in the Olympics.) Kristof and WuDunn are a husband-and-wife team who split up their writing duties; every chapter is individually bylined, with the exception of the jointly authored final one. They refuse to offer a grand unified theory of Asia, a region, they write, that is "a bit like the weather: so diverse that it is difficult to generalize about." Instead, they paint chapter-length portraits of various Asian subjects, and often in the first person. In an opening set of remarks, Kristof describes how he and WuDunn have lived in Hong Kong, Taiwan, China, and Japan: "Our experience across Asia was in the form that the Chinese call qingting dian shui, meaning the way a dragonfly skits superficially about the surface of a pond."
There's nothing superficial about their reporting--it probes deep and isn't afraid to draw large lessons. Kristof, for example, discusses how China and India's historic insularity have kept those two countries from achieving all they might--cases of "imperial understretch," he calls them, in a nice phrase--and suggests the United States may be entering a similar period. Thunder from the East sparkles with this kind of analysis: provocative, debatable, and worth thinking over. Its riches aren't apparent from a cursory examination, but only through a page-by-page reading. Those who make the effort will be glad they took the time. --John J. Miller [via]