The Books I Read in 2015

As they occur to me I’ll add things that have escaped me.


A short history of China and Southeast Asia : tribute, trade and influence, Stuart-Fox, Martin

Early Kingdoms of the Indonesian Archipelago and the Malay Peninsula, Paul Michel Munoz

The Looting Machine: Tom Burgis (Reviewed)

China Under Mao: A Revolution Derailed, Andrew G. Walder

Political Demography: How Population Changes are Reshaping International Security and National Politics, edited volume

China’s search for security / Andrew J. Nathan, Andrew Scobell

The Long Defeat: Cultural Trauma, Memory, and Identity in Japan, Akiko Hashimoto

Fixing the Facts: National Security and the Politics of Intelligence, Joshua Rovner

Art of Rulership : A Study of Ancient Chinese Political Thought, Roger T. Ames

Confucianism as a World Religion: Contested Histories and Contemporary Realities, Anna Sun

The Birth of Vietnam, Keith Weller Taylor

Frontières de sable, frontières de papier : histoire de territoires et de frontières, du jihad de Sokoto à la colonisation française du Niger, XIXe-XXe siècles, Camille Lefebvre

Taming Tibet : Landscape Transformation and the Gift of Chinese Development, Emily T. Yeh

Markets over Mao : the rise of private business in China, Nicholas R. Lardy

How Pol Pot came to power : A history of communism in Kampuchea, 1930-1975, Ben Kiernan

Collateral damage : Sino-Soviet rivalry and the termination of the Sino-Vietnamese alliance , 1964-1979, Nicholas Kay-Siang Khoo

Southeast Asia in the Fifteenth century : the China factor, edited by Geoff Wade and Sun Laichen

Lost soul: “Confucianism” in contemporary Chinese academic discourse, John Makeham

A History of the Vietnamese, K. W. Taylor

The Rings of Saturn, A novel, W. G. Sebald

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, Yuval Noah Harari

Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War, P. W. Singer

The Incarnations: A Novel, Susan Barker

Shike, Time of Dragons, Robert Shea

Travels with a Tangerine: A Journey in the Footnotes of Ibn Battutah, Mackintosh-Smith, Tim

Stop-Time: A Memoir, Frank Conroy

Imagined Communitities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, Benedict Anderson

Good and Cheap: Eat Well on $4/Day, Leanne Brown

Tram 83, Mwanza Mujila, Fiston

The Art of Memoir, Mary Karr

Wars of Imperial Conquest in Africa, 1830-1914, Bruce Vandervort

My Struggle: Book 2: A Man in Love Karl Ove Knausgaard

Thomas Sankara: An African Revolutionary, Ernest Harsch

The Edge Becomes the Center: An Oral History of Gentrification in the 21st Century, D.W.  Gibson

Light Years, James Salter

Burning the Days: Recollection, James Salter

Preparation for the Next Life, A Novel, Atticus Lish

Lines of Descent: W.E.B. Dubois and Emergence of Identity, Appiah, Kwame Anthony

Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehesi Coates

Black Dragon River: A Journey Down the Amur River at the Borderlands of Empires, Dominic Ziegler (Reviewed)

Confucius and the World He Created, Michael Schuman (Reviewed)

The Hundred-Year Marathon: China’s Secret Strategy to Replace America as the Global Superpower, Michael Pillsbury (Reviewed)

A Perfect Crime, A Novel, by A Yi (Reviewed)

The Most Wanted Man in China, Fang Lizhi (Reviewed)

City of Thorns: Nine Lives in the World’s Largest Refugee Camp, Ben Lawrence (Reviewed)

Bad News: Last Journalists in a Dictatorship, Anjam Sundaram

Kongo: Power and Majesty (The Metropolitan Museum)

Powerful Patriots: Nationalist Protest in China’s Foreign Relations, Jessica Chen Weiss

The China Dream: Great Power Thinking and Strategic Posture in the Post-American Era, Liu Mingfu

The China Boom: Why China Will Not Rule the World, Ho-fung Hung

Brothers in Arms: Chinese Aid to the Khmer Rouge, 1975-1979, Andrew Mertha

A History of Korea, Michael J. Seth

Yoshimasa and the Silver Pavilion, Donald Keene

Making and Unmaking Nations, Scott Straus

The Mind of the African Strongman, Herman Cohen

Asian Maritime Strategies, Bernard Cole







Samori Touré – a quick reading list

I have long been fascinated with this figure, both in terms of the substance of the man’s life and in the way he has been treated or mistreated by history, and in popular culture. He easily ranks as one of the most interesting and important African figures of the second half of the nineteenth century, and yet substantive writing on him has always been scarce, especially in terms of what’s been written for general audiences. (What a great topic for a graphic novel, a comic book series, especially  for African audiences, for film.) I have written about him myself, briefly, in a piece of historically inspired fiction that I hope to soon publish (he is not a central figure, but rather an inspiration for more modern characters). What brought me back to the subject late in the evening, during my ongoing visit to Côte d’Ivoire, was the stumbling upon this archival piece from the New York Times, which dates to 1898 – extraordinary in its own right, for what it says, and what it doesn’t. Calling Touré an “African chieftain” exemplifies the casual and ever-present ways that African history and African agency have always been downplayed. The message is, the details don’t much matter. Move right along.

Anyway, with no further ado, the readings. The first two items are particularly essential. The others are listed in no particular order:


  • Person, Yves (1968–1975). Samori, Une révolution Dyula. 3 volumes,. Dakar: IFAN. p. 2377 pages. (review attached. This seems to be the most ambitious account of his life and era.)
  • Firearms, Horses and Samorian Army Organization 1870-1898
  • Martin Legassick
  • The Journal of African History
  • Vol. 7, No. 1 (1966), pp. 95-115 (Excellent and comprehensive on the military, including weapons supply and tactics.)

The French Conquest of Northwest Ivory Coast: The Attempt of the Rulers of Kabadugu to Control the Situation (La conquête française dans le nord-ouest de la Côte d’Ivoire. Tentatives des chefs de Kabadugu pour tirer parti de la situation)


O’Sullivan, John M


Cahiers d’Études Africaines, 1/1/1983, ISSN: 0008-0055, Volume 23, Issue 89/90, p. 121

OCLC No. 35026587
Title L’Empereur Almamy Samori Touré [microform] : grand administrateur et grand stratège
Imprint [Conakry, Guinea : Imprimerie nationale, 1971]
Series Révolution démocratique africaine ; no 48
Physical description 243 p. : port. ; 24 cm


L’Almami Samori Touré Empereur : récit historique


Fofana, Khalil I.


Paris, France : Présence Africaine, 1998.


Kuma Malinke historiography : Sundiata Keita to Almamy Samori Toure


Kai, Nubia


Lanham ; Boulder ; New York ; London : Lexington Books, [2014]


  • Boahen, A. Adu (1990). Africa Under Colonial Domination, 1880-1935. Berkeley: University of California Press. p. 357 pages. ISBN 0-520-06702-9.

Déportés politiques au bagne de Ndjolé, Gabon, 1898-1913 : l’Almamy Samory Touré, Cheikh Amadou, Bamba Mbacké, Dossou Idéou, Aja Kpoyizoun, et les autres


Mouckaga, Hugues, 1959-


Paris : Harmattan, c2013.

  • Ajayi, J.F. Ade, ed. UNESCO General History of Africa, Vol. VI: Africa in the Nineteenth Century until the 1880s, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989).
  • Boahen, A. Adu, ed. UNESCO General History of Africa, Vol. VII: Africa Under Colonial Domination, 1880-1935. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985).
  • Gann, L.H. and Duigan, Peter, ed. Colonialism in Africa, 1870–1960, Vol. 1: The History and Politics of Colonialism 1870-1914, (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1969).

Centenaire du souvenir : Almami Samori Touré, 1898-1998 : symposium international de Conakry, du 29 septembre au 1er octobre 1998 : les actes du symposium


Symposium international “Centenaire du souvenir, Almami Samori Touré, 1898-1998” (1998 : Conakry, Guinea)


Conakry : Éditions Universitaires, 2000.


How does Africa get reported? A letter of concern to 60 Minutes.

March 25, 2015

Jeff Fager, Executive Producer, CBS 60 Minutes (by email)

Dear Mr. Fager,

We, the undersigned, are writing to express our grave concern about the frequent and recurring misrepresentation of the African continent by 60 Minutes.

In a series of recent segments from the continent, 60 Minutes has managed, quite extraordinarily, to render people of black African ancestry voiceless and all but invisible.

Two of these segments were remarkably similar in their basic subject matter, featuring white people who have made it their mission to rescue African wildlife. In one case these were lions, and in another, apes. People of black African descent make no substantial appearance in either of these reports, and no sense whatsoever is given of the countries visited, South Africa and Gabon.

The third notable recent segment was a visit by your correspondent Lara Logan to Liberia to cover the Ebola epidemic in that country. In that broadcast, Africans were reduced to the role of silent victims. They constituted what might be called a scenery of misery: people whose thoughts, experiences and actions were treated as if totally without interest.  Liberians were shown within easy speaking range of Logan, including some Liberians whom she spoke about, and yet not a single Liberian was quoted in any capacity.

Liberians not only died from Ebola, but many of them contributed bravely to the fight against the disease, including doctors, nurses and other caregivers, some of whom gave their lives in this effort. Despite this, the only people heard from on the air were white foreigners who had come to Liberia to contribute to the fight against the disease.

Taken together, this anachronistic style of coverage reproduces, in condensed form, many of the worst habits of modern American journalism on the subject of Africa. To be clear, this means that Africa only warrants the public’s attention when there is disaster or human tragedy on an immense scale, when Westerners can be elevated to the role of central characters, or when it is a matter of that perennial favorite, wildlife. As a corollary, Africans themselves are typically limited to the role of passive victims, or occasionally brutal or corrupt villains and incompetents; they are not otherwise shown to have any agency or even the normal range of human thoughts and emotions. Such a skewed perspective not only disserves Africa, it also badly disserves the news viewing and news reading public.

We have taken the initiative of writing to you because we are mindful of the reach of 60 Minutes, and of the important role that your program has long played in informing the public. We are equally mindful that American views of Africa, a continent of 1.1 billion people, which is experiencing rapid change on an immense scale, are badly misinformed by much of the mainstream media. The great diversity of African experience, the challenges and triumphs of African peoples, and above all, the voices and thoughts of Africans themselves are chronically and woefully underrepresented.

Over the coming decades, Africa will become the backdrop of some of the most significant developments on the planet, from unprecedented population growth, urbanization and economic change to, potentially, the wholesale reconfiguration of states. We would like see to 60 Minutes rethink its approach to Africa, and rise to the challenge of covering topics like these, and many more, that go well beyond the bailiwick of the staid and stereotypical recent examples cited above. In doing so, 60 Minutes will have much to gain, as will the viewing public.

Howard W. French

Associate Professor, Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism

Author of China’s Second Continent and A Continent for the Taking: The Tragedy and Hope of Africa


Fatin Abbas, Manhattanville College

Akin Adesokan, Novelist and Associate Professor, Comparative Literature and Cinema and Film Studies, Indiana University Bloomington

Anthony Arnove, Producer, Dirty Wars

Adam Ashforth, Department of Afroamerican and African Studies, University of Michigan

Sean Jacobs, Faculty, International Affairs, Milano, The New School and Africa is a Country.

Teju Cole, Distinguished Writer in Residence, Bard College/ Photography Critic, The New York Times Magazine

Richard Joseph, John Evans Professor of International History and Politics, Northwestern University

Leon Dash, Swanlund Chair Professor in Journalism, Professor, Center for Advanced Study, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Michael C. Vazquez, Senior Editor, Bidoun: Art and Culture from the Middle East

Achille Mbembe, Professor, Wits University and Visiting Professor of Romance Studies and Franklin Humanities Institute Research Scholar, Duke University

M. Neelika Jayawardane, Associate Professor of English Literature at State University of New York-Oswego, and Senior Editor, AFRICA IS A COUNTRY.

Adam Hochschild, author

Peter Uvin, Provost, Amherst College

Pamela Scully, professor of WGSS and African Studies, Emory College

Eileen Julien, Professor, Comparative Literature, French & Italian, African Studies, Indiana University Bloomington

Mohamed Keita, freelance journalist in NYC, former Africa Advocacy Coordinator of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)

Aaron Leaf, Producer, Feet in 2 Worlds, The New School

Dan Magaziner, Assistant Professor, History, Yale University

Marissa Moorman, Associate Professor, Department of History, Indiana University

Sisonke Msimang, Research Fellow, University of Kwazulu-Natal.

Achal Prabhala, Writer and Researcher, Bangalore, India.

Janet Roitman, Associate Professor of Anthropology, The New School

Lily Saint, Assistant Professor of English, Wesleyan University.

Abdourahman A. Waberi, writer and Professor of French and Francophone Studies George Washington University

Binyavanga Wainaina, Writer

Chika Unigwe, Writer

James C. McCann, Chair, Department of Archaeology, Professor of History, Boston University

Susan Shepler, Associate Professor, International Peace and Conflict Resolution, School of International Service, American University

Peter Uvin, Provost, Amherst College

G. Pascal Zachary, professor of practice, Arizona State University

Cara E Jones, PhD, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Mary Baldwin College

James T. Campbell,  Edgar E. Robinson Professor of History / Stanford University

Nii Akuetteh, Independent International Affairs Analyst, Former Executive Director of OSIWA, the Soros Foundation in West Africa

Mary Ratcliff, editor, San Francisco Bay View National Black Newspaper

James Ferguson, Susan S. and William H. Hindle Professor, Stanford University

Alice Gatebuke, Rwandan Genocide and War survivor. Communications Director, African Great Lakes Action Network (AGLAN)

Max Bankole Jarrett, Deputy Director, Africa Progress Panel Secretariat

Mohamed Dicko, retired Computer Applications Analyst in St Louis, Missouri

Mojúbàolú Olufúnké Okome, Ph.D., Professor of Political Science, African & Women’s Studies, Brooklyn College, CUNY

Adam Ouologuem

John Edwin Mason, Department of History, University of Virginia

Dele Olojede, newspaperman

Dr. Jonathan T. Reynolds, Professor of History, Northern Kentucky University

Daniel J. Sharfstein, Professor of Law, Vanderbilt University

Claire L. Adida, Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of California San Diego

Lisa Lindsay, University of North Carolina

Anne-Maria B. Makhulu, Assistant Prof. of Cultural Anthropology and African and African American Studies, Duke University

Karin Shapiro, Associate Professor of the Practice African and African American Studies, Duke University

Garry Pierre Pierre, Executive director of the Community Reporting Alliance, New York City

Lynn M. Thomas, Professor and Chair, Department of History, University of Washington

Martha Saavedra, Associate Director, Center for African Studies, University of California, Berkeley

Kathryn Mathers, Visiting Assistant Professor, International Comparative Studies, Duke University

Siddhartha Mitter, freelance journalist

Alexis Okeowo, Contributor, The New Yorker and The New York Times Magazine

Susan Thomson, Assistant Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies, Colgate University

Nicolas van de Walle, Maxwell M. Upson Professor of Government, Cornell University

David Newbury, Gwendolen Carter professor of African studies, Smith College

Charles Piot, Professor, Department of Cultural Anthropology & Department of African and African American Studies Co-Convener Africa Initiative, Duke University

Adia Benton, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Brown University

Gregory Mann, historian of francophone Africa, Columbia University

Anne Pitcher, University of Michigan

Howard Stein, University of Michigan

Adam Shatz, London Review of Books

Peter Rosenblum, professor of international law and human rights, Bard College

Timothy Longman, African Studies Center Director, Chair of Committee of Directors, Pardee School of Global Studies, Associate Professor of Political Science, Boston University

Laura E. Seay, Assistant Professor, Department of Government, Colby College

Gregory White, Mary Huggins Gamble Professor of Government, Smith College

Robert Grossman, Producer

Daniel Fahey, Visiting Scholar at UC Berkeley, and served on the UN Group of Experts on DRC from 2013-2015

Jennie E. Burnet, Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of Louisville

Kim Yi Dionne, Assistant Professor, Smith College

Lonnie Isabel, Journalist

Karen L. Murphy

Peter Lewis, Director, African Studies Program & Associate Professor, Johns Hopkins University – SAIS

Peter Lewis, Director, African Studies Program, Johns Hopkins – SAIS

Pamela Scully, Professor of WGSS and African Studies, Emory University

Ann Garrison, Pacifica Radio reporter/producer and contributor to SF Bay View, Black Agenda Report, Black Star News, Counterpunch, Global Research

Ryan Briggs, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Virginia Tech

Yolande Bouka, PhD, Researcher, Institute for Security Studies

Elliot Fratkin PhD, Gwendolen M. Carter Professor of African Studies, Department of Anthropology, Smith College

Gretchen Bauer, Professor and Chair, Department of Political Science and International Relations, University of Delaware

John Woodford, journalist

Frank Holmquist, Professor of Politics, Emeritus, School of Critical Social Inquiry, Hampshire College

Alice Kang, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Institute for Ethnic Studies – African and African American Studies, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Michel Marriott, journalist, author

Jennifer N. Brass, PhD, Assistant Professor, School of Public & Environmental Affairs, Indiana University

Séverine Autesserre, Department of Political Science, Barnard College, Columbia University

Jill E. Kelly, Assistant Professor, Clements Department of History, Southern Methodist University

Dr. Meghan Healy-Clancy, Lecturer on Social Studies and on Women, Gender, and Sexuality, Harvard University

Dayo Olopade, journalist, author

Mary Moran, Colgate University

Sharon Abramowitz, UFL

Rebecca Shereikis, Interim Director, Institute for the Study of Islamic Thought in Africa, Northwestern University

Barbara B. Brown, Ph.D., Director of the Outreach Program, African Studies Center, Boston University

Jeffrey Stringer

Duy Linh Tu, Professor, Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism

David Alain Wohl, MD, Associate Professor, The Division of Infectious Diseases, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Andy Sechler, MD, Instructor in Medicine, Harvard Medical School

John Kraemer, Assistant Professor, Dept of Health Systems Admin. & African Studies Program, Georgetown University

Barbara Shaw Anderson, Associate Director, African Studies Center, Lecturer, Department of African, African American, and Diaspora Studies, African Studies Center, University of North Carolina

Adrienne LeBas, Assistant Professor of Government, American University, DC

Catharine Newbury, Professor Emerita of Government, Smith College

Ana M. Ayuso Alvarez, Epidemiology Programme applied to the Field, M. Art (Anthropologist)

Cynthia Haq MD, Professor of Family Medicine and Population Health Sciences, University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health

Aili Tripp, Professor of Political Science & Gender and Women’s Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Gloria Ladson-Billings, Professor, Department of Curriculum & Instruction, Kellner Family Professor in Urban Education, University of Wisconsin

Anne Jebet Waliaula, PhD, Outreach Coordinator, African Studies Program, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Judith Oki, Salt Lake City, UT, former Capacity Building Advisor for Rebuilding Basic Health Services, Monrovia, Liberia

Sandra Schmidt, PhD, Assistant Professor of Social Studies and Education, Teachers College, Columbia University

Emily Callaci, Assistant Professor, Department of History, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Louise Meintjes, Assoc Prof, Departments of Music and Cultural Anthropology, Duke University

May Rihani, Former Co-Chair of the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI), Author of Cultures Without Borders

Tejumola Olaniyan, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Selah Agaba, Doctoral Student, Anthropology & Education Policy Studies, University of Wisconsin

Casey Chapman, Wisconsin

Ted Hochstadt, Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (Lesotho)

Kah Walla, CEO – STRATEGIES!, Cameroon

Kofi Ogbujiagba, journalist, Madison, Wisconsin

Matthew Francis Rarey, Visiting Assistant Professor of Art History, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

David B. Levine, consultant in international development, Washington, DC

Claire Wendland, Medical Anthropologist, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Frederic C. Schaffer, Professor of Political Science, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Joye Bowman, Professor and Chair, Department of History, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Cody S. Perkins, Ph.D. Candidate, Corcoran Department of History, University of Virginia

Eric Gottesman, Colby College Department of Art

Lynda Pickbourn, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Economics, School of Critical Social Inquiry, Hampshire College

Kate Heuisler, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Henry John Drewal, Evjue-Bascom Professor of African and African Diaspora Arts, Departments of Art History and Afro-American Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Sarah Forzley, lecturer in the English department at the University of Paris 10- Nanterre (France)

June Cross, Professor, Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism

Aaron Bady, postdoctoral fellow, University of Texas – Austin

Laura Doyle, Professor of English,University of Massachusetts-Amherst

Ralph Faulkingham, PhD
Emeritus Professor of Anthropology (and former Editor, The African Studies Review), University of Massachusetts Amherst

Dr. Jessica Johnson, University of Massachusetts Amherst History Department

Joseph C. Miller, University of Virginia ret.

Sean Hanretta, Associate Professor, Department of History, Northwestern University

Iris Berger, Vincent O’Leary Professor of History, University at Albany

Jackson Musuuza, MBChB, MPH, MS, PhD student in Clinical Epidemiology, University of Wisconsin Madison

Dr. Anita Schroven, Researcher, Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, Halle/Saale, Germany

Prof. Dr. Baz Lecocq, Chair of African History, Humboldt University of Berlin, Germany

Monica H. Green, Professor of History, Arizona State University

Sandra Adell, Professor, Department of Afro-American Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Pamela Feldman-Savelsberg, Broom Professor of Social Demography and Anthropology Director, African and African American Studies Program, Acting Chair, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Carleton College

Michael Herce, MD, MPH, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Centre for Infectious Disease Research in Zambia (CIDRZ)

Satish Gopal MD MPH, UNC Project-Malawi (Director, Cancer Program), UNC Institute for Global Health & Infectious Diseases

Mina C. Hosseinipour, MD, MPH, Scientific Director, UNC Project, Lilongwe Malawi

Cliff Missen, M.A.

Director, WiderNet@UNC and The WiderNet Project, Clinical Associate Professor

School of Information and Library Science, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Groesbeck Parham, Professor, UNC (working in Zambia)

Norma Callender, San Jose

Harry McKinley Williams, Jr., Laird Bell Professor of History, Carleton College

Robtel Neajai Pailey, Liberian academic, London

Rose Brewer, professor, University of Minnesota

Fodei J. Batty, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Political Science, Quinnipiac University

Graham Wells, MS. PE, (Professor, Retired), Dept of Mechanical Engineering,  Mississippi State University

CHOUKI EL HAMEL, Ph.D., Professor of History, School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies Arizona State University

Obioma Ohia, Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Maryland Department of Physics

Paschal Kyoore, Professor of French, Francophone African/Caribbean Literatures & Cultures

Director, African Studies Program, Gustavus Adolphus College, Saint Peter, Minnesota

Preston Smith, Chair of Africana Studies. Professor of Politics, Mount Holyoke College

Catherine E. Bolten. Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Peace Studies. The Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, University of Notre Dame

Michael Leslie, associate professor of telecommunication, College of Journalism and Communications, University of Florida

Agnes Ngoma Leslie, Senior Lecturer and Outreach Director, Center for African Studies, University of Florida

Martin Murray, Urban Planning and African Studies, University of Michigan

Laura Fair, Associate Professor of African History, Michigan State University

Noel Twagiramungu, Post- doctoral Research Fellow, World Peace Foundation, The Fletcher School, Tufts University

Brandon Kendhammer, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Afircan Studies Affiliate Faculty, Ohio University

Sabrina Buckwalter, Communications Manager, Columbia University; Associate Producer, DRONE

James A. French, African investment specialist

Terrie Schweitzer, Writer/Consultant, Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (Ghana 2011-2013)

Ken Opalo, Stanford University

Youssouf Traoré

Ron Davis

Robin L. Turner, Associate Professor of Political Science, Butler University

Jeffrey Ahlman, Assistant Professor of History and African Studies, Smith College

Madina Thiam

Michelle Poulin, PhD, Consultant, The World Bank, Africa Region

Felicia Akanmou, Multimedia Journalism Graduate student- Indiana University, Bloomington

Sarah Watkins, Lecturer, Departments of History and Feminist Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara

Simon Halliday, Lecturer, Departments of History and Feminist Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara

Sally Orme, Educator, Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (Liberia, 2013-2014)

Hisham Aidi, Columbia University

Ann Garrison, contributor to Pacifica Radio KPFA/WBAI, San Francisco Bay View Newspaper, Black Agenda Report, Counterpunch, and Global Research

Beth Elise Whitaker, Associate Professor of Political Science, Affiliate Faculty in Africana Studies, University of North Carolina at Charlotte

Rachel Strohm, PhD Student, Political Science, UC Berkeley

Nathan J. Combes, Ph.D. Candidate, University of California, San Diego

Heather Switzer, Assistant Professor, Women and Gender Studies, Arizona State University, research in southern Kenya, Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, Ethiopia ’98-99

Casey Chapman, Ebola Survivor Corps

Aristide Kemla, University of Florida

Peter Schmidt, Professor of Anthropology and African Studies, University of Florida, Fellow, World Academy of Art and Science

R. Hunt Davis, Jr. , Professor Emeritus of History and African Studies, Editor-in-Chief, African Studies Quarterly, University of Florida

Goran Hyden, Distinguished Professor, Political Science, University of Florida

Erika Kirwen, London

Léonce Ndikumana, Professor of Economics, Director of the African Development Policy Program, Political Economy Research Institute (PERI), University of Massachusetts Amherst

Rachael Clifford Ebeledi, Amherst, MA

Mwangi wa Githinji, Economics Department, University of Massachusetts-Amherst

Gina Irene Njeru RT(R)(S) ARRT BAS HSA, University of Florida, Center for African Studies Program Assistant

Oliver Akamnonu, M.D., Physician, author

Robin Poynor, PhD, Professor of Art History, School of Art and Art History, University of Florida

Liz Poulsen, Master’s of Development Practice Program, University of Florida

Amilcar Shabazz, American Council on Education Fellow, Office of the President, New York University

Kate S. Peabody, Liberian

Alan Neuhauser, reporter.

Matthew Adeiza, PhD Student, Department of Communication, University of Washington, Seattle

Robbie Corey-Boulet, Fellow, Institute of Current World Affairs

Nkemjika E. Kalu, Ph.D., Strategic Analyst, Abuja, Nigeria

Kim Foulds, Program Coordinator, Carnegie African Diaspora Fellowship Program, Quinnipiac University

Susana Wing, Associate Professor of Political Science
Haverford College

Kevin Fridy, Associate Professor of Government and World Affairs, University of Tampa

Kukunda Liz Bacwayo, Uganda Christian University



A year on the road, briefly recounted

I began the year in Hong Kong, a guest in a friend’s familiar box apartment, before moving up the hill to a hotel at the edge of Hong Kong University, which had been my host most of the previous summer, when I’d been a visiting scholar there.

I’d come back to Asia to try and put the elusive finishing touches on the research for my current book project, as well as to report the related piece I did for The Atlantic, which can be found here. I’d worked the same project the previous summer, spending a month in Japan and then living in Hong Kong, where the university was my research base.

I was on academic leave for the spring semester, so this was an opportunity to really roam in pursuit of the details I needed, and so I did. From Hong Kong I flew to Manila on my first-ever visit to the Philippines, staying in the capital for a week or so and interviewing widely, before traveling to the island of Palawan, which figures in the lede of the Atlantic piece, and stands at a sort of front line in the dispute over maritime territory in the South China Sea that pits the Philippines against China

From Palawan, I made my way south (via Manila) on an Air Malaysia flight to Kuala Lumpur, where I stayed in a dive in the old, central Chinatown. In part, this is what travel on book advances does to one, but I also have a fondness for dives that lingers from my earliest years as an impecunious freelancer. I wouldn’t want to have to restrict myself to them all the time, but as an occasional element in one’s travel, they can be really refreshing, and this turned out to be a great choice, with lively streets and fantastic outdoor food all around. I got out of Kuala Lumpur a little bit, as well, making a day trip to Malacca, among other places.

I am a sucker for train rides, and always have been, so from KL, I took the overnight train to Singapore, enjoying a sleeper car all to myself, but scarcely sleeping. On this one, I Skyped with friends for a little bit, but the internet went in and out, so I finally gave up and listened to music and read and when the early morning light allowed, gazed hypnotically at the scrubland before arrival.

I was only in Singapore for a hot minute, but I was able to pack my stay with interesting interviews and more great meals. A couple of highlights were talks with historians: the formidable Wang Gungwu, who has been at it since the 1960s, and Prasenjit Duara (introduced by the ever generous Jeff Wasserstrom), who invited me to his home for a fantastic dinner with his family, and a long and incredible discussion about China, empire, modernity, tribute and many other things.

I flew to Hanoi from Singapore and stayed the Vietnamese capital for about a week, again interviewing widely — both officials and interesting members of civil society. The latter stage of this stay was hindered a bit by the arrival of the Tê’t holiday, leaving me to wander, a bit lonely, in a city where I don’t speak the language and didn’t have old personal friends. I went back to Bach Mai Hospital, whose Christmas 1972 bombing by the Americans, my father had investigated on behalf of  Ted Kennedy and the Senate Committee for Refugees, and later testified about before Congress. It was the third trip I’ve made to Bach Mai over the years. This time, I found a man who worked at the hospital at the time of the bombings, but no one with any particular recollection of the American investigation team’s visit. The stories my father brought back from that trip were the source of some of my first real thoughts about East Asia, and the bombing is something I’d like to write about somehow in the future. I also took a side trip to Halong Bay, where I did something a bit unusual for me, an overnight cabin boat cruise. Hanoi was completely shut down, so I’m glad I went there, but to be in such a beautiful place alone, especially filled with nuzzling couples in full romantic mode was a bit disorienting.

I flew back to Hong Kong from Hanoi (after a week of genuine vacation in Thailand, a guest in the Bangkok home of a very old friend) and stayed there for a few wet and chilly days before switching directions altogether. From HK, I took a long Emirates flight to Nairobi, via Dubai, and stayed in Kenya for about three weeks, initiating a project that would occupy me in the months ahead, consulting with the new journalism program of a Kenyan university. Nairobi is just beneath the equator, so it was warm and sunny at this time of year, and I enjoyed burning off my jet lag by swimming laps after work each day in a great hotel pool.

I’m not good with dates, but by late February or early March I was back in New York. I thought I would have missed the worst of winter, but I was wrong. It was really cold and dark, and it seemed to just keep snowing, storm after storm. What a messy place New York can be this time of year. The great thing about being back, though, was access to Columbia’s libraries, which are numerous and in a word, amazing. Most of the reading one finds in this list was done at Columbia, whether Butler, or the East Asia library, or sometimes the libraries of SIPA or the Law School. A number of other titles are not reflected here, including a great many journal articles. I developed a work routine that I’ll speak more about later, but which starts with scanning important texts for conversion into PDFs, which I can carry around with me in electronic form (on my phone and iPad) wherever I go and annotate them at will, often heavily, using three pieces of software: Dropbox, GoodReader and Adobe Reader. Since I’m not distributing these materials, no copyright issues arise, and I don’t need to worry, either, about marking up books that belong in collections.

In late April and early May, I went back to China, first to Beijing and Tianjin, and then to Taiwan for yet another bit of reporting for my current book project, and interviewed there very intensively. The visit coincided with one of the high water marks of the so-called Sunflower Movement of popular protests over the nature of Taiwan’s democracy and its relations with China; not planned, but from a writer’s perspective, especially given my topic, fortuitous. I hadn’t been to Taiwan for quite some time, and was really charmed by the place, including an afternoon’s indulgence very late in my stay, with a visit to a hot spring.

From there, I went back to Africa, starting with nearly a week each in Ghana and Nigeria, two places where I’ve spent huge amounts of time over the years. In Ghana, there were discussions with journalist colleagues and friends about Ebola, which was just beginning to heat up, but which hadn’t really pierced the American infosphere yet. This wasn’t the purpose of my trip either. I was there to look at local journalism and at journalism education in West Africa for an ongoing project. I did’t get beyond Lagos, but the visit there reinforced my sense that this is one of the most under-covered societies in the world. Lagos is changing very fast and is complicated and sophisticated way, way beyond the enduring stereotypes about the place, and in many ways the future of Africa is bound up in the fate of experiments like this. I’ve written a bit about that here. In Lagos, I reunited with an old colleague, Tony Iyare, and spent a ton of time with Tolu Ogunlesi, one of the most dynamic and interesting young journalists working in the region. One highlight was beers at sundown listening and dancing to High Life at Freedom Park there, which was once the grounds of the old, colonial prison on Lagos Island.

From Lagos, I flew to Nairobi, where I would base myself for the remainder of the summer, but flew back to New York briefly for the release of my book, and an early burst of related interviews, etc. When I got back to Kenya, I set myself up in a Spartan apartment, walking to work each day through dusty, chaotic streets, and spending evenings trying to organize my thoughts and gather my energies to start writing my new book. The day job with the local university went very well, but the split brain thing, being in Africa and trying to write about East Asia, all the while fielding queries about my China-Africa book, didn’t leave much energy or mental space for this.

In the end, I gave in, and decided to make the most of my environment. I’d been visiting East Africa since my earliest days in journalism, but had never before lived in the region; West Africa had always been my main thing. So I plunged in to this experience in my off time, meeting a lot of people and traveling quite a bit locally in Kenya, both alone and with close friends and family, ultimately including going to game parks on safaris, which I’d never previously really been drawn to, but which proved amazing. I also bounced around the region a little bit, including visits to Uganda and Tanzania. In Kampala, I was the guest of my old friend, Mahmood Mamdani, director of the Makerere Institute of Social Research, and gave a lecture there. (I gave another talk in Kampala at the African Centre for Media Excellence.) And in Dar es Salaam, I gave a university lecture at Nkrumah Hall, and was able to hang out with my friend, the Tanzanian reporter, Erick Kabendera, who has done pioneering work on corruption there.

In August, I set off for the Seychelles for a week with the idea of taking a mental break from Africa and launching into the writing of my new book. Agnès and I lived in a little cottage right on water’s edge, and I woke up early each morning to write, doing so until exhaustion, after which we would go out and eat, and then drive around the main island for the afternoon and into the evening. This has got to rank as a highlight of my entire year, managing somehow to be both highly productive and very relaxing. I hadn’t been to the Seychelles since the 1980s (gulp), and cannot recommend it more highly. Don’t go to a hotel. Rent a private cottage, where you can hear the sea at all times and lay on giant boulders at night and gaze up at what seems to be the entire universe. We found our place on Airbnb, where there were many choices.

On my way back to New York I stopped in Amsterdam, overnighting there at my sister’s house. After that, it was back to school for me, teaching the J School’s intensive basic reporting class for the first time, and using the weekends and late afternoons on many days to sustain the work on my book through the fall. In November, I spent the weekend after Thanksgiving at home in Virginia enjoying a mini family reunion with several of my siblings and our children, and giving a talk at nearby UVA.

In mid-December, I set off for China to do the last little bits of reporting for my book. (I keep thinking this way, but there’s always more reporting to be done. No matter what.) First stop was Beijing, where once again, I ended up doing a lot of speaking, in addition to the forthcoming-book-related interviews that were my real purpose for traveling there. Beijing has never been my home, but I have some truly special friends there, and being able to spend a little bit of time with them took the edge off of the travel and work grind. At the suggestion of my friend and estimable journalism colleague, Ian Johnson, who allowed me to crash a previously planned dinner. At his suggestion, I also went to the National Museum and really enjoyed a major exhibition there about the Silk Road, which also relates to my new book.

From there, I flew to Shanghai for three relatively relaxing days, sharing meals in a city where I lived for six years with old friends, and wandering around a bit idly, feeling a bit nostalgic sometimes, I’ll confess. Last stop, for another set of interviews, was Hainan, which is the Chinese frontline, as it were, to the disputed maritime areas of the South China Sea, a topic which relates somewhat to my current project.

I’d mentioned working methods earlier, and here’s the last bit of that. I bought an iPhone 6 Plus when they came out, and decided I wouldn’t travel with laptops anymore whenever that could be avoided. This China trip was the first trial of that approach, and I must say, it worked really well. I brought a wireless keyboard, and I have Word, Dropbox, Adobe Reader, GoodReader, Scribd and all of the other software I might need right there on my phone. I also bought a little stand from a company called Anker, which can be found on Amazon. It’s brilliant, and so much more secure. I use a VPN at all times, and when I move about, my phone is in my pocket.

That’s enough, I suspect. Maybe even too much. Happy New Year, everyone.



Libraries and piles of books, a 2014 reading list

In line with recent tradition, here are the books I read in the last calendar year. I may have left a few titles out, in which case, I’ll try to add them here and there as they come to mind. A very few among these would have appeared in past lists, meaning I’ve reread them. In the case of titles like Before European Hegemony, The Chinese World Order, The Borders of Chinese Civilization and The Fall of Srivijaya, I’ve reread them more than once recently, both because they were so interesting and because they are so important to my current book project.

I regret there isn’t more fiction here. Many of the books that appear on this list were read for work-related reasons, which is not a statement about how interesting they were or how much I enjoyed them; it’s just that this year reflects a fairly applied effort, again, due to what I am working on. I hope to change that next year as I (hopefully) finish this project and go eclectic again.

A few of these authors have been very generous to me, personally. In no particular order, special thanks go to Douglas Howland, Keith Weller Taylor, Evan Osnos, Teju Cole, Mark Driscoll, Wang Gungwu and Paul Kramer.

Here, I’ve also published a brief account of my travels in 2o14, a year in which I got around an awful lot, even by the standards of my heavily traveled past.

The book list:

A Brief History of Seven Killings: A Novel, James, Marlon

Absolute Erotic, Absolute Grotesque: The Living, Dead and Undead in Japan’s Imperialism, 1895-1945, Mark Driscoll

Africa in the World: Capitalism, Empire, Nation-State, Frederick Cooper

Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth and Faith in the New China, Evan Osnos

Anxious Wealth: Money and Morality Among China’s New Rich, Osburg, John

Arc of Empire: America’s Wars in Asia from the Philippines to Vietnam, Michael H. Hunt and Steven I. Levine

Articulating the Sinosphere: Sino-Japanese Relations in Space and Time, Joshua A. Fogel

Asian Maritime Strategies, Bernard D. Cole

As I Lay Dying, William Faulkner

Before European Hegemony: The World System A.D. 1250-1350, Abu-Lughod, Janet L.

Bending Adversity: Japan and the Art of Survival, David Pilling

Brother Enemy: The War After the War, A History of Indochina Since the Fall of Saigon, Nayan Chanda

By All Means Necessary: How China’s Resource Quest is Changing the World, Elizabeth Economy (Reviewed in The Wall Street Journal)

Cherishing Men from Afar: Qing Guest Ritual and the Macartney Mission of 1793, James L. Hevia

China, 1898-1912: The Xinzheng Revolution and Japan, Douglas R. Reynolds

China 1945: Mao’s Revolution and America’s Fateful Choice, Richard Bernstein

China Among Equals: The Middle Kingdom and its Neighbors, 10th-14th Centuries, Morris Rossabi

China and the International System, Huang and Patman

China between Empires: The Northern and Southern Dynasties (History of Imperial China), by Mark Edward Lewis and Timothy Brook

Chinese Studies of the Malay World: A Comparative Approach, Dingo Choo Ming and Ooi Kee Beng

Chinese Turkestan, Ryan Pyle

Clarity, Cut, and Culture: The Many Meanings of Diamonds, Susan Falls

Dangerous Nation: America’s Place in the World, from it’s Earliest Days to the Dawn of the 20th Century, Kagan, Robert

Diamonds, Ian Smillie (Reviewed, The Wall Street Journal)

Emperor Far Away: Travels at the Edge of China (Reviewed in The Wall Street Journal)

Every Day is for the Thief, Teju Cole

Fifty Portraits: Stories and Techniques from a Photographer’s Photographer, Heisler, Gregory

Fire on the Water: China, America, and the Future of the Pacific, Haddick, Robert

Forgotten Armies: Britain’s Asian Empire and the War with Japan, Christopher Alan Bayly

1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created, Charles Mann

Inevitable Revolutions: The United States in Central America (Second Edition) LaFeber, Walter

In Our Image: America’s Empire in the Philippines, Karnow, Stanley

In the Light of What We Know, Zia Haider Rahman

Japan and the Shackles of the Past, R. Taggart Murphy

London Boulevard, Ken Bruen

Manila Galleon, William Lytle Schurz

Ming China and Southeast Asia in the 15th Century, Geoff Wade

Shadow of the Dragon, Henry Kenny

Money: A Suicide Note (Penguin Ink), Amis, Martin

Negotiating Asymmetry: China’s Place in Asia, Anthony Reid and Zheng Yangwen

Never Forget National Humiliation: Historical Memory in Chinese Politics and Foreign Relations (Contemporary Asia in the World), Wang, Zheng

Night Heron, Brookes, Adam

Okinawa: The History of an Island People, George H. Kerr

Petals of Blood, Ngugi wa Thiong’o

Policing America’s Empire: The United States, The Philippines and the Rise of the Surveillance State, Alfred W. McCoy

Rebel Music: Race, Empire, and the New Muslim Youth Culture, Hisham D. Aidi

Restless Empire: China and the World Since 1750, Westad, Odd Arne

Return to Laughter: An Anthropological Novel (The Natural History Library), Bowen, Elenore Smith

Road to Seeing, Winters, Dan

Sea of Poppies: A novel, Amitav Ghosh

Sino-Malay Trade and Diplomacy from the Tenth through the Fourteenth Century, Derek Heng

Soldiers Alive, Ishikawa Tatsuzo

Sophie’s Choice, Styron, William

Staging the World: Chinese Nationalism at the Turn of the Twentieth Century, Rebecca E. Karl

State and Society in the Philippines – Abinales and Amoroso

Stones of Contention: A History of Africa’s Diamonds, Todd Cleveland

Southeast Asia in the Fifteenth Century: The China Factor, Geoff Wade and Sun Laichen

The Birth of Vietnam, Keith Weller Taylor

The Blood of Government: Race, Empire, the United States and the Philippines, Paul A. Kramer

The Borders of Chinese Civilization, Douglas Howland

The Bright Continent: Breaking Rules and Making Change in Modern Africa, Dayo Olopade

The Children of Men, James, P.D.

The Chinese World Order, John King Fairbank

The Eighth Voyage of the Dragon, Bruce Swanson

The Fall of Srivijaya in Malay History, O.W. Wolters

The Fortunes of Africa: A 5,000Year History of Wealth, Greed and Endeavor, Meredith Martin (Reviewed The Wall Street Journal)

The Great Convergence, Kishore Mahbubani

The Influence of Sea Power Upon History 1660-1783, Alfred Thayer Mahan

The Landmark Thucydides: A Comprehensive Guide to the Peloponnesian War, Thucydides

The Mind-Body Problem (Contemporary American Fiction), Goldstein, Rebecca

The Mind of Empire: China’s History and Modern Foreign Relations, Christopher A. Ford

The Nanhai Trade: Early Chinese Trade in the South China Sea, Wang Gungwu

The Perfect Wave, Heinrich Pas

The Resurgence of East Asia: 500, 150 and 50 Year Perspectives, edited by Giovanni Arrighi, Takeshi Hamashita and Mark Selden

The South China Sea: The Struggle for Power in Asia, Bill Hayton

The Tyranny of Experts: Economists, Dictators and the Forgotten Rights of the Poor, William Easterly (Reviewed for The New York Times)

US Expansionism: The Imperialist Urge in the 1890s, David Healy

Vietnam 1945: The Quest for Power, Marr, David G.

Washington’s China: The National Security World, the Cold War, And the Origins of Globalism (Culture, Politics, and the Cold War), James Peck

When China Ruled the Seas, Levathes, Louise

Will China Dominate the Twenty First Century?, Jonathan Fenby

World Order, Kissinger, Henry

Xi Jinping’s China, Francois Godement

Zheng He: China and the Oceans in the Early Ming Dynasty, 1405-1433, Edward L. Dreyer