Makers of Modern Asia by Ramachandra Guha (ed) - review by John Keay

John Keay

Ruling Passions

Makers of Modern Asia


Harvard University Press/Belknap Press 385pp £22.95 order from our bookshop

‘By foregrounding politics and political lives, this book hopes to provide a richer, more nuanced context for the contemporary understanding of the economic rise of Asia,’ writes Ramachandra Guha in the introduction to Makers of Modern Asia. For many years academic historians have apparently disparaged what he calls ‘the biographical method’. Now, in ‘rediscovering the potential of using an individual life to explore wider social and political processes’, they have signalled a change of heart. Good for them. Political leadership, it seems, is not just about managing processes and forces. It entails agency and responsibility as well. Presidents and premiers may actually shape events, their upbringing and ideas may determine policies and their lives may account for their legacies. Wow!

As evidence for this turnaround, Makers of Modern Asia offers eleven extended essays on the ten men and one woman deemed the ‘thinker-politicians’ responsible for propelling the East into its Asian Century. Each essay is written by an acknowledged authority (the book is a spin-off of an LSE conference held

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