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Asian Godfathers: Money and Power in Hong Kong and Southeast Asia

3.84  ·  Rating Details  ·  283 Ratings  ·  39 Reviews
Hong Kong and Southeast Asia are home to five hundred million people, yet their economies are dominated by only fifty families whose interests range from banking to real estate, shipping to sugar, gambling to lumber. At their peak, eight of the world's two dozen richest men were Southeast Asian, but their names would not be familiar to most regular readers of "The Wall Str ...more
ebook, 368 pages
Published September 1st 2008 by Grove Press (first published October 10th 2007)
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(showing 1-30 of 702)
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Aug 07, 2008 PMP rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Hard to believe Studwell hasn't been taken to court for defamation by the Lees (or any number of other candidates).

Some entertaining excerpts:

"HK and Singapore perform a simple economic trick: they arbitrage the relative economic inefficiency of their hinterlands."

"...T.J.S. George's observation that 'he detected in Lee the insecurity of a man alienated from his Chinese morrings, a man who, because he does not quite belong anywhere, has had to remake Singapore in his own image to compensate for
Thai Son
Superb sketch of South East Asian economies using the basis of "godfathers", or big tycoons. Viet Nam is not mentioned, for obvious reasons. This book opened my eyes to one of the economic realities of the region. Will be reading a lot more on certain places and people thanks to this experience.
Certain parts are overtly dry, but there is nothing to critique regarding this, as the level of detail justifies it.
Nov 25, 2012 Erwin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Economics, Business in Asia
Shelves: favorite
Interesting. Lots of information. Read it with an open mind and reflect. There are big implications here for both China and the USA.

East Asia (Japan, Korea, Taiwan) have developed domestic companies that invent technology and compete globally. East Asian's have first world standards of living. South East Asia (Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand) rented labor to global businesses, but have never built their own globally competitive businesses. Hong Kong and Singapore are the Switzerland o
James Smyth
Oct 15, 2014 James Smyth rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Really important description of how crony capitalism wrecks economies and the hardworking laborers that live in them. It's forgotten now that the northeast and southeast Asian nations were economically equivalent in the wake of the second World War. So why has the southeast languished so long? It's The System there, in which capitalism has meant favoring the few. Why is the purportedly free-market Hong Kong now wracked with protests fueled by the difficulty of making a living there? It's an olig ...more
Studwell tries to debunk what he regards as the myth of the SE Asian Horatio Alger-type tycoons, whose successes largely owe to political corruption and government protected cartels. This cozy relationship between the political and merchant class produces monopolies in gaming, commodities, and domestic distribution to the detriment of homegrown businesses that could be competitive on an international level. He has particular animus towards Lee Kuan Yew for his racialist theories and elitism and ...more
Missy J
Even though the author's tone is very subjective and negative, the ending was much lighter and positive.
I learned a lot from this book, through the stories of the godfathers, more about contemporary Southeast Asia and its modern history. It was difficult for me to understand some of the financial and economic terms, however, I think I get the full picture of what the author wants to convey.
His conclusion is very well-thought out and hints at the possibility of development and progress in this r
Simon Ng
Mar 30, 2014 Simon Ng rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a relatively old book published in 2008. Many things had happened since then. However, it still gives a good historical account on some of the rich and famous tycoon in Asia. It is interesting to know how these individuals manipulated the system and back door dealings to their advantage. Through the years, I have actually admired many tycoons through printed media, interview etc. After reading this book, I realised that many are just smart marketing and PR work. I wish more would read th ...more
Jul 06, 2016 Cui rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I seldom write reviews, but this is a book that deserves to be read by more. It was published nearly a decade ago but remains painfully relevant and contemporary, which is not something that can be said of most titles about Asian (political) economies in general. Studwell is well-researched and has clearly thought out how best to map out his arguments whilst covering macro- and micro-level accounts of the intersection between public, private, and political godfather economics and kleptocracy in ...more
May 19, 2016 Edwin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What makes a billionaire? When I was a teenager I voraciously read endless business and personal finance books from 'Rich Dad Poor Dad' Series and 'Think and Grow Rich', to the psychology of millionaires, to the big-ass reference 'Business: the ultimate resource', while closely following Forbes billionaire list. I was obsessed on learning what they're doing to earn a place in that list, read their biographies extensively and dreamt that someday somehow I too could make it into the list.

Among tho
Apr 24, 2015 Nguyễn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Combines brilliant commentary and analysis with rarely seen moderation in argument and perspectives. Much efforts have been made to cover thematic issues and motifs although more could have been done to highlight the differences between godfathers and and their ways of dealing. In retrospect that would certainly undermine the author's aim of debunking the myth of lionized individuals in Asian road to riches, which made this book unique and hard to put down under any circumstances
Reading this aft
The book is too dense and trying to cover too many things. It did not work for me but looking at all the great reviews; Maybe I lack something to appreciate this work.
Oct 14, 2014 Natha rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: translation, drama
Umm, agak sedikit bersemangat saat membaca bagian taipan-taipan Indonesia. Karena nama mereka lebih dikenal dan jelas nama mereka sering berseliweran di koran-koran Indonesia. Jadi berasa lebih ngeuh saja. Beberapa nama yang lain, nama-nama dari LN ntu ada yang tahu dan pernah dengar sih, tetapi tetap saja beda gregetnya dengan membaca taipan-taipan 'bermasalah' yang sekarang ada di 'sana'.

Sejujurnya, aku jarang membaca buku-buku non-fiksi. Yah, tetapi yang satu ini memang diluar kewajaran sih.
Peter Gregoire
Jul 05, 2013 Peter Gregoire rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

Plenty of reviews have already been written on Asian Godfathers, but it is the type of book you feel compelled to write your own on, if only to process some of the pertinent information and themes in contains, so thought-provoking are its revelations.

At the heart of the book is a complete indictment of the so called “South-East Asian Miracle”, which the author explains by comparing that region with the more successful North-East Asian countries. In North East Asia, Japan, Taiwan and South-Korea
Mark Desrosiers
Studwell is a penetrating and snarky reporter who loves to demolish received notions about Southeast Asian political economy (e.g. the notion that the ethnic Chinese are culturally "programmed" to be economically dominant, or that import substitution industrialization was the cat's pajamas). His conclusion is that these Asian "godfathers" (and yes, he does half-apologize for that word choice at the outset) succeeded because of the unusual political circumstances, and because they essentially end ...more
Johan Sulaiman
A book about the rich and famous that really contains a story about South East Asia. Studwell rejects the racial explanation of SEA problems and instead pins most of the blame for the region's underperformance to the lack of political will (or some say conscience) of the political elites of Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, and the Philippines. Yes, the godfathers do steal, bribe, rob, transgress, and exploit, but they do so within a preset legal and executive systemic political players that enable ...more
Simon Hung
Jul 06, 2015 Simon Hung rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As if placing these Asian Godfathers inside a snow globe for all to observe, Joe Studwell has dexterously revealed the activities the Godfathers have been engaging in for several decades in an interesting, no-nonsense fashion. He has done this at the risk of receiving dozens of letters from the lawyers of those he wrote about, for the information found in this book is extremely controversial and has certainly ruffled the feathers of many a Godfather, with one even having menacingly said this to ...more
Apr 08, 2010 Scott rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was hoping it would be a bit more salacious and tabloid and less empirical and scholastic but a great read nevertheless both on the contemporary socioeconomic structure of Southeast Asia and the manner by which Colonialism's empowering of minority and immigrant groups lasts today in the forms of various tycoons and the protected industries they rule.


"Sands executives ripped at Ho, who is being called a "cry baby" by the Vegas casino giants. They told Ho to stay out of the kitchen if he cou
Phuong Vu
a nuanced observation of how politics and business intertwines in Asia. A must read for anyone who wants to navigate the region's landscape.
Thomas Kingston
Jan 13, 2016 Thomas Kingston rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Enlightening insight into the world of Asian high rollers - the wheeling and dealing & intrigue that goes into making their billions.
Jan 31, 2015 Youngju rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
On top of interesting story about South East Asian's tycoons, the book has an insightful chapter on what drove Asian financial crisis in late 1990's. As a Korean, I found it interesting to read how Korean war in 1950's have helped the growth of many trade / smuggling business in South East Asia that became important source of cash flow of tycoons at the initial stage.

Sandra Vu
a nuanced observation of how politics and business intertwines in Asia. A must read for anyone who wants to navigate the region's landscape.
Max Rose
Mar 06, 2015 Max Rose rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Provides a well-researched overview of the kingpins (Li Ka-Shing, Stanley Ho, et al) that dominate South East Asia.
William Beesley
Dec 12, 2008 William Beesley rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Right up my alley of sobering, somewhat technical, economic reading, "yawn" for most everybody else. Joe Studwell excellently defends his position that even though Southeast Asia has a higher per capita portion of the richest business families in the world, that their wealth is unfairly gained through political mechanisms at the expense of the country's citizens. And some other interesting odds and ends about the region.
A great piece for those that are trying to understand the who's who of Asia. I also think it's a great piece to dispel myths on exactly how Asia developed the way that it did. Perhaps the best part of this book is the glossary in the back that serves as an excellent reference of which person owns which major corporation.
Took a little while to get into it, but definitely an interesting read. I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone interested in investing in South East Asia or indeed emerging markets generally. If you weren't already jaded, it may turn you for good - same conclusion for me, these are markets to trade rather than invest in.
Kok Chih
Dec 31, 2007 Kok Chih rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone with interest on asian tycoons
Shelves: business
Not all the information are new but a good collection of all the rumors and news you'll hear about the Asian tycoons. The interesting part is the analysis on what are the core cash flows from the individual tycoons and how they've survived the 97 asian financial crisis
Robert Bütof
Jul 14, 2009 Robert Bütof is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
First few pages tell me that this is a must-read for everyone who either thinks about doing business in Southeast Asia, or simply wants to understand why this region has developed as it has.
Aug 17, 2012 Irsyad rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"Joe Studwell describe very few powerful business man in Asia so called "Asian Godfathers" and they affair with government. Very recommended book for economy and politic observer."
Horst Walther
Aug 24, 2014 Horst Walther rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Just another of Joe Studwells excellent books. It provides eye opening insight into a whole region, supported by detailed information hardly found anywhere else.
Charlie Lam
Sep 11, 2009 Charlie Lam rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Find the "money daddies"...... actually economical interesting info for living in Asia
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“South-east Asia’s high savings rates, most of which flowed into bank deposits, lent themselves to outsize banking systems, which invited godfather abuse. There is, in turn, a pretty direct line from the insider manipulation of regional banks to the Asian financial crisis. The ‘over-banked’ nature of south-east Asia also helps explain a conundrum that has occupied some of the region’s equity investors: why, despite heady economic growth, have long-term stock market returns in south-east Asia been so poor? Since 1993, when a flood of foreign money increased capitalisation in regional markets by around 2.5 times in one calendar year,37 dollar-denominated returns with dividends reinvested (what investors call ‘total’ returns) in every regional market have been lower than those in the mature markets of New York and London, and a fraction of those in other emerging markets in eastern Europe and Latin America.38” 0 likes
“South-east Asia’s high savings rates, most of which flowed into bank deposits, lent themselves to outsize banking systems, which invited godfather abuse. There is, in turn, a pretty direct line from the insider manipulation” 0 likes
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