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The River of Lost Footsteps: Histories of Burma

3.96  ·  Rating details ·  956 Ratings  ·  102 Reviews
For nearly two decades Western governments and a growing activist community have been frustrated in their attempts to bring about a freer and more democratic Burma--through sanctions and tourist boycotts--only to see an apparent slide toward even harsher dictatorship. But what do we really know about Burma and its history? And what can Burma's past tell us about the presen ...more
Hardcover, 384 pages
Published December 12th 2006 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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Aug 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This is without a doubt the best introduction out there to Burmese history, and possibly the best introduction to Southeast Asian history in general. It is a 'personal history', written for general consumption, by one of the world's leading historians of Burma, and is a magnificent book in both a popular and academic sense.

In this book, Thant Myint-U sets out to remind us that Burmese history did not begin with Aung San Suu Kyi, did not begin with Ne Win's military coup in 1962, did not begin wi
Mar 22, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Admittedly, I first picked up this book because I'm a Burmese American. While this is clearly the most accessible history of Burma, I think what I liked about it the most was that it was a history of a mid- to small- sized multicultural power sitting between larger forces (China, India, Britain, Japan).

While there are quite a few books on the big powers and how they interact, this book is fascinating in that it looks not only at how smaller powers navigate, but also how small events in large po
When I first went to Myanmar, it was via the one-hour, dirt-cheap Air Asia flight to Yangon, and to go from aggressively shopping malled and Starbucked Bangkok to the dusty ruins of colonial Rangoon in an hour's time is a jarring experience to say the least.

The question, then, is how did Myanmar fall that far behind so much of the rest of East Asia? Thant Myint-U is out to demolish a number of widely held myths, but he starts much earlier, with the slow nibbling to death of the Burmese Empire, i
Nico Marco
Aug 24, 2013 rated it really liked it
Fantastic read from start to finish. Burma is so much more than Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. This book presents a pragmatic historical account as to how and why Burma ended up in its tragic state (although current situation is clearly better now). From the innately war-prone ancient monarchs, the British invasion, the Japanese invasion, the Indian immigration, the complex dynamics of ethnic groups, and to the rise of the (still strong) Military junta. This is a must-read for anyone that has keen intere ...more
Dec 07, 2014 rated it really liked it
Probably the first book about my own country that I read. Personal but at the same times Thant Myint-U tries to make is historically correct - as best he can, I guess because I heard some people saying that some of the facts are not accurate (I was too naive to pay attention to those details when I first read though).
Dan Murphy
Jan 28, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, biography
Before I read this book, I knew little to nothing about Burmese history. Although Mr. Thant Myingt-U obviously has a masterful grasp of his country's history and makes an admirable attempt to guide the reader through Burmese history from its mythical origins right up to the tragically futile monk protests in 2007, I still feel as if I know functionally nothing. That may be because there are too many minor details thrown out, especially regarding trifling royals and unimportant battles in unimpor ...more
Howard Olsen
Sep 29, 2007 rated it really liked it
Burma has long been in the news. After the most recent cycle of uprising-crackdown, I looked for a book that could give me some historic and political background for this country that has so often attracted the world’s attention, if not its interest.

Incredibly enough, finding such a book is not easy. Most books about Burma are travel guides, or have some sort of George Orwell connection. This book, written by U Thant’s grandson, is probably the best introduction to Burma you can find. However, t
Bob Schmitz
Aug 24, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: history
My sister and I visited Myanmar this past year and this was one of 2 books in the Durham County Library on Burma. The other was by Aung San Suu Kyi. This is the story of Burma's history written by U Thant's son. It is rather dry and I did not finish it.

In 1885 at the encouragement of the business class in England Winston Churchill's dad Lord Randolph decided that Britain needed to take over Burma in order open it's markets to British goods and to make a back door to China for the same purpose.

Bruno Lucas
Jan 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: travel
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Dec 18, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
The River of Lost Footsteps is nothing if not ambitious. Thant Myint-U tries to tell essentially the entire recorded history of Burma while also telling the history of his prominent Burmese family. Unfortunately, Thant bit off more than he could chew.

Any good history book doesn’t limit itself to a strictly chronological narrative, but The River of Lost Footsteps jumps around both far too much and with little apparent rhyme or reason. This is apparent from the start. Thant starts with a preface r
Azimah  Othman
Aug 24, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Trudging down the road of lost footsteps again........ a very complex road no doubt but touche to Myint-U for his effort in his attempt to tell us the story of his motherland. Bordered by two mighty empires in the north-east and north-west, impressive array of kingdoms in the east and sea routes of pirates, ancient mariners and foreign naval powers along the south, I can appreciate the violence that have pervaded this country that we have come to know as Myanmar today.

This is my first reading o
Jul 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Excellent, highly readable and enjoyable overview of the country formerly known as Burma. My number #1 recommendation when a friend asks for an introductory book on Myanmar.

One correction: The correct date for the Portuguese travel writer Duarte Barbosa is the 1500s, not the 1600s. (He was the brother-in-law of Ferdinand Magellan and died in the Philippines on May 1, 1521--one month after Magellan.)

An additional recommendation: Not a book, but an excellent DVD I've just watched that I want to r
Dec 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
There are two ways to review this: as a book about history, or as a history book. As a book about Myanmar's history, it's a terrific introduction to the country, from the early kingdoms to the present day (or the book's present day anyway, which is 2006 -- so the recent, dramatic democratic changes are not included). Thant Myint-U ably mixes a scholarly (but not dry) recounting of that history with his own family stories (his grandfather was UN Secretary General U Thant, a founding father of mod ...more
Babak Fakhamzadeh
A somewhat rambling account of Burmese history which gets somewhat more coherent and readable starting from the events of the disbanding of the Burmese monarchy in the late 1880s. Published in 2007, before the recent thawing in Burmese politics.

The author a few mistakes when describing some aspects of the Chinese, Mongol and Indian influencers on Burmese history and, overall, is unable to put down a coherent narrative; some aspects are explained in too much detail, for others all relevant detail
Jul 25, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Traces the entire history of Burma from its founding, countless border wars and incursions with its neighbors, through the british colonisation, ww2 and up to post independence. Well written and did not feel draggy at all, although I stopped at post ww2 since modern history I feel is less interesting. A nation with a heritage of conquest to be proud of, thus explaining to a large extent the strong militaristic traditions to this day.
Aug 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
Thant Myint-U, the grandson of U-Thant, who headed the United Nations for many years, grew up speaking both Burmese and English. This fluency is reflected in his writing. THE RIVER OF LOST FOOTSTEPS eloquently presents his family history, the history of Burma, and the story of recent political shifts and turmoil. He is able to present history as dramatic stories made up of vivid scenes. In the year 2000, when Burma was still under the thumb of the military dictatorship, I spent some time there. ...more
Sep 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
U Thant Myint-U's writing style kept me wanting to continue reading and learning about Burma's history. It is especially worthwhile to read the book until the point of the military junta - it's clear, succinct and interesting. I had troubles following up after that as the story was less direct and rather divided in more parallel stories - but that's due to the complicated history - Burma's civil war, military rule and democratic revolutions all happened in parallel. Overall a great introduction ...more
Oct 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A very interesting book to discover the history of Myanmar. A little difficult to get into it at first but as the History unfolds, it gets easier to follow. Even though it is not always written in chronological order, Thant Myint U does a great job at putting all the facts in perspective and showing us the reality of a country too often overlooked.
A particularly great read before diving into the country full head!
Jul 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A fascinating history of Burma, full of nuance and very readable.
Lisa Rosen
Dec 16, 2016 rated it really liked it
Excellent overview of Burmese history UP TO 2006.
Mar 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
Game of Thones in real life, with more blood, incest, politics and other tragic circumstances
Alex Zakharov
Dec 06, 2015 rated it really liked it
Got the book before a trip to Myanmar, hoping for something better than a travel guide and with a wider historical lens than Orwell’s “Burmese Stories”, and was pleasantly surprised with the outcome. In contrast to most books on Burma which fixate on last 60 years and the role of Aung San Suu the “River of Lost Footsteps” provides a broad historical sweep from 200AD to modern day and paints an abject lesson in failed empire building.

Burma’s history is often overshadowed by its neighbors - China
Feb 23, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Every citizens of Burma Pyi
ok, where do I have to start? This book is the best book I have read about Burma. It includes the history before the time and ends at the today conflicts. From the time when Burmese becomes and to the today Burma's political dilemma. Every Burmese should read this book. It really will give the readers, the true history about Burma, like why the civil war broke out, reason behind the suppression of military regime, about our Bogyoke Aung San,about playboy General Ne Win, a devout buddhist and fir ...more
Feb 20, 2016 rated it really liked it
Written by the grandson of former UN Secretary General U Thant, this is a fascinating, well-written, and readable history of Burma - I recommend it for anyone with a interest in Burma, British colonialism, general Southeast and South Asian history, Japan's influence on the region through its WWII aggressions, the counterproductive effect of Western sanctions on the region's political stability and human rights issues, and a wide variety of other related subtopics. I only have three complaints - ...more
Min Han
Oct 31, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This was eye-opening, 350-pages journey of that took me from the early foundation of modern Myanmar to 2007 Saffron revolution. For me, the history I knew and learned focused and largely centered on a few fiery characters of ancient kings and modern leaders, who in good times, either built the successful empires spanned across from Manipuri to Indochina peninsula or struggled with war-ravaged country in bad times. The book reconnects the dots and places the Myanmar history in the global context ...more
Jan 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book is an easy to read and concise history of Burma over the last thousand years. I read it while traveling to Burma recently and would highly recommend to others who plan to visit.

However, the reader must realize that this book goes beyond being a concise history. In my opinion, the author is trying to argue that:
1. Burma has existed in its current form - current borders, a Burmese-speaking majority, and Theravada Buddhism as the dominant religion - since the 11th century. Unlike many cou
Nicholas Whyte[return][return]Thant Myint-U sees the fundamental problems of the country as rooted in the disintegration of the structures of government immediately after the British conquest in 1885; from then on, the Burmese faced extraordinary hurdles in getting things together. The history of foreign involvement goes way back, of course, with for instance the Portuguese playing a very prominent role from much earlier than I had realised. But Myint-U really gets into ...more
Dec 08, 2014 rated it really liked it
This book is a clear and very readable introduction to Burma and its history for US and European readers who want to understand Burma well. This is actually two books woven into one: about 80% of the book is well-written and fast-paced history of Burma, with many insights into how Burma's history intersects with global history and about 20% of the book is about a personal memoir of the author and his observations about Burma today, with many stories drawn from the author's interesting family his ...more
Nov 17, 2014 rated it really liked it
Overall this is a nice book to read.

Although being a Burmese myself, it's an eye opener for me to discover such a long history of my own country.

In my opinion, I think keeping the chronological order would save my reading time.

As well I found myself a bit lost whenever I spot discrepancies from chapter to chapter. For instance on describing U Nu's character:

"The man who would one day guide Burma through its early years of independence was in his youth, by his own account, "a devil may care fel
Dec 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is a fascinating and compelling history of Burma written by a member of a family entwined in that history. I found the book fascinating and hard to put down, especially as it progressed through post WW2 times. It is a lesson in how important it is to understand history as a way to understand how we got here (wherever Burma is now) and what might be the next steps for that country. Having just returned from Burma, where I fear nothing is as it seems, Thant Mint-U provides a framework in whic ...more
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Thant Myint-U was educated at Harvard and Cambridge University and later taught history for several years as a Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge. He has also served on three United Nations peacekeeping operations, in Cambodia and the former Yugoslavia, as well as with the United Nations Secretariat in New York. He is the author of a personal history of Burma, The River of Lost Footsteps.
More about Thant Myint-U...
“Aung San spent the rest of 1940 in the Japanese capital, learning Japanese and apparently getting swept away in all the fascist euphoria surrounding him. “What we want is a strong state administration as exemplified in Germany and Japan. There shall be one nation, one state, one party, one leader . . . there shall be no nonsense of individualism. Everyone must submit to the state which is supreme over the individual . . . ,” he wrote in those heady days of the Rising Sun.8 He spoke Japanese, wore a kimono, and even took a Japanese name. He then sneaked back into Burma, landing secretly at Bassein. He changed into a longyi and then took the train unnoticed to Rangoon. He made contact with his old colleagues. Within weeks, in small batches and with the help of Suzuki’s secret agents in Rangoon, Aung San and his new select team traveled by sea to the Japanese-controlled island of Hainan, in the South China Sea. There were thirty in all—the Thirty Comrades—and they would soon be immortalized in nationalist mythology. Aung San at twenty-five was one of the three oldest. He took Teza meaning “Fire” as his nom de guerre. The other two took the names Setkya (A Magic Weapon) and Ne Win (the Bright Sun). All thirty prefixed their names with the title Bo. “Bo” meant an officer and had come to be the way all Europeans in Burma were referred to, signifying their ruling status. The Burmese were now to have their own “bo” for the first time since 1885. But six months of harsh Japanese military training still lay ahead. It wasn’t easy, and at one point some of the younger men were close to calling it quits. Aung San, Setkya, and Ne Win received special training, as they were intended for senior positions. But all had to pass through the same grueling physical tests, saluting the Japanese flag and learning to sing Japanese songs. They heard tales of combat and listened to Suzuki boasting of how he had killed women and children in Siberia.9 It was a bonding experience that would shape Burmese politics for decades to come.” 0 likes
“Independence Army (BIA) under Colonel Suzuki’s enthusiastic supervision. Suzuki himself had taken the Burmese nom de guerre Bo Mogyo, meaning “the Thunderbolt,” an astute choice that played on the (allegedly) old local prophecy that “the umbrella” (meaning “the British”) would eventually be struck down by “the thunderbolt.” Tokyo had yet to decide its Burma policy as both the” 0 likes
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