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The Hidden History of Burma: Race, Capitalism, and the Crisis of Democracy in the 21st Century

4.17  ·  Rating details ·  874 ratings  ·  144 reviews
Precariously positioned between China and India, Burma’s population has suffered dictatorship, natural disaster, and the dark legacies of colonial rule. But when decades of military dictatorship finally ended and internationally beloved Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi emerged from long years of house arrest, hopes soared. World leaders such as Barack Obama ushered in waves ...more
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published November 12th 2019 by W. W. Norton Company
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Mikey B.
I read this book for the purpose of enlightening myself on Myanmar. I have been reading of the crisis of the Rohingya refugees and of the new leader of Myanmar – Aung San Suu Kyi who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990.

The author grew up in the United States. In the last twenty years he has participated in U.N. projects to develop Myanmar. He implies that Burma’s new name of Myanmar has a strong tribal nationalistic meaning – throughout his book he uses the name “Burma” rather than Myanmar
From the West, it is easy to romanticize Burma. It was easy to portray it as all innocent people slumbering under the reign of tyrants, as the British did before they invaded and despoiled it. It is easy to romanticize it as a land of pagodas and rolling hills alone, as Rudyard Kipling did, and as Hollywood did, but in different ways. These simple narratives obscure the long history of the place, and following these stories which so many believed to be true led to serious mistakes in understandi ...more
Jul 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
(Note: I received an ARC of this book courtesy of NetGalley)

Having already written several great works on Burma’s history and its modern challenges, Thant Myint-U once more rises to the challenge and again shows himself to be one of its foremost experts with his latest book, The Hidden History of Burma. After being deeply personally involved in the momentous shifts that Burma has undergone in the last few years, he has combined his extensive personal and professional experiences with his scholar
The Hidden History of Burma: Race, Capitalism, and the Crisis of Democracy in the 21st Century, by Thant Myint-U, is an interesting and concise account of Burmese history from pre-colonial times to the present (2019). The author is the grandson of former UN General Secretary U Thant, and his family have been a part of Burmese politics since that point - his grandfathers funeral being an important early moment in the Burma's fledgling democracy movement. The author utilizes a narrative history st ...more
Aung Paing
May 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Really opened up my eyes to what's actually happening in Burma, and this is coming from a Burmese citizen ...more
Apr 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: own, 2020-read
It is impossible for me to read a non-fiction book in one sit and to finish it within days is even far more unlikely. But this book, I completed it in two days. It was also the first book in 2020 which successfully separated me from Netflix. This book is a riveting account of what Burma has been through over the period with its complex issues over race and identity. Being a historian as well as a former diplomat, and a presidential advisor, Thant Myint-U splendidly and most-humanely told a behin ...more
Dec 28, 2019 rated it it was ok
I really wanted to love this book but I just did not. Myint-U’s writing style was to me mediocre at best. It often times felt like I was reading a 9th grade term paper. I could not help but feel anxious for the book to be over.
There was a lot of informative information about the history of Burma and the current political situation but it felt oddly biased and I could not get past the poor delivery.
This book may be for some people but it was certainly not for me and I would not recommend it des

I have a fascination with other places. Specifically other places I know nearly nothing about. The less I know about it, the more interested I tend to be. Burma/Myanmar is absolutely that kind of foreign local for me. I know where it is on a map. I know it has a very harsh, military rule, and I know the bullet points of the recent Rohingya genocide. Also, Aung San Suu Kyi. As for people in the West, I’m pretty sure I knew basically the same amount of infor
Dec 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
What happened when the 'local' (the generals, the activists, the academics, the businessmen) and the 'international' (the diplomats, the experts, the samaritans, and the global capitalists) suddenly came together to negotiate and deliver goals as elusive and intractable as democracy, development, modernity, and peace to a country like Myanmar whose history and complex realities have usually been, both domestically and aboard, reduced to narratives of 'good versus evil' and 'us versus them'? To m ...more
Su Mon  Myo
Jun 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
Starting from 18th Century to 21st century, the book depicts about the colonial times, the socialist times, the military junta takeover, the economic resurrection during U Thein Sein presidency, the democracy of 21st Century and the most recent Rohingya Crisis. The book is very easy to read and such a page turner. Definitely for those who are interested in the background of contemporary Burma.
Mar 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
To be honest, I do not have much knowledge about Burmese History and Politics. As a Burmese, I always think like "What? Why? Should we have some significant changes by now? What is happening? Which news outlets should I trust to be able to understand Rohingya issues?"

Burma and its issues are too complex. Getting to know all the information with a proper timeline while backing up with solid reference data is nearly impossible for a reader like me. In this book, you will be able to find the writer
Jan 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Thant Myint U writes so well, clearly and simply about a country and its issues that are complex in the least. Fascinating, immediate account of a country that seems to have captured the attention of the western world because of a single lady and because of her, again seems to be losing interest, which is a tragedy!
Naung Bayint
Jul 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
I first learnt of Thant Myint-U from his book The River of Lost Footsteps. I was overjoyed with this work as this was the first modern era history book on Burma written in English.

In Hidden History, Thant Myint-U has nicely laid out the historical basis for the current politics of identity in Burma. Beginning with the British colonial rule in the 19th century where the seeds were laid to current day ethnic armed conflicts that dominate the more recent news cycle on Burma in international media.
Sean Lee
Feb 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
Never knew anything about Burma before this. Author is an authoratitive figure on the politics concerning the region in the present-day. Would recommend for anyone looking to learn a thing or two about the country's history. ...more
Zin Yaw Lwin
Nov 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Great account on Burma's recent history and its problems. A must read if you want to understand the challenges and issues Burma faces today including Rohingya issue. ...more
Stephen King
Feb 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I very much enjoyed this, as I have other histories by Thant Myint-U. It provides much little known historical context for the continued communal tensions in Burma and a perspective from an insider during the considerable upheavals and reforms of the last ten years.
Jay Hong
Mar 22, 2021 rated it really liked it
With the unfolding events of recent days looking very much like a repeat of 1990, this book really helped me delve deeper into the complexities of Burmese politics and its agents, dispelling any rosy notions of the sleepy nation coming into its own and embracing its democratic potential.

If anything, the key part of this book is suggested in its title: the "hidden" histories that observers have yet to fully uncover; that is the myriad of ethnic conflicts that have persisted since the founding of
Paul Downs
Feb 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Picked this up as I know absolutely nothing about Burma, and it looked interesting. Who knew Burma had such a complex history? Not me: one of the luxuries of being a prosperous American is that I can remain utterly ignorant about much of the world without much harm to my own success. My brother and sister visited Burma in 1984 and took some beautiful pictures of the temples of Pagan (?). Otherwise, to me, Burma is a blank slate. Now I know more. Frankly, Burma is a mess: warring ethnic groups ov ...more
Mark Walker
Mar 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book is a must-read, by the grandson of former Secretary-General of the United Nations U Thant. There are uncanny analogs (in substance, not necessarily degree) between Burma/Myanmar and other countries, including the US. Here you'll find a narrative in objective voice of tribal conflict, racial hatred, populist and nationalist resentment, as well as fear and loathing of immigrants and the resultant persecution of them. Add to this mix a long history of post-colonial authoritarian military ...more
Aug 03, 2020 rated it really liked it
An incredibly insightful overview of the history of Burma that seeks to outline the country’s most pressing issues today, how all the pieces came into place, sometimes in the wrong times and places. It is a story “Hidden” from the West, who had seen the country, and Aung San Su Kyi, as a darling for democracy, without also seeing the internal conflicts of power she has to balance- forced into a bureaucratic web gifted to her by her predecessor. It also sheds light on the other side of the Rohing ...more
Arya Harsono
Feb 18, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kindle
I was shocked to learn about the recent coup in Burma and realized I knew nothing about the country other than "the image of Burma that was being carved in stone: wicked generals, a faultless icon, and an innocent people waiting for salvation." My only associations with Burma were the brief glimpses I caught of Aung San Suu Kyi being celebrated on the news and then how she became vilified for her silence on the Rohingya conflicts.

I finished this book in one sitting - Burma's history is a fascin
Marc Menz
May 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Quite an eye opener. Well written, pithy and mostly unbiased, this was a brilliant introduction to the complexities of Burma’s 21st century messiness. Of course the West’s view of things isn’t always as simple as the media makes them out to be, and simply criticising leaders or sanctioning entire nations isn’t really the best way forward. Understanding the legacies of colonialism, the ethnic complexities and the fragility of democracy in nations like Burma is key - and this book does a fantastic ...more
Somatic Dye soeyunaing
Dec 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
All my foreign friends, I invite all of you to read this book to have a better understanding of Burma.

First and foremost, this is not a typical history book. Thant Myint-U is a stellar historian and storyteller. What strikes me the most was how international sanctions imposed by the US, Europe, and the UK, caused more harm, exacerbating poverty and inequality among Burmese citizens.

The main message to me is that the challenges Burma face after the military dictatorship are extremely complex giv
Jul 21, 2020 rated it really liked it
A lucid, insightful and intimate history of Myanmar, aimed primarily at explaining the roots of the country’s current political situation (crimes against humanity against the Rohingya, deepening wealth inequality, reignited insurgencies, and the West’s disillusionment with ASSK). Highly readable, and recommended.
Anthony Nelson
Mar 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A modern tragedy, Thant Myint-U's beautifully written, insightful, and deeply sad narrative takes us through the failures, mistakes, and systemic challenges that have plagued Myanmar and its leaders as they try to remake their country into a modern, prosperous nation. I spent a great deal of time in Myanmar during this period and worked closely with many of the authors he mentioned, and his portraits are spot on, but he explores depths that will reveal new truths even to those who know the count ...more
Oct 09, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Surprisely, Egress team helped a lot ex-generals (ministers, especially U Aung Min) for the reforming ideas during U Thein Sein led government.
John Machata
Feb 11, 2021 rated it really liked it
Extraordinarily well-written. Insightful. Changed my view of all foreign policy.
Dec 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A must read for anyone interested in the current events in Burma from the unique insider/outsider perspective of Thant Myint-U.
Jul 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
Written by the grandson of an UN Secretary General, it is an engrossing account of Myanmar's relatively peaceful transition from the military junta regime to democracy. This book also examines the recent plight of the Rohingya refugees and the historical drivers that have brought us to where we are today. ...more
Contrary to one of the blurbs on the back of the paperback, I would not call Thant Myint-U's writing elegant - the first two chapters feel particularly unwieldy, and the manner in which he jumps forward and backward across several decades within the span of a page becomes slightly tedious. At risk of feeling more academic, a chronological organization of the book would have provided a lot more clarity and cohesion.

But do not let that dissuade you from reading this book. It is short and densely f
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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.

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