From the Ruins of Empire: The Intellectuals Who Remade Asia

Pankaj Mishra, Author
Pankaj Mishra. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $27 (368p) ISBN 978-0-374-24959-5
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Indian-British historian and international affairs commentator Mishra (Temptations of the West) looks at how, between about 1870 and 1940, “some of the most intelligent and sensitive people in the East responded to the encroachments of the West (both physical and intellectual) on their societies.” In particular, he focuses on Jamal al-Din al-Afghani and Liang Qichao, intellectuals and political activists. Born in a small town in Iran, al-Afghani was the ultimate Islamic cosmopolitan, living for periods of time in Delhi, Kabul, Istanbul, Cairo, Tehran, London, Moscow, and Paris. Ultimately, al-Afghani anticipated today’s Islamists as “the first thinker to see the concepts ‘Islam’ and ‘the West’ as violently opposed binaries.” Chinese thinker Liang insightfully criticized the Western imperialism that devastated much of Asia well into the 20th century, favored Japanese authoritarianism with a modernist bent over American democracy (with its racism and corporate domination of the electoral process), and remained a believer in Confucianism to the end of his life. Mishra looks more briefly at a third figure, the Bengali philosopher and writer Rabindranath Tagore, and such individuals as Ho Chi Minh and the pre-Khomeini Iranian Islamist Ali Shariati make “cameo” appearances. Well-researched and crisply written, this scintillating work will help American readers understand the political and intellectual roots of Islamism and other non- and anti-Western thought in Asia today. Agent: Amanda Urban. (Aug.)
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