The best 28 Asian History books

Exploring Asian history opens a door to cultures, traditions, and events that have shaped our world profoundly. This book list offers a nuanced view of the complexities and richness of Asian history, making it easier to grasp the intricacies of this diverse region.

Immerse yourself in these compelling narratives to gain a deeper appreciation for the heritage and influences that have molded Asia's past and present. Ready to broaden your horizons and dive into the captivating stories of Asian history?

The best 28 Asian History books
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1
Asian History Books: Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo

Behind the Beautiful Forevers

Katherine Boo
Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Slum
4.2 (23 ratings)
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00:00

What's Behind the Beautiful Forevers about?

Behind the Beautiful Forevers describes life in the Annawadi slum in India, close to Mumbai’s international airport. These blinks tell the story of families who live in squalid conditions but still dream of a better life, even though the odds are overwhelmingly against them.

Who should read Behind the Beautiful Forevers?

  • Anyone who wants to know about life in the slums of Mumbai
  • Anyone who liked the movie Slumdog Millionaire
  • Anyone who wants to understand the damage caused by corruption

2
Asian History Books: Fukushima by David Lochbaum, Edwin Lyman, Susan Q. Stranahan and the Union of Concerned Scientists

Fukushima

David Lochbaum, Edwin Lyman, Susan Q. Stranahan and the Union of Concerned Scientists
The Story of a Nuclear Disaster
3.9 (78 ratings)
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00:00

What's Fukushima about?

Fukushima (2014) tells the story of how one of the biggest tsunamis in Japan’s history combined with government neglect, corporate interest and propaganda to create the most serious nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. The book was written by the Union of Concerned Scientists, a nonprofit that brings together science and political advocacy.

Who should read Fukushima?

  • Anyone who believes nuclear energy is “safe”
  • People who want to know more about the Fukushima disaster

3
Asian History Books: Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick

Nothing to Envy

Barbara Demick
Real Lives in North Korea
4.3 (41 ratings)
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What's Nothing to Envy about?

Nothing to Envy (2010) presents fascinating first-hand anecdotes from North Korean defectors, giving intimate insights into the lives of North Koreans under the rule of Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-il and Kim Jong-un. The thousands of refugees who arrive in South Korea each year bring with them stories of famine, repression and an isolated nation that has fallen out of touch with the developed world.

Who should read Nothing to Envy?

  • Anyone interested in North Korea
  • Anyone who wants to know what it’s like to live under a communist dictatorship
  • Those curious about the lives of defectors and refugees

4
Asian History Books: How Asia Works by Joe Studwell

How Asia Works

Joe Studwell
Success and Failure in the World’s Most Dynamic Region
4.0 (64 ratings)
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What's How Asia Works about?

How Asia Works examines the economic development of nine Asian countries and, in the process, sketches a blueprint for other developing nations seeking to achieve sustainable economic growth. Joe Studwell explains why some Asian economies have boomed while others have fallen behind, revealing what history has proved works – and what doesn’t.

Who should read How Asia Works?

  • Anyone interested in developing economies and international economics
  • Asian history enthusiasts

5
Asian History Books: Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford

Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World

Jack Weatherford
4.3 (335 ratings)
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What's Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World about?

These blinks will make you re-examine what you thought you knew about the Mongols of the twelfth century. They’ll show you why it’s unfair to imagine them as uncivilized barbarians. Indeed, the Mongol army under Genghis Khan and his descendants brought trade, civilization and order – the Mongol Empire contributed to the making of the modern world.

Who should read Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World?

  • Historians interested in the construction of historical narratives
  • Global citizens interested in the roots of the modern world
  • Students of political science

6
Asian History Books: Killing the Rising Sun by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard

Killing the Rising Sun

Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard
How America Vanquished World War II Japan
4.3 (81 ratings)
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00:00

What's Killing the Rising Sun about?

Killing the Rising Sun (2016) tells the story of the Pacific War, which took place between 1941 and 1945, and its main belligerents, the United States and Japan. From the attack on Pearl Harbor to bloody invasions of Japan to the development of the world’s first atomic bomb, the book portrays the brutality of World War II from a US perspective, and describes how the war was eventually won.

Who should read Killing the Rising Sun?

  • Fans of world history and politics
  • Military enthusiasts
  • Anyone obsessed with or fascinated by the story of World War II

7
Asian History Books: Hue 1968 by Mark Bowden

Hue 1968

Mark Bowden
A Turning Point of the American War in Vietnam
4.4 (64 ratings)
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What's Hue 1968 about?

The Vietnam War is remembered as one of the longest and bloodiest conflicts of the twentieth century. At the end of 1967, the US government was assuring the public the war was almost won; by February 1968, that was no longer the case. In Hue 1968 (2017) Mark Bowden examines the battle in the city of Hue which changed the way the American public viewed the war.

Who should read Hue 1968?

  • Anyone interested in modern American history
  • Students of politics or international relations
  • Soldiers and veterans

8
Asian History Books: A River in Darkness by Masaji Ishikawa

A River in Darkness

Masaji Ishikawa
One Man’s Escape from North Korea
4.5 (53 ratings)
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What's A River in Darkness about?

A River in Darkness (2000) is the harrowing true story of one man’s life in and eventual escape from the brutal dictatorship of North Korea. Born in Japan, Masaji Ishikawa was one of hundreds of thousands of Koreans who moved to the country between the 1950s and 1980s. His memoir chronicles the life of drudgery, terror and endless hardship that awaited them.

Who should read A River in Darkness?

  • Human rights advocates
  • History buffs fascinated by the Cold War
  • Anyone who loves true life stories

9
Asian History Books: The Silk Roads by Peter Frankopan

The Silk Roads

Peter Frankopan
A New History of the World
4.6 (220 ratings)
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What's The Silk Roads about?

The Silk Roads (2015) is a comprehensive history of the world, written with an eye to the networks of trade that shaped it. The networks of trade first established in ancient Persia and later linked with Chinese trade routes created a great network between the East and the West. But these Silk Roads are not relics of the past. They have morphed and changed, and their impact can be felt today, right down to America’s fateful engagement in the region where it all began.

Who should read The Silk Roads?

  • Economists looking for historical parallels
  • Intrigued followers of world events who want to learn about trade
  • Historians of all stripes

10
Asian History Books: Billion Dollar Whale by Tom Wright and Bradley Hope

Billion Dollar Whale

Tom Wright and Bradley Hope
The Man Who Fooled Wall Street, Hollywood, and the World
4.5 (168 ratings)
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What's Billion Dollar Whale about?

Billion Dollar Whale (2018) is the definitive account of how a quick-witted and calculating Malaysian social climber called Jho Low defrauded a national investment fund and pulled off one of the twenty-first century’s most audacious heists. The fruit of years of painstaking research by two of America’s top investigative journalists, it sheds light on the shadowy workings of a globe-spanning network of swindlers, crooks and hustlers.

Who should read Billion Dollar Whale?

  • True-life story fanatics who love a rip-roaring yarn
  • Would-be detectives with a feel for finance 
  • Number-crunchers, bankers and accountants 

11
Asian History Books: China In Ten Words by Yu Hua

China In Ten Words

Yu Hua
4.1 (106 ratings)
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What's China In Ten Words about?

China in Ten Words (2012) explores the way modern China talks about itself and probes what that tells us about its past, present and likely future. Honing in on ten common concepts, author Yu Huan tells the story of a nation that has seemingly changed beyond recognition, yet in many ways remains closer to its revolutionary origins than one might believe.

Who should read China In Ten Words?

  • Students of the history of Communist China
  • Linguists curious about how language shapes cultural concepts
  • Those who are fascinated by the modern “Chinese Miracle”

12
Asian History Books: India After Gandhi by Ramachandra Guha

India After Gandhi

Ramachandra Guha
The History of the World’s Largest Democracy
4.5 (147 ratings)
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What's India After Gandhi about?

India after Gandhi (2007) chronicles the story of post-independence India. For centuries, the country was ruled by colonial overlords, but that changed in 1947. After a long struggle for independence, Indians gained self-rule. Since then, the journey hasn’t been easy, but India remains a persevering and determined democracy – and the largest the world has ever seen.

Who should read India After Gandhi?

  • Students of history interested in the region of south Asia
  • Indians looking to learn more about their contemporary history
  • Political junkies looking to clue into a new region

13
Asian History Books: Leadership and the Rise of Great Powers by Yan Xuetong

Leadership and the Rise of Great Powers

Yan Xuetong
3.8 (65 ratings)
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What's Leadership and the Rise of Great Powers about?

Leadership and the Rise of Great Powers (2019) considers the way that leadership determines the fate of nations. Yan Xuetong reflects on the rise of China and the USA’s diminishing stature while speculating on how the international order might look like in a few decades.

Who should read Leadership and the Rise of Great Powers?

  • Anyone interested in Sino-American relations
  • Geopolitics buffs
  • Those working in international relations

14
Asian History Books: The Anarchy by William Dalrymple

The Anarchy

William Dalrymple
The East India Company, Corporate Violence, and the Pillage of an Empire
4.5 (157 ratings)
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00:00

What's The Anarchy about?

The Anarchy (2019) details how the East India Company, an English joint-stock corporation, came to rule the British economy – and the fates of 200 million South Asians. From its founding in 1599 by privateers and pirates to its time as master of the largest standing army in South Asia, the Company fanned the flames of anarchy, then used the resulting chaos as an opportunity to loot an empire.  

Who should read The Anarchy?

  • History hounds so appalled by colonialism that they can’t look away
  • Those interested in how corporations came to rule our lives
  • Travel junkies looking to contextualize their time in India

15
Asian History Books: Myanmar's Enemy Within by Francis Wade

Myanmar's Enemy Within

Francis Wade
Buddhist Violence and the Making of a Muslim “Other”
4.5 (84 ratings)
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00:00

What's Myanmar's Enemy Within about?

Myanmar’s Enemy Within (2017) examines a shocking outburst of violence against an ethnic minority – the Rohingya Muslims in western Myanmar. Beginning with an account of the events of 2012 and 2013, these blinks work their way back to explain the historical context of anti-Muslim resentment in the country. Along the way, they explore the legacies of British colonialism, the rise of nationalism, and the country’s troubled transition to democracy.

Who should read Myanmar's Enemy Within?

  • History buffs 
  • News addicts who want to dig deeper 
  • Anyone interested in contemporary Asian politics

16
Asian History Books: Nine Lives by William Dalrymple

Nine Lives

William Dalrymple
In Search of the Sacred in Modern India
4.1 (88 ratings)
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What's Nine Lives about?

Nine Lives (2009) is a study of spirituality and religion in contemporary India. Drawing on William Dalrymple’s in-depth interviews with religious practitioners, these blinks will whisk us from Tibet to Karnataka to Kerala and West Bengal as we explore four remarkable – and remarkably pious – lives. Along the way, we’ll unpack the social and historical context in which these believers’ faiths emerged and continue to be practiced.

Who should read Nine Lives?

  • Globetrotters fascinated by the world’s diversity 
  • Atheists interested in what motivates the faithful
  • History buffs

17
Asian History Books: Minor Feelings by Cathy Park Hong

Minor Feelings

Cathy Park Hong
A Reckoning on Race and the Asian Condition
3.8 (51 ratings)
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What's Minor Feelings about?

Minor Feelings (2020) is poet Cathy Park Hong’s searing account of life as an Asian American. Drawing on her own experiences alongside penetrating insights, it paints a picture of the purgatorial status that Asian Americans still face.

Who should read Minor Feelings?

  • Those looking to explore what it means to be Asian in the United States today
  • Memoir lovers
  • People who want to expand their understanding of racial issues

18
Asian History Books: Maoism by Julia Lovell

Maoism

Julia Lovell
A Global History
4.3 (86 ratings)
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What's Maoism about?

Maoism (2019) is a deep dive into Maoist ideology, tracing the origins of the movement in the caves of northwest China to the jungles of India, the high Andean sierra, and the California city parks where The Black Panthers did their military drills. Maoism is a movement that’s hardly limited to China or even Asia.

Who should read Maoism?

  • Anyone looking to bone up on Chinese history
  • Followers of leftist politics
  • Those interested in transnational historical arcs

19
Asian History Books: Becoming Kim Jong Un by Jung H. Pak

Becoming Kim Jong Un

Jung H. Pak
A Former CIA Officer's Insights into North Korea's Enigmatic Young Dictator
4.2 (66 ratings)
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00:00

What's Becoming Kim Jong Un about?

Becoming Kim Jong Un (2020) tells the story of the North Korean dictator from his childhood as the son and grandson of two infamous Korean leaders through to his momentous summit with American president Donald Trump. Setting aside the insults and jokes about Kim that the media and internet often perpetuate, it takes a serious look at Kim’s enigmatic persona and behavior and diagnoses the grave threat that he and his nation⁠ pose to the world.

Who should read Becoming Kim Jong Un?

  • People fascinated by international politics and global issues
  • History lovers
  • Anyone with an interest in modern Asia

20
Asian History Books: Bedtime Biography: An Autobiography by M.K. Gandhi

Bedtime Biography: An Autobiography

M.K. Gandhi
The Story of My Experiments With Truth
4.4 (247 ratings)
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00:00

What's Bedtime Biography: An Autobiography about?

Narrated by Marston York

An Autobiography (First published in two volumes; Volume 1, 1927, and Volume 2, 1929) is the autobiography of one of the world’s most famous political icons – Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. The book traverses his rebellious childhood, his early activism in South Africa and his work for the Indian Independence Movement up until 1920, and gives insight into Gandhi’s personal philosophy and his lifelong quest for Truth.

Who should read Bedtime Biography: An Autobiography?

  • Anyone interested in Gandhi’s life and personal philosophy
  • Students of history and political science
  • People cultivating leadership skills

21
Asian History Books: Hiroshima by John Hersey

Hiroshima

John Hersey
4.5 (218 ratings)
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What's Hiroshima about?

Hiroshima (1946 and 1985) is journalist John Hersey’s classic account of six survivors of the 1945 atom bomb attack on Japan. Amid the wreckage, these six lived to offer their accounts of the devastating experience.

Who should read Hiroshima?

  • History devotees
  • Character-driven non-fiction (or fiction) enthusiasts
  • Budding journalists

22
Asian History Books: A Passage to India by E. M. Forster

A Passage to India

E. M. Forster
3.8 (90 ratings)
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00:00

What's A Passage to India about?

A Passage to India explores the complex dynamics between the British colonialists and the Indian citizens in the setting of Chandrapore, a fictional city in British India. It delves into themes of friendship, culture clash, and the quest for understanding across cultural divides.

Who should read A Passage to India?

  • History enthusiasts  
  • Fans of British literature  
  • Cultural studies scholars

23
Asian History Books: Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie

Midnight's Children

Salman Rushdie
3.8 (109 ratings)
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00:00

What's Midnight's Children about?

Midnight’s Children (1981) is the tale of Saleem Sinai, a child born at the stroke of midnight on August 15, 1947 – the exact moment of India’s independence. This biographical and historical coincidence shapes his destiny, connecting him to a thousand other midnight’s children endowed with miraculous powers and intertwining his own fate with that of his nation. 

Who should read Midnight's Children?

  • Readers who enjoy historical fiction with a touch of magical realism
  • Individuals interested in exploring the themes of identity, nationalism, and postcolonialism
  • Those looking to delve into a complex and imaginative narrative that challenges conventional storytelling

24
Asian History Books: Hagakure by Yamamoto Tsunetomo & Alexander Bennett

Hagakure

Yamamoto Tsunetomo & Alexander Bennett
The Secret Wisdom of the Samurai
4.3 (180 ratings)
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00:00

What's Hagakure about?

Hagakure (1716) is a collection of insights and wisdom that serves as a guide to the way of the samurai, emphasizing honor, loyalty, and the acceptance of death. Its eleven books reflect on the virtues and ethics that governed the samurai’s life, offering advice and philosophical musings on living with integrity and courage.

Who should read Hagakure?

  • Enthusiasts of samurai lore and literature 
  • Students of Japanese history and culture 
  • Practitioners of martial arts

25
Asian History Books: New Cold Wars by David E. Sanger

New Cold Wars

David E. Sanger
China's Rise, Russia's Invasion, and America's Struggle to Defend the West
3.2 (45 ratings)
Listen to the Intro
00:00

What's New Cold Wars about?

New Cold Wars (2024) chronicles the United States’ confrontations with Russia and China as they vie for global supremacy. It details the turbulent struggle for military, economic, political, and technological dominance, exploring the pivotal questions of our era – from Ukraine’s battlefield to Taiwan’s tech hubs to the White House Situation Room.

Who should read New Cold Wars?

  • Political science enthusiasts
  • History buffs
  • Professionals in national security and defense

26
Asian History Books: Chinese Cinderella by Adeline Yen Mah

Chinese Cinderella

Adeline Yen Mah
The True Story of an Unwanted Daughter

What's Chinese Cinderella about?

Chinese Cinderella is a memoir by Adeline Yen Mah that tells the story of her difficult childhood in China. Born the fifth child to an affluent family, Adeline is treated as an unwanted daughter and faces emotional and physical abuse from her stepmother. Despite the hardships, she finds solace in her love for literature and eventually overcomes adversity to achieve success. This poignant and inspiring book sheds light on the power of resilience and the importance of pursuing one's dreams.

Who should read Chinese Cinderella?

  • Readers interested in stories of resilience and overcoming adversity
  • Individuals curious about Chinese culture and history
  • People seeking inspiration and motivation to overcome their own challenges

27
Asian History Books: Red Sorghum by Howard Goldblatt

Red Sorghum

Howard Goldblatt

What's Red Sorghum about?

Red Sorghum is actually a novel by Chinese author Mo Yan, translated by Howard Goldblatt. It tells the story of three generations of a Chinese family during the tumultuous years of the Japanese invasion and occupation of China. Filled with vivid descriptions and rich symbolism, the book explores themes of love, war, and the resilience of the human spirit.

Who should read Red Sorghum?

  • Readers who are interested in Chinese history and culture

  • Those who enjoy literary fiction with rich and vivid storytelling

  • Individuals who appreciate a unique narrative style and non-linear storytelling


What's The Secret Traditions of the Shinobi about?

The Secret Traditions of the Shinobi by Antony Cummins delves into the mysterious world of the ninja, revealing the hidden practices and philosophies of these legendary warriors. Drawing on historical texts and extensive research, the book uncovers the truth behind ninja myths and explores their unique techniques, strategies, and code of conduct. A fascinating read for anyone intrigued by the ancient art of ninjutsu.

Who should read The Secret Traditions of the Shinobi?

  • Enthusiasts of Japanese history and culture

  • Martial artists seeking to understand the origins of ninja techniques

  • Readers interested in uncovering the truth behind the myths and legends surrounding the shinobi


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Asian History Books
 FAQs 

What's the best Asian History book to read?

While choosing just one book about a topic is always tough, many people regard Behind the Beautiful Forevers as the ultimate read on Asian History.

What are the Top 10 Asian History books?

Blinkist curators have picked the following:
  • Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo
  • Fukushima by David Lochbaum, Edwin Lyman, Susan Q. Stranahan and the Union of Concerned Scientists
  • Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick
  • How Asia Works by Joe Studwell
  • Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford
  • Killing the Rising Sun by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard
  • Hue 1968 by Mark Bowden
  • A River in Darkness by Masaji Ishikawa
  • The Silk Roads by Peter Frankopan
  • Billion Dollar Whale by Tom Wright and Bradley Hope

Who are the top Asian History book authors?

When it comes to Asian History, these are the authors who stand out as some of the most influential:
  • Katherine Boo
  • David Lochbaum, Edwin Lyman, Susan Q. Stranahan and the Union of Concerned Scientists
  • Barbara Demick
  • Joe Studwell
  • Jack Weatherford