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A Short History of Laos: The Land in Between (A Short History of Asia…

by Grant Evans

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401579,265 (3.75)None
New in the Short History of Asia series, edited by Milton Osborne, this is a readable, well-informed and comprehensive history of Laos from the little-known pre-modern dynastic era to the present day.

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"The Land in Between" in the title is an incredibly apt way to describe Laos. Throughout its history it has been smothered by larger powers. First by neighboring mandalas--- kingdoms named so for the circular way in which their realms of power expanded outward from the capitals--- and their kings demanding conscript and taxes, then by the Chinese and Vietnamese, demanding much of the same, and eventually by the French who ruled in what can generously be called a unique interpretation of their newfound values of "liberté, égalité, fraternité". This brief early history is, in the book, a prelude to their most difficult and trying struggle: being caught between two world powers at the height of the Cold War.

It's a sad, and well-known, fact that Laos holds the unwanted distinction of being the most bombed place on earth (per capita). Most people can't locate it on a map. Yet for years it was used a point for proxy wars between the U.S., U.S.S.R, and the Ho Chi Minh army. A Short History of Laos details the intense domestic politics that awoke this sleepy, underdeveloped nation to the tragedy of war. There are unforgettable personalities, more than one coup, military strongmen, and battle-hardened generals hiding out in the landlocked country's barren hills. The style is perhaps pedantic, made for history buffs and scholars, but for those ready to tackle it, the book is a great introduction to Cold War Southeast Asian foreign policy. There are also ample cultural angles and context the author provides to explain events and domestic policy decisions. Everything is through the lens of the unique and sometimes bewildering Lao cultural norms.

In terms of interdisciplinary teaching, many chapters stand on their own and would be invaluable to any teacher who might want to spend a few class periods in another part of the world. An English teacher might focus a creative writing lesson on the giants of Lao lore said to inhabit the very real Plane of Jars. A history teacher would of course have plenty to talk about and some of these events could be used to give students a more nuanced understanding of the Cold War and its ramifications in different regions. ( )
  Jmason21 | Mar 12, 2018 |
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New in the Short History of Asia series, edited by Milton Osborne, this is a readable, well-informed and comprehensive history of Laos from the little-known pre-modern dynastic era to the present day.

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