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Ian Buruma's Top Book Recommendations

Want to know what books Ian Buruma recommends on their reading list? We've researched interviews, social media posts, podcasts, and articles to build a comprehensive list of Ian Buruma's favorite book recommendations of all time.


Hidden Force

The Hidden Force is a 1900 novel by the Dutch writer, L. Couperus. In the novel, the protagonist, Van Oudijck, a Dutch resident, faces his own demise as a result of his inability to see past his Western rationalism. The East Indian people and countryside have no effect on him, and the ambiance of Java, coupled with the adverse behavior of their Javanese subjects, prove more powerful than the might and power of the colonials. less
Recommended by Ian Buruma, and 1 others.

Ian BurumaIn a way this is a bit like Passage to India, although it was written earlier, at the very beginning of the 20th century. It’s a very early example of a novelist who saw the futility of colonialism, and how a small number of Europeans – in this case the Dutch rulers of the Dutch East Indies – thought they knew what they were doing. Like Forster, he’s not being polemical. But he does describe,... (Source)

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The Inland Sea

"Earns its place on the very short shelf of books on Japan that are of permanent value."—Times Literary Supplement.

"Richie is a stupendous travel writer; the book shines with bright witticisms, deft characterizations of fisherfolk, merchants, monks and wistful adolescents, and keen comparisons of Japanes and Western culture." —San Francisco Chronicle

"A learned, beautifully paced elegy."—London Review of Books

Sheltered between Japan’s major islands lies the Inland Sea, a place modernity passed by. In this classic travel memoir, Donald...
Recommended by Ian Buruma, and 1 others.

Ian BurumaDonald Richie, who died earlier this year, was a great friend and mentor of mine. He first arrived in Japan in 1947, when Japan was still occupied by the United States, and he stayed there, as a journalist and a writer, more or less until his death. He introduced Japanese cinema to the West through his books. The Inland Sea, which was written in the sixties, is his love poem to Japan as he viewed... (Source)

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A Passage to India

When Adela Quested and her elderly companion Mrs Moore arrive in the Indian town of Chandrapore, they quickly feel trapped by its insular and prejudiced 'Anglo-Indian' community. Determined to escape the parochial English enclave and explore the 'real India', they seek the guidance of the charming and mercurial Dr Aziz, a cultivated Indian Muslim. But a mysterious incident occurs while they are exploring the Marabar caves with Aziz, and the well-respected doctor soon finds himself at the centre of a scandal that rouses violent passions among both the British and their Indian subjects. A... more
Recommended by Ian Buruma, and 1 others.

Ian BurumaOne of the novel’s strengths is that it’s not polemical. It’s very clear that Forster disapproved of colonial rule, but he doesn’t paint a caricature of brutal Brits and Indian victims. It’s much more subtle than that. The character of Cyril Fielding, the young Englishman full of goodwill, is true to life in that a lot of British people in India at the time did a lot of good – but in the end it... (Source)

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Chinese Shadows

The second of Leys's trilogy on China's Cultural Revolution, describing the cultural and political upheaval under Mao's regime and expressing criticism of its Western supporters. less

Ian BurumaThis book came like a bolt of lightning, because in the seventies – despite the fact that the Cultural Revolution was still going on – many China watchers were starry eyed about Maoism as a wonderful experiment. Those who went to China saw what they wanted to see, and usually came back with glowing accounts of a New China, and a uniquely collective and altruistic human being not driven by... (Source)

Richard McGregorHe was a great defender of Chinese culture, and the refinements of Chinese culture. He wrote a wonderful essay once on the art of calligraphy. But he made a trip back to China in 1976 and was absolutely horrified at the changes that had taken place. For example, Mao had knocked down the old city walls. There’s one chapter where he goes to find one of the famous old city gates, which he thinks has... (Source)

Orville SchellHe is a marvellous writer, and was one of those people who dared to say things. The book came out in 1977, as interest in China was beginning to incubate. He was in Beijing and he looked at the toll that had been taken on Chinese culture, archaeology, religion – he looked right down the barrel of the gun and described the Cultural Revolution in all its horrific dimension. He’s very Western, an... (Source)

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The Quiet American

Graham Greene's classic exploration of love, innocence, and morality in Vietnam

"I never knew a man who had better motives for all the trouble he caused," Graham Greene's narrator Fowler remarks of Alden Pyle, the eponymous "Quiet American" of what is perhaps the most controversial novel of his career. Pyle is the brash young idealist sent out by Washington on a mysterious mission to Saigon, where the French Army struggles against the Vietminh guerrillas. As young Pyle's well-intentioned policies blunder into bloodshed, Fowler, a seasoned and cynical British reporter, finds...

Richard BransonToday is World Book Day, a wonderful opportunity to address this #ChallengeRichard sent in by Mike Gonzalez of New Jersey: Make a list of your top 65 books to read in a lifetime. (Source)

Barack Obama"According to the president’s Facebook page and a 2008 interview with the New York Times, these titles are among his most influential forever favorites: Moby Dick, Herman Melville Self-Reliance, Ralph Waldo Emerson Song Of Solomon, Toni Morrison Parting The Waters, Taylor Branch Gilead, Marylinne Robinson Best and the Brightest, David Halberstam The Federalist, Alexander Hamilton Souls of Black... (Source)

Ian BurumaThe Quiet American is much more about America than it is about Indo-China. The titular character is an idealistic young man in Indo-China, probably working for the CIA, whose well-meaning actions cause havoc. That is a sort of microcosm for what has actually happened in various parts of the world because of American intervention. The Dutch and the British colonial enterprise was largely a... (Source)

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