This book talks about stories of “Asian Godfathers”: how they are different, how they build up their wealth, and how they become “godfathers”. From that, Joe Studwell draws a history of Southeast-Asia + Hongkong’s economy.
When I bought this book I thought it was about amazing figures in Asia who built up Asia. However, it is opposite. It talks about the Asian Godfathers, but it raises this question at the beginning of the book: “In 1996, a year before the start of the Asian financial crisis, the region’s economy was considered to be the leading economy. Forbes magazine, in its annual ranking of the richest people in the world, has named eight Southeast Asian entrepreneurs among the 25 richest people in the world, and 13 Southeast Asians among the 50 richest people in the world. gender. A small region, it can’t be proud of not having one of the top 500 businesses in the world, but accounting for nearly a third of the 25 richest people on the planet”. The tone of the book is rather in a journalist tone, also a bit sarcastic and negative. It also includes some basic understandings about how an economy work, what is globalization, financial and securities market, etc.
Therefore, personally, it is quite hard to read. I do not enjoy much the book since:
1. I prefer a book with neutral voice
2. The book is quite repetitive sometimes, and also I read in Vietnamese version, so there are a lot of sentences which I think are not translated well – so even if I read again and again, I still cannot understand what the paragraph is talking about.
3. Its main goal is to draw the lives of “Asian godfathers” so there are quite many godfathers in Southeast Asian + Hongkong. The author wants to mention all about these families, so for me, it is too broad and shallow. Even after finishing the book, I do not remember well what are the specific characters of each family. Or I think this is also an intention of the author to build an overall similarity between these families.
But this book has good reviews in Goodreads. Despite of what I mentioned above, there several things I learned from this it:
1. Southeast Asia is a story about race, not about class, or to put it simply, a story about immigrants, not elites.
2. Export Oriented Industrialisation (EOI) and Import Substitution Industrialisation (ISI) – whether export oriented industrialization is considered as a good cure for Asian’s economy.
3. The financial crisis of Asia in 1997 and the role of IMF – what are stories behind trying to save these countries in the financial crisis.
4. The Hong Kong and Singapore model in developing their financial services to be considered as the Switzerland of Asia. Though I feel like Joe Studwell does not like the Singapore model and Lee Kwan Yew, the way he talks is negative – in my view.
5. How “Asian Godfathers” made their wealth – not through technological innovation – but through rigging political systems and trying to get monopoly in some industries, not trying to build a competitive global company, but only try to exploit these countries’ resources.
But this is also one of the most impressive quote in the book that I remember most:
“The good thing about Confucianism is that it makes people in Asia happy to suffer …”
– Hong Kong giant, RONINIE CHAN, published in Asian Finance magazine (2002).
In conclusion, I will recommend this book to whoever wants to understand the behind – the – scenes of super wealthy families in building up their wealth and in understanding why the economy of Asia happened to be like the current situation in 2000s period.