Not America's decline - the rise of everyone else

The Post-American World, the latest book by Newsweek editor Fareed Zakaria explores how the rise of China and India will impact America.
In the acknowledgements, Fareed Zakaria mentions that his son Omar, who is eight, tried to dissuade him from writing it saying: ôWhy do you want to write a book about the future? If you are wrong, people wonÆt buy the book any more.ö I thought the same thing when I first heard the editor of Newsweek was predicting how the dynamics between countries and powers will change.

And yet Zakaria is to be commended for doing justice to a difficult topic. His love and respect for his adopted home, America, is in evidence through the book. Yet, equally, his empathy for the countries that are growing in size and stature to rival AmericaÆs past dominance, specifically China and India, is obvious.

The book is liberally peppered with interesting anecdotes, both historical and drawn from ZakariaÆs own experiences. Zakaria goes back to 1405 when Chinese admiral Zheng went on expeditions far more awe inspiring than those of the better-known Christopher Columbus. He goes on to explain the thinking underlying subsequent Chinese rulersÆ decisions to abandon seafaring and focus inwards rather than outwards and how that shaped ChinaÆs future.

ZakariaÆs take on why China has captured the US consciousness: ôAmericans may admire beauty but they are truly dazzled by bigness,ö using the Grand Canyon, the American armed forces, Disney World and other examples to corroborate this point may seem simplistic but there is no doubt that ChinaÆs 1.3 billion population is one of the reasons the country cannot be ignored. Indeed, ZakariaÆs analysis of China, which combines a historical perspective with a contemporary view, is one of the most interesting parts of this book.

And Zakaria does not allow any misplaced sense of patriotism û he left India at the age of 18 for the US for higher studies and finally to settle û to bias him. ôIf ever there was a race between India and China, itÆs over,ö he writes, arguing that China is significantly ahead. But he also draws some interesting conclusions: ôIndia is, by at least one measure, the most pro-American country in the worldö.

It is also an easy read, with humourous allusions to men who have shaped history. For example, Zakaria reminds us that Jawaharlal Nehru, independent IndiaÆs first prime minister, was fond of referring to himself as ôthe last Englishman to rule Indiaö.

Parts of ZakariaÆs analysis, for example his views on the Iraq war, lack depth. In other instances he twists facts to suit conclusions he has already drawn. A few parts will be dated very quickly, such as his analysis of the nuclear agreement between America and India, which won passage in a hard-fought vote in IndiaÆs parliament after the book was published.

The first sentence of ZakariaÆs book probably captures the gist of the book better than the title: ôThis is a book not about the decline of America but about the rise of everyone else.ö And thatÆs precisely the reason it is worth reading.

This review first appeared in the August edition of FinanceAsia magazine.
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