In This Review

Burma: The State of Myanmar
Burma: The State of Myanmar
By David I. Steinberg
368 pp, Georgetown University Press, 2001
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Burma: The Curse of Independence
Burma: The Curse of Independence
By Shelby Tucker
282 pp, Pluto Press, 2001
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Living Silence: Burma under Military Rule
Living Silence: Burma under Military Rule
By Christina Fink
286 pp, Palgrave, 2001
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The Trouser People
The Trouser People
By Andrew Marshall
256 pp, Counterpoint, 2002
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Burma, which its military junta chooses to call Myanmar, has dropped off the map for most Westerners. Now several outstanding books have shed some light on that reclusive country. Steinberg, a veteran Burma observer, has drawn from both earlier writings and newer material to explain why a country with great potential has been such a failure since independence from the British in 1948, with its civilian leaders fragmenting into factions and its military conducting a series of coups. His analysis of the military's foolish economic policies is especially outstanding. Tucker, meanwhile, meticulously reviews what took place around the time of independence to get the country off to such a poor start and argues that the international community must now take some sort of action against the regime, which supports the production of half the world's opium. Fink's book, in contrast, illuminates what life is like under the repressive rule of the Burmese military. Using interviews and the clandestine writings of dissidents, she describes and analyzes the shocking psychological consequences of years of repression. Finally, Marshall provides a vivid firsthand account of conditions in contemporary Burma. Pretending to be a tourist, he traveled throughout much of the country seeking to retrace the steps of the Victorian adventurer Sir George Scott, who wrote the classic study of traditional Burmese culture. Judging from what he saw, Marshall suggests that life today in Burma may be no better than it was 100 years ago. Together, these books illuminate every nook and cranny of a country that has been trying to hide from the world.