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Summary

Over the last decade, the center of world power has been quietly shifting from Europe to Asia. With oil reserves of several billion barrels, an estimated 900 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, and several centuries' worth of competing territorial claims, the South China Sea in particular is a simmering pot of potential conflict. The underreported military buildup in the area where the Western Pacific meets the Indian Ocean means that it will likely be a hinge point for global war and peace for the foreseeable future.

In Asia's Cauldron, Robert D. Kaplan offers up a vivid snapshot of the nations surrounding the South China Sea, the conflicts brewing in the region at the dawn of the 21st century, and their implications for global peace and stability.

To understand the future of conflict in East Asia, Kaplan argues, one must understand the goals and motivations of its leaders and its people. Part travelogue, part geopolitical primer, Asia's Cauldron takes us on a journey through the region's boom cities and ramshackle slums: From Vietnam, where the superfueled capitalism of the erstwhile colonial capital, Saigon, inspires the geostrategic pretensions of the official seat of government in Hanoi, to Malaysia, where a unique mix of authoritarian Islam and Western-style consumerism creates quite possibly the ultimate postmodern society; and from Singapore, whose "benevolent autocracy" helped foster an economic miracle, to the Philippines, where a different brand of authoritarianism under Ferdinand Marcos led not to economic growth but to decades of corruption and crime.

At a time when every day's news seems to contain some new story - large or small - that directly relates to conflicts over the South China Sea, Asia's Cauldron is an indispensable guide to a corner of the globe that will affect all of our lives for years to come.

©2014 Robert D. Kaplan (P)2014 Tantor

Critic reviews

"A riveting, multitextured look at an underexamined region of the world and, perhaps, at the 'anxious, complicated world' of the future." ( Booklist)

What members say

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Good look at the realities of geopolitics in E.A

just ignore his subtle ideological biases (we all have our own). Overall a thorough, well presented and balance perspective on E and S.E Asian history, political motivations and pragmatic socio-economic realities. Well worth a read.

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  • Christopher
  • 30-05-14

Biggest Challenge for US in Next 50 Years

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

This is a really well written and presented analysis of the very complex topic of the strategic challenge to US power posed by the South China Sea and the countries which surround it. Informed by a large number of in-person interviews with strategic participants it is one of the very few "current affairs" type books that is a truly absorbing read.

What was the most compelling aspect of this narrative?

The discussions of the roles of Lee Kuan Yu and Chiang Kai Shek in creating the current East Asia. Both descriptions were very insightful and informative.

Have you listened to any of Michael Prichard’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

This is the first one. It is excellent even at 1.25x.

If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

"The Coming Storm"

Any additional comments?

Would really love to meet Mr. Kaplan in person some day. He bring deep historical knowledge to current affairs. Really wonderful book!

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • John S.
  • 24-11-14

Not exactly general interest reading

Seems my ancient degree in International Relations really paid off here! Those without a very strong interest in foreign relations would find this one rather a slog I'm afraid, beyond the travel narrative aspects. Audio narration is well done.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • Jean
  • 19-08-14

Pending problems

Kaplan starts the book with some basic economics, geography and history of East Asia. Robert Kaplan says the Pacific will become unstable, but he does not think this must lead to war. Kaplan has found a niche writing books that are a cross between journalism and policy issues. Comparison of Asia to the Europe of 1914 is part of a bigger question about whether China just wants to be a benign regional hegemon, or if it has expansionist aims. Kaplan argues that comparisons to 1914 are overblown. He claims the big difference is Europe is a landscape; East Asia is a seascape and the oceans will act as a barrier against aggression. The author suggests the better comparison is America’s 19th century approach to the Caribbean. He says China is seeking an Asian version of the Monroe Doctrine.

One reason he is sanguine is the absence of a great ideological struggle. Kaplan insists that the Communist party will not necessarily bully abroad because it bullies at home. I say do not forget the brutality of Leninist Chinese Party State. The book suffers from largely ignoring the East China Sea and the relationship with Japan, which I think could be much more important.

Asia is far more complicated than Kaplan reveals. If oil is discovered in the China Sea it will only become more complicated. The China Sea is on the way to becoming the most contested body of water in the world. Kaplan said that a Singaporean said they did not wish to be Finlandized or to replace American’s embrace with China’s. The Singaporean went on to say “At the end of the day it is all about military force and naval presence—it is not about passionate and well-meaning talk”. We must remember China is building an enormous Navy and Air Force and the rise of China is now challenging the stability of the area as America’s naval dominance of the Western pacific fades.

Kaplan ends the book with a quote of a Vietnamese proverb. “Distant water cannot put out a nearby fire.” Michael Prichard did a good job narrating the book.

6 of 8 people found this review helpful

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  • mark kortink
  • 31-07-17

informative and organised

4 stars due to style rather than substance. A quaint academic style of writing and narration that gives the feel of far removed professors discussing geopolitics over a cigar and port next to the log fire at the lodge in Vermont. But very informative and well organised, and i would recommend it to anyone, pays to keep a map handy though.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Michael Boyd
  • 06-07-17

Fascinating and relevant

Having an interest in the current South China Sea news, I was very pleased with this book and its wide scope. Each chapter is broadens the worldview and makes a messy issue understandable.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Msupp
  • 29-05-17

Kaplan is one of the foremost experts

Fantastic listen, you will one away with a new perspective on the key geopolitical question of our times

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • P. Elliman
  • 12-10-16

Insightful and worth the time

It took a bit of time to get used to the narrator, but after a while he was fine and worked well given the content.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Andy
  • 14-04-14

helpful, but only an inch deep

Solid survey of how the various countries in Asia are flexing their muscles in an effort to grab the spoils that geography can bring. Would have liked for Mr. Kaplan to go a bit deeper into the history behind the claims. Great narration.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • CHET YARBROUGH
  • 01-01-15

BALANCE OF POWER

Balance of power is the overriding theme of Robert Kaplan’s book, "Asia’s Cauldron". Kaplan’s view of the world is consistent (read The Revenge of Geography) but the principal of balance of power seems confused with military strength that is more relevant in history than in the modern world. With China replacing the former U.S.S.R., Kaplan seems determined to recreate an arms race.

The weakness of Kaplan’s argument for a balance of power is that power is narrowly defined as military capability. Information is power in the 21st century; military prowess is supplemental rather than primary in any hegemonic’ race for supremacy.

Focusing on an arms race because of concern over naval supremacy in the South China Sea is a waste of public dollars that should be spent addressing the needs of a rising middle class; not to mention, regulation of human’ greed and corruption. China seems to recognize the importance of regulation in their recent anti-corruption crack down; i.e. America should invest in information about China’s expanding middle class and how their success or failure may translate to American’ solution to a pending crises.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • DB Miller
  • 25-08-18

Superb

Anyone interested in a clear practical guide to understanding the South China Theater should definitely pick this up. Kaplan as always delivers.