The title promises racy South Asia noir: what happened, who did it, and whether they got away with it. But Samira Shackle’s Karachi Vice actually concerns the lives of five people in that city, as violence—criminal and political—consumes everything around them. They receive no protection from the state as they go about their daily lives. Through their lives we understand this city, one where criminals fight it out while people around them simply try to survive. This is a book about the after-effects of many crimes.

Around the Chinese New Year period, millions of Chinese migrant workers return home from jobs in China’s major cities to their rural villages to visit their families. China’s urban centers and factory towns rely on migrant workers from provinces like Guizhou: places that are still relatively underdeveloped, despite the massive growth seen on China’s coasts. The fact that, this year, many migrants likely can’t return home due to the COVID-19 pandemic is a reminder of the instability that defines much of their lives.

 

Titling a book The Myth of Chinese Capitalism invites prospective readers to expect an unraveling of this singular, definite-articled story. It also suggests, to this reader at least, weighty theoretical contents, including perhaps tables and pie-charts. Dexter Roberts’s book is no work of dense economic theory, however, nor does it pretend to have uncovered some singular narrative of China’s development. Rather, it is lucid, personal, nuanced—and rather difficult to summarize. 

Young Mongols is a book full of energy. Aubrey Menard has interviewed young Mongolian activists at work across different sectors of society; these she profiles together on the basis of a common commitment to make society more equal, more functional, more inclusive. Their participation in Mongolia’s social and political betterment is told with respect and enthusiasm, and most readers will find their passion irresistible.

If there were an award for the best book title, Blockchain Chicken Farm would surely be in running for 2020. Xiaowei Wang leads off this collection of connected essays about technology and society with a story about how the blockchain has been deployed in China’s rural organic chicken farms to provide untamperable provenance for China’s upscale consumers.

For the countries of Southeast Asia, geographical proximity to China is a blessing and a curse. In the Dragon’s Shadow, Southeast Asia in the Chinese Century, by Sebastian Strangio, manages to sketch the history these nations have with China and detail the current geopolitical situation in an engaging fashion. While the book is prefaced with an imposing list of acronyms for the political parties and economic agreements discussed, this Yale University Press publication is the work of a journalist with an excellent grip on history rather than an academic.