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Cambodia's Curse: The Modern History of a Troubled Land Hardcover – April 12, 2011

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs; First Edition edition (April 12, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1586487876
  • ISBN-13: 978-1586487874
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.3 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #885,405 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Brinkley takes on the pricey pitfalls of nation building and the labyrinth of centuries-old political corruption in this riveting piece of literary reportage. At once a tale of human tragedy and a primer on the future of Western engagement with developing—and autocratic—countries, the book offers a rare look inside a country beleaguered by poverty and imprisoned by patronage and venal leadership since the 13th century; traumatized by colonialism, Pol Pot's brutal Khmer Rouge, and the genocide he unleashed (and later by Vietnam, which overthrew the Khmer Rouge in 1979). Brinkley is merciless in his critique of both Cambodia's leadership as well as the folly of donor countries that placed faith in the U.N. to bring Cambodia into a modern, democratic era. He expresses empathy for "the most abused people in the world," many of whom are in the grip of post-traumatic stress disorders after Pol Pot's reign of terror, but he saves his mercenary eye for the corrupt leaders, including present dictator Hun Sen, who continue to suppress and exploit the country's resources and young, vital population. (Apr.)
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


Kirkus, February 15, 2011
“An excellent…account of a country whose historic poverty, exacerbated by the Vietnam War, remains remarkably unchanged.”

Publishers Weekly
“A riveting piece of literary reportage.”
“A heartbreaking but vital status report on a people who deserve far better.”
Foreign Affairs, May/June 2011
“Brinkley cuts a clear narrative path through the bewildering, cynical politics and violent social life of one of the worlds most brutalized and hard-up countries.”

San Francisco
Chronicle, April 16, 2011
“As a young reporter, Brinkley won a Pulitzer Prize in 1980 for his coverage of the Cambodian refugee crisis. Returning to the region 30 years later, Brinkley - now a professor of journalism at Stanford - chose his subject well…[he] admirably…demonstrates that Hun Sen's administration has been a disaster for many Cambodians.”

The Wall Street Journal, May 19, 2011
“Illuminating…Mr. Brinkley won the Pulitzer Prize in 1980 for covering Cambodian refugees, and he weaves the details of the nation's underbelly into a compelling argument, interviewing powerful figures and foreign officials involved in politics, courts, hospitals, land development, forests and schools.”


The American Interest, July/August, 2011
“Compelling… a revealing tale of delusion and corruption told with considerable panache.”


Customer Reviews

You will fall in love with it , and eventually it will break your heart".
Mark Reibman
Excellent overview of recent Cambodia history, good guide to understand how Cambodia became what it is now, and why.
leo stolk
This book is a must read for anyone visiting Cambodia who is remotely intersted in modern day cambodia.
John Crawford

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

101 of 111 people found the following review helpful By T. Stockwell on July 24, 2011
Format: Hardcover
My experiences and the experiences of my family in Cambodia question the value of this book. If you want to know about Cambodia, this is merely one book - worth reading but not as a gospel.

Although the author has gone to great pains to research the relatively recent events of Cambodia, his knowledge of the deeper history are flawed, troubled, and shallow. He shows us the of face of corruption - and indeed Cambodia is a nation steeped in that history -- and the conditions of the citizens that have resulted. Unfortunately, his ultimate vision is as a Westerner, peering over the wreckage. This is our own kind of corrupt preoccupation: A kind of bleak complacency while we watch the horrors of a TV documentary. What is missing in this book is the heart of the Cambodian people: People who are troubled survivors, very similar to the survivors of the holocaust, who are still vibrant, alive, and open to hope.

There is so much missing from this book that I hardly know where to begin.

For instance:

* Little or no mention of the role of the monks in both supporting the people while simultaneously regaling in the corruption. The monasteries teach the young how to emotionally survive, and take in the old women whose lives have been exhausted. The fact that the religious institution has survived itself is a testament that they have the skill to weather any horror. The fact that many too are corrupt is an understandable result.

* A complete misunderstanding of the life of villages and villagers in Cambodia, while the author focuses on the politics and corruption of the cities. This is like describing an elephant by its dung, as more than 80% live in poverty in the countryside.
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34 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Mark Reibman on April 13, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Updated on August 4, 2011

Since my first trip to Cambodia in 2008 I've been an avid reader of books and articles available on Cambodia. The author, Joel Brinkley, returns to Cambodia nearly 30 years after his journalist assignment in 1979 right after the overthrow of the Khmer Rouge. Now Mr. Brinkley takes a new look at Cambodia as he delves deeply, through extensive research and countless interviews into current day Cambodia and it's modern history. One of his most stunning quotes for me is that of former US Ambassador to Cambodia, Joseph Mussomeli, which sets the tone for the book. "Be careful, because Cambodia is the most dangerous place you will ever visit. You will fall in love with it , and eventually it will break your heart". Much of the information was not new to me. Corruption, violations of human rights, the subversion of a fledging democracy, cronyism, legal impunity, etc. You don't have to spend much time in Cambodia to learn about these things. But Joel Brinkley really takes the reader into the story more deeply. And if you have any connection to and affection for the people of Cambodia, it does break your heart. This book goes into a lot of detail yet is very readable. It takes the reader through some history and tries to make sense against Cambodia's historical context, why this corrupt system seems to flourish. For many westerners interested in and concerned about the present and future of Cambodia this book can help explain some stubbornly puzzling questions about Cambodia. The subject of this book can be very interesting though also depressing ( with it's title am i not stating the obvious? ).... but in the epilogue the author provides some worthwhile insights about the present and future of Cambodia and from where it's rays of hope may emanate.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By vjstravino on January 7, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Joel Brinkley has done a masterful amount of research and effort to produce this book. The Cambodian story of the last fifty is enough to engage even casual history, political science and current affairs readers and Brinkley summarizes and enriches it well. The horrors, brutality and social ills are disturbing even as most of us have some recognition of the recent past in that country.

It is an excellent piece of investigative journalism that you would expect from someone with his credentials at the New York Times and as a professor at Stanford.

While Brinkley uses Cambodia as his palate to tell this saga, he could easily be writing about any dozens of countries from all parts of the globe. The extremes of Pol Pot and the author's personal involvement allows for a better narrative and he makes the most of the process, albeit with an somewhat dogmatic agenda. He seemed to have gotten a great deal of access to many of the prime players in the present situation as well as many of the bureaucrats from the recent past. He includes personalized anecdotal snippets from common folk and bit players as well which gives the story a soul.

His conclusions, however, did not resonate with me quite as strongly as they may with some. In the end, the author's simplistic view of an impoverished population just accepting their lot in a cesspool of corruption and injustice did not ring true for me. For a large part of the world populace, the mere day to day struggle to eat and raise and protect a family are all encompassing. Asking or hoping for a very young, desperately poor, uneducated, traumatized populace to stand up for justice from within Cambodia at this time is a bit too tainted with our own American sensibility and experience.
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More About the Author

Joel Brinkley is a professor of journalism at Stanford University, a position he assumed in 2006 after a 23-year career with The New York Times. There, he served as a reporter, editor and Pulitzer Prize winning foreign correspondent.
At Stanford, Brinkley writes an op-ed column on foreign policy that appears in about 50 newspapers and Websites in the United States and around the world each week, syndicated by Tribune Media Services.
Brinkley is a native of Washington D.C., and a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He began his journalism career at the Associated Press and over the following years worked for the Richmond (Va.) News Leader and the Louisville Courier Journal before joining the Times in 1983.
At The New York Times, Brinkley served as Washington correspondent, White House correspondent and chief of the Times Bureau in Jerusalem, Israel. He spent more than 10 years in editing positions including Projects Editor in Washington, Political Editor in New York and Investigations Editor in Washington following the September 11 attacks. He served as political writer in Baghdad during the fall of 2003. He also covered technology issues including the Microsoft anti-trust trial and was serving as foreign-policy correspondent when he left the Times in June 2006.
Over the last 30 years Brinkley has reported from 46 states and more than 50 foreign countries. He has won more than a dozen national reporting and writing awards. He won the Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting in 1980 and in the following years was twice a finalist for an investigative reporting Pulitzer (for one, as a member of a team). He was a director of the Fund for Investigative Journalism from 2001 to 2006.
Mr. Brinkley is the author of five books: The Iran-Contra Affair (with Steve Engelberg) published by Times Books in 1988; The Circus Master's Mission, a novel, published by Random House in 1989; Defining Vision: The Battle for the Future of Television , published by Harcourt Brace in 1998; U.S. vs. Microsoft: The Inside Story of the Landmark Case (with Steve Lohr) published by McGraw Hill in 2001; and Cambodia's Curse: The Modern History of a Troubled Land, published by Public Affairs Books in 2011. He has also contributed to several other books, including the chapter on George W. Bush in The American Presidency, published by Houghton Mifflin in 2004.

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