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The Mekong: Turbulent Past, Uncertain Future Paperback – June 9, 2001


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The Mekong: Turbulent Past, Uncertain Future + The River's Tale: A Year on the Mekong + Vietnam: A Traveler's Literary Companion (Traveler's Literary Companions)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press (June 9, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802138020
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802138026
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.5 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,118,768 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The Mekong River, which begins in windswept, upland Tibet and runs through China, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand, has a rich history, the subject of Osborne's pathbreaking, ecologically informed chronicle. Beginning with the fifth-century Khmer empire and the magnificent Angkor temple complex, his brisk narrative moves on to a colorful account of 16th-century explorers, missionaries and merchants who vied for supremacy in the region. Osborne retraces the French Mekong Expedition of 1866-1868, which he calls a heroic, epic endeavor, but he also emphasizes the bloody repression and inequities fostered by French colonialism. From 1966 onward came multiple tragedies--years of relentless American bombing, the Khmer Rouge's genocide, massacres of Vietnamese living in Cambodia, imposition of harsh communist regimes--and Osborne, a former Australian diplomat, U.N. advisor and author of seven books on Southeast Asia, graphically records the human costs to the Mekong region's inhabitants. The Mekong Delta is Vietnam's rice basket, thanks to centuries of canal building, and the fish in Cambodia's Great Lake, linked to a Mekong tributary, provide 60% of Cambodia's protein intake. Although China's hydroelectric dam-building projects pose the threat of declining fish catches and disruption of subsistence agriculture, China has shown scant concern for the environmental consequences. Clear-felling of timber, disastrous floods, pollution and an AIDS epidemic also threaten the Mekong civilizations. Although Osborne's amalgam of travel, reportage and history is not quite the full-bodied cultural saga the river deserves, his book is a pulsating journey through the heart of Southeast Asia. Illus. (May)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

The author admits that the enormous power and potential of the Mekong River is his obsession, begun when he was a foreign service officer and subsequently cultivated through four decades of traveling and living in Southeast Asia. Osborne has covered the subject for the New Republic, drawing upon a large reserve of personal knowledge and careful research in the French Colonial Archives. Beginning in the 1860s, he traces the explorations of Frenchmen Ernest Doudart de Lagr e, Francis Garnier, Henri Mouhot, and Auguste Pavie, revealing that they sought a navigable trading route into China. Though the French were originally interested in the Mekong solely as a trade route, some explorers became fascinated by the detailed temples and religious traditions of Asian culture itself. Osborne is not very effective when attempting to link early and modern history by describing the problems that occurred in times of war, in the 1950s and throughout the 1970s, for example, when the depletion of forests, extensive flooding, and the erosion of topsoil became political issues. Still, this very readable book should be considered for adoption by academic and large public libraries.DPeggy Spitzer Christoff, Oak Park, IL
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By events3 on March 11, 2004
Format: Paperback
This book covers the history of the Mekong River, of southeast Asia, and the adjacent nations. It's history is the history of the various peoples of the region and of French and American involvement in the area.
This is the story of the rise of the native civilizations of Malaysian and / or Indonesian origin and their displacement by newcomers from the north who vie with one another (and with Europeans) for control of the region. The early inhabitants of Cambodia were replaced by Khymer immigrants who established the state of Chenla and founded Angkor Thom in the 400s AD. They, along with the Cham people of Champa (present-day Central Vietnam) became the major regional powers. The Thais, a people formerly subjugated by the Khymer rose to power in the north and, in 1431, drove the Khymer from Angkor Then, in the 1500s, the Portuguese reach the region and begin exploring.
In the late 1600s, Vietnamese colonists begin settling in the territory of the declining Champa state (around present-day Ho Chi Minh) and push into Cambodia. Vietnam, along with the older powers of Siam and Burma vie for control of Laos and Cambodia while the Vietnamese people slowly consolidate control of the Mekong Delta in the 1700s and, with the help of the French, the entirety of this greatly expanded Vietnam is united under the Nguyen emperors. Fifty-odd years later, Napoleon III invades the South, defeats the Vietnamese emperor forces and gains possession of the South (Cochinchina).
Over the next two decades, the French push further north and, by 1887, extended their control over the entirety of Vietnam. France also extend its control over most of Cambodia and Laos.
Civil unrest develops as a small number of native Vietnamese control most of the arable land and bleed the peasants.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By alainviet on January 13, 2002
Format: Hardcover
These are the reflections of a man who had studied this powerful river for the last 40 years.
The river ran through six countries and had seen civilizations emerge and disappear. It had also seen revolution, war, pollution, and destruction. Countries in the upper Mekong liked to dam the river to harness electricity while people in the lower part of the river need its water for agriculture and for its fish. Building dams in the upper Mekong could affect the ecology in the lower Mekong delta. The balance of these antagonistic goals could only be solved if the governments involved were more considerate to each other.
No one could tell the history of the Mekong better than the author.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Matthew P. Arsenault on September 4, 2004
Format: Paperback
Man has been infatuated with the Mekong for nearly 2,000 years. This fascination arose with the first traders, be they Indic, Roman or Chinese, who discovered the river emptying into the South China Sea.

The river is old and exotic and just as it flows from cold Tibet, through China, and the flood-plains of South East Asia, the river flows through history.

Osborne does and excellect job capturing the feeling of the Mekong River and its subsequent effect on history. Osborne attacks his work chronologically, beginning in the proto-history of mainland South East Asia during the emergence of a major trading center known as Oc Eo located at the Mekong Delta. Evidence of the importance of Oc Eo as an economic sea port is apparent by the archeological finding of artifacts originating from Rome, China, as well as the Indian sub-continent.

Throughout the next six centuries this area, which the Chinese named Funan, continued to grow and develop. However, due to conflict and changes in economic patterns Funan fell to the wayside and a new era arose, that of Chenla.

Chela was split between two kingdoms, one based in present day Cambodia, and the other possibly in Laos. Nevertheless, both kingdoms were located on the muddy banks of the Mekong. From these two kingdomsemerged one of the greatest empires to have graced South East Asia, that of Angkor.

One of the major reasons that Angkor was able to develop to such greatness was do to an anomaly of nature. During the rainy season, the flood waters, coupled with the snow melt originating in the high Himalayas, caused the Mekong to force surplus water up it's sister river the Tonle Sap.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Wade Armstrong on January 3, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The jacket copy on this book claims that it covers events "spanning two thousand years... beginning with the rise of... Oc Eo, to the glory of the Cambodian Empire in the first millennium..." This is true to the extent that all years up to 1511 are covered in the first 30 pages, and the next twenty pages take us up to 1860. For coverage of early Southeast Asian history, I recommend the Lonely Planet guides as much more detailed, and more useful once you're there. (On the causes of the fall of the empire at Angkor, Osborne says "No single, overriding cause for this event can be identified, nor would it be sensible to try and find one." My Lonely Planet guide discussed the patterns of overbuilding, mentioned the deliterious effect of the corveé, and talked about issues with water supply, at least.) If your interest is in Southeast Asia since the French came, then this is a fairly absorbing and well-written book.
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