Decent introductions to Laotian history?
May 11, 2013 3:55 PM   Subscribe

Can anyone recommend a good book on the history of Laos? I've tried searching on Amazon but most of the titles I see there seem to focus on America's unfortunate colonial misadventure in Southeast Asia and the CIA's secret war in Laos. While I understand the market imperatives that might lead to such a focus, I'd like to get a broader history than that. The book I am looking will :

* be written in English

* not be a doorstop i.e. c. 500 pages or less

* have at least some material on the history of Laos before Western colonialism.

* also address contemporary Laos and the Communist regime that ruled after the war.

Extra-special bonus points if the author deals with the Isaan people and their historical relationship with Laos.

Many thanks in advance.
posted by jason's_planet to Society & Culture (5 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Oh, shit. Because I composed this one on the fly, I forgot to mention that an example of the sort of book I'm looking for would be a book like A History of Iran: Empire of the Mind
posted by jason's_planet at 4:01 PM on May 11, 2013

Since Laos didn't exist as a separate state until 1945, you might have to read up on the kingdom of Lan Xang,
Luang Phrabang Kingdom 1707–1949
Vientiane Kingdom 1707–1828
Principality of Phuan 1707–1949
Champasak Kingdom and then Thailand and Vietnam.
posted by Ideefixe at 4:11 PM on May 11, 2013

The country reports from the Library of Congress are usually good and give overviews of culture and history. Here is the one for Laos. They also have a list of resources and bibliography.
posted by jadepearl at 4:46 PM on May 11, 2013

Laos: War and Revolution is an excellent collection of essays by different scholars that starts with "The Land and Its People" and moves up through "The Historical Development of Modern Laos" to "The Pathet Lao." It was published in 1970, so you'll need to supplement it for recent events, but on the other hand it's compendious and available for a penny plus shipping. (Caveat: it's from a leftist perspective; the introduction is by Noam Chomsky.)

Conflict in Laos: The Politics of Neutralization, by Arthur J Dommen, is also quite good but not as scholarly (or cheap) and even more ancient. Still, as you're discovering, there's not a whole lot out there, so I'm throwing it in.

Oh, and The Little World of Laos, by Oden Meeker, is a nice personal account of what Laos was like in the mid-'50s by a guy who went there for CARE, if that might be of interest.
posted by languagehat at 5:55 PM on May 11, 2013

Thanks, everyone! I think I can figure out where to go from here.
posted by jason's_planet at 8:59 AM on May 12, 2013

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