Like the third estate, the Third World has nothing, and wants to be something.
–French economist and demographer Alfred Sauvy in 1952
Early this morning before work I finally finished Vijay Prashad’s 2007 comprehensive history of the developing world, The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World. This was yet another book I saw on display at my local bookstore that caught my eye. So, while I was rooting around the shelves at main branch of my public library not long ago I decided to finally take a chance and grab it. Well, I’m glad I did.
Prashad, a professor of South Asian History at Trinity College in Connecticut, takes the Howard Zinn approach to a history of the world-from the perspective of the Global South, known also as the Third World. Starting with the 1927 conference in Brussels of the League Against Imperialism, Prashad traces the evolution of the NAM, (or Nonaligned Movement of nations) through the throes of decolonialism, the Cold War, the collapse of the Eastern Block, the ups and downs of “neoliberal” international economics, the late ’90’s Asian economic meltdown and ending with the failure of Pan-Arabism opening the door to Saudi-sponsored politcal Islam.
Like any historian’s text on history, Prashad the tells the story on his terms. Prashad’s analysis of the last 60 years of the Third World is truly a leftist one, and all the good, bad and otherwise that comes with that. But Prashad is good. Damn good. Despite Prashad’s biases his analysis of not just what happened but why things happened is quite impressive. While I feel he neglected a number of key things, (the rise of China as a world economic power due to its embracing of capitalism is completely neglected as is the Iranian Revolution as well as the emergence of regional powers India and Brazil) everything else he addressed in his book impressed me greatly. And perhaps above all, his research should not be taken lightly.
Unless I come across anything better, Prashad’s book is the definitive history of the Third World.