Review: Anand Panyarachun and the Making of Modern Thailand

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Despite its daunting stature, “Anand Panyarachun and the Making of Modern Thailand” offers an incredibly comprehensive and detailed look into the life of one of the central figures of late 20th century Thailand. 

Dominic Faulder’s biography is composed after six years of interviews, culminating in over 200 hours of meeting with Anand himself and those connected to him. The biography charts Anand’s life from his birth in 1932, a pivotal year for the nation, to his then-position in 2018 as director of Siam Commercial Bank.

Since his birth, Anand’s life has been deeply entwined with the political fabric of Thailand, particularly in the latter half of the 20th century. If he was not a participant of a major event, he was most certainly witness to it; Faulder’s work functions simultaneously as a biography of a man and a history of a nation, each inextricable from the other.

The book opens with an account of Anand’s family, focusing primarily on Anand’s father, Sern, and his career as a civil servant and businessman. From then on, Anand takes center stage, from his early education in Thailand to his studies in England, at Dulwich College and later Cambridge University. 

While a significant portion is understandably devoted to Anand’s two terms as prime minister in 1991 and 1992, readers are still treated with a detailed account of Anand’s diplomatic career earlier in the mid-1950s through to 1975. From his time as ambassador to the UN in New York to his appointment as permanent secretary of the foreign ministry, Faulder builds a comprehensive portrait of Anand before delving into the most critical periods of his life.

Anand reveals himself to be a man of great rationality and sound judgement, approaching issues with an openness not found in many, and a level-headedness even in the direst of situations. His “meteoric rise” through the ranks of the foreign ministry can be attributed to his decisive and blunt nature, traits invaluable to those in diplomatic service. 

Practicing what he called a “quieter diplomacy,” Anand’s exceptional career is highlighted by stronger moments of personal integrity. He often adopted an unwavering stance on decisions made in accordance with his own philosophies – like the removal of US troops in Thailand in the 1970s, or the policy of taxi liberalisation in his first administration – even though it came at the risk of being opposed by many. He was no typical technocrat. 

Most powerful is Faulder’s ability to inject moments of humanity in these brushstrokes of history, personal anecdotes and moments that remind us of the very real, very complex individual behind these historical feats. Musings about the Cambridge Thai language exam, recollections of letters exchanged with his daughters, or accounts of his wife’s illness, are informative and enjoyable vignettes of life that truly round off the biography.  

For any reader, be it someone who is returning to a period they lived through or a younger generation learning about the country, Faulder’s work offers a new angle in which to approach some of the most important decades of Thailand’s history. Anand’s perspective may dominate the fore, but quotes from his colleagues, friends, and family are featured as another level of commentary. It is certainly a book that lives up to its subtitle, showing just how significant a role Anand played in shaping Thailand and how his legacies live on today. 

The only fault one could claim to Faulder’s work is not what it includes, but what it avoids. Though Anand was born in such an important year to Thai history, 1932 is sidestepped almost entirely, aside from a brief description of the year as a “false democratic dawn.” Anand’s views on the dominance of the military in Thai politics, or the role of the monarchy and the issue of royal intervention, goes unmentioned. 

Readers should be aware this is an authorized biography, approved by the subject himself. Anand’s progressive beliefs are delved into alongside affirmations of his royalism – indeed, the biography ends on that note. Any readers expecting more nuance about Anand’s career will be disappointed by Faulder’s wholly positive account.

Ultimately, though, “Anand Panyarachun and the Making of Modern Thailand” is still an essential read for those interested in Thailand. The weighty 556-page biography offers a comprehensive view into the country’s history, supplying a narrative of modern events with great readability and fluency, even with its flaws. Faulder’s work is not one to miss. 

*Correction: The original article mentioned in the second to last paragraph incorrectly that the book was approved and authorized by the foreign ministry. It should have read, it was authorized by Khun Anand Panyarachun himself. It has now been corrected.


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