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Plan­etIn­dia Mira Kam­dar (Scrib­ner, $45) TWENTY-NINE per cent of In­dia’s one bil­lion­plus res­i­dents speak English, and the welle­d­u­cated and am­bi­tious mid­dle-class pop­u­la­tion is larger than that of the en­tire US. Whoever reck­ons China will be the pow­er­house econ­omy of the 21st cen­tury needs to read this fact-packed book on the new, go-ahead In­dia.

From the Bol­ly­wood as­sem­bly line of song-and-dance epics to the boom­ing in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy in­dus­try, In­dia ap­pears to be vir­tu­ally un­stop­pable as a global force. Un­like China (and such com­par­isons un­der­pin many of au­thor Mira Kam­dar’s ob­ser­va­tions), with its one-child pol­icy and dor­mant pop­u­la­tion, In­dia’s qual­i­fied grad­u­ates and gen­eral work­force are grow­ing with such vigour that it will be the most pop­u­lous coun­try by 2034. Al­ready In­dia has the youngest pop­u­la­tion: a cool 600 mil­lion un­der 25.

It’s not all good news, though. Kam­dar— a US-based aca­demic of In­dian ex­trac­tion — points out that hun­dreds of mil­lions of In­dia’s res­i­dents live in un­ac­cept­able poverty. A testy re­la­tion­ship with neigh­bour­ing Pak­istan and its sta­tus as the big­gest pur­chaser of arms fur­ther mean In­dia can­not be dis­missed as a key player on the world stage. Susan Kuro­sawa


Eye­wit­nessTravel: Viet­nam&Angko­rWat (Dor­ling Kindersley, $29.95) YOU can spot Eye­wit­ness guides in a travel crowd. It’s the way they’re laid out with lots of lit­tle pic­tures, most of the in­for­ma­tion in bite-size chunks. The pub­lish­ers ob­vi­ously feel they’ve found a win­ning for­mula and they’re stick­ing with it. And why not?

This ti­tle is typ­i­cal: it’s thor­ough yet con­cise and cov­ers all ob­vi­ous bases, from shop­ping and eat­ing to en­ter­tain­ment and ac­com­mo­da­tion. If you run into trou­ble, a sur­vival guide comes to the res­cue. Ar­eas are colour-coded for easy ref­er­ence, which is a neat de­vice.

But for me it’s miss­ing one vi­tal in­gre­di­ent: the per­sonal touch. There’s no feel­ing you’re be­ing fed in­sider se­crets; no rev­e­la­tions and no sense of dis­cov­ery.

The writ­ers — four are cred­ited at the front but they don’t use the ‘‘ I’’ word— could have writ­ten much of this with­out step­ping foot into the coun­try (though I’m sure they did). But I quib­ble: if what you want is the un­adorned facts, this guide’s for you. Barry Oliver


HongKongChic Sofia A. Suarez and Zoe Jaques (Ar­chi­pel­ago Press, $35) SCAN through this book and you’ll be straight on the net to line up your air­line ticket. As with Ar­chi­pel­ago’s other Chic ti­tles (from Shang­hai to the Caribbean, at least 10 mod­ish des­ti­na­tions), this is a highly vis­ual di­rec­tory, the hip trav­eller’s Eye­wit­ness guide (with a fo­cus on con­sump­tion rather than art his­tory).

It be­gins with 30-odd pages of Hong Kong back­ground, with great images, then plunges into fash­ion, food, clubs and ho­tels. Di­vided into sec­tions on Hong Kong Is­land and Kowloon, the page in­dex is or­gan­ised largely by the names of ho­tels, restau­rants and shop­ping precincts. It’s great for ac­com­mo­da­tion spot­ting and the hottest places to be are all here, but so is the gi­ant Bud­dha statue sit­ting high amid the clouds on Lan­tau Is­land.

Al­lur­ing images range from de­signer bou­tiques and glis­ten­ing mar­ket food to horserac­ing in Happy Val­ley and a Can­tonese opera singer sit­ting at her makeup ta­ble. Ju­dith Elen

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