Book Review by Dorji Penjore

By Dorji Penjore - 28 November 2013
This is the most comprehensive history of Bhutan even written by a Bhutanese in English, and the best history book I have ever read covering the entire period. Compared to existing books and sources, it is encyclopaedic in scope, rich in historical events and stories, detailed in information, and rich in narratives. It will be difficult, albeit not impossible, for anyone to better it for many years. It is a scholarly work, offering new points of view which is important because the government-sponsored history books were mostly written from the perspective of the state. It differs from the existing works in presenting fresh perspectives culled from textual, material, and oral sources from home and abroad. His new accounts have thus far remained confined to oral accounts, or remained locked in manuscripts which are not easily accessible to the wider public, both physically and intellectually. Dr Karma Phuntsho's advantage over other Bhutanese writers is clear in this work: he is not a civil servant, thus working outside the influence of the government. He had trainings in both monastic and western education systems. I remember reading one of his papers in which he compared himself to a proverbial bat who showed teeth to avoid bird tax and wings to evade animal tax. In this work he had paid both animal and bird taxes, and the country will remember him in future. This dual training enabled him to overcome limitations of most Bhutanese: western educated Bhutanese can't access old manuscripts written in classical Tibetan, while home/trained Bhutanese can't write in English employing western scientific methods.
I can go on.... The only negative point I can think of the book, at the present, is its encyclopaedic volume consisting of 660 pages. It is thick enough to frighten most of us, the Bhutanese reading public, especially these days when we are getting used to reading executive summaries and abstracts and briefs.
Congratulation, Dr Karma Phuntsho!