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Thailights by William E. Wormsley: Not a Book About Thailand I’d Recommend

book about thailand

Thailights : Bright Spots in an American Fulbright Year by William E. Wormsley is a book I bought a decade ago when I first moved to Bangkok. You can still pick it up at various Bangkok bookshops, particularly the used ones where people like me, who didn’t like the book, have passed it on.

I recently re-read Thailights : Bright Spots in an American Fulbright Year, as I couldn’t remember why I hadn’t liked it. Needless to say, after a second reading, I remembered quite well why I didn’t like it the first time and, this time, disliked it even more.

Written by William E. Wormsley, an American professor on a Fulbright scholarship to Bangkok in the late 1980s, the book is about his experiences during a year in Thailand doing research on social anthropology.

What starts off quite promisingly, with an insight into his thoughts on the social anthropology research he will do once in Thailand, his departure from America and arrival in Bangkok, and his getting to know fellow professors at Silpakorn University, quickly disintegrates into the usual story of a sad, middle-aged western man spending much of his time hanging around bar girls (prostitutes) and drinking a lot of beer.

What’s even more annoying is Wormsley’s belief that he understands much about Thai culture (he doesn’t) and that his ‘research’ into the bar girl culture (meaning hanging around girly bars drinking beer with bar girls every night) was a valid use of his Fulbright scholarship.

I’m sure the folks at The Fulbright Program back in America were thrilled when, instead of doing his planned research on the problems Hill Tribes have in Thailand, he came back with a plethora of ‘research’ about Thai prostitutes.

If you want a book that barely skims the surface of Thailand’s complicated culture, Thailights : Bright Spots in an American Fulbright Year is the book for you. If you want to read yet another book by a middle-aged western man thinking he’s the only one with an insight into the Thai sex industry, telling you how wonderful Thai prostitutes are and how they’re no different than other Thai women, and blaming western women for why so many western men indulge in it, this book is for you.

If, however, you want a book about Thai culture, to learn more about Thais and Thai social issues, avoid Thailights : Bright Spots in an American Fulbright Year like the plague.

Thailights is currently selling in Bangkok at Kinokuniya for 1,100 baht ($37), which is incredibly expensive for a book that’s this low quality, and particularly as I only paid 495 baht when I bought it.

If, however, you don’t mind second-hand, my copy will be dropped off at a used bookshop in Bangkok sometime this week so you may just be lucky in finding a copy that’s a lot cheaper.

In the US, you’ll find it published through vanity publisher XLibris. Personally, I wouldn’t waste my money.