Americans in Thailand: Love, War, God and Pizza

They arrived with printing presses and telescopes, religious fervor and guns. They advised monarchs and trained teachers and doctors. They paved roads and paid vast sums to expand their military operations for a controversial war. They brought new trade, training and theories to villages, classrooms and boardrooms, along with bottled water and pizza.

Americans in Thailand is the story of one of the world’s most fascinating foreign communities. Focusing on famous and notorious personalities of each era, the colorful tale begins with the first American to set foot on Siamese soil in 1818. It then describes how the early missionaries, diplomats and traders navigated – sometimes with hilarious or disastrous results – the unfamiliar terrain and customs of Siam.

In the 20th century, Americans became more influential, with several assuming powerful roles within the Siamese court and assisting the country’s reforms. By the 1970s, American influence was becoming ubiquitous and increasingly contentious, as the Vietnam War era inspired clandestine operations, decadence and development. Through the present day, Americans in Thailand continue to contribute in compelling ways. Collected in this lavishly illustrated volume are many of their stories and historical nuggets never unearthed before.

Several long-time American residents of Thailand contributed substantial chapters, such as Denis Gray, who worked for the Associated Press as Bangkok bureau chief for more than 30 years; Nicholas Grossman, who created Chronicle of Thailand and other historical volumes on Thailand; Jeff Hodson, a former editor and reporter for The Seattle Times who was a project director for Internews in Chiang Mai,Thailand; Robert Horn, who has worked as a reporter in Thailand for Time magazine and the Associated Press; and Wesley Hsu, who is an award-winning copy writer. An allowance was also made for a Canadian writer, Jim Algie, whose next book, The Thai Punk Star’s Love and Lament, zeroes in on musical, chemical and sexual excess in the capital’s rock scene. It will be released in early 2015.

The book also includes a cast list of colorful characters including:

  • The first American murdered in Bangkok
  • The first doctor to ever perform a surgery in the kingdom
  • The young Yankee who tripped over a tree root and discovered the world’s oldest Bronze Age civilization
  • The most decorated soldier in American military history and the founder of the CIA, “Wild Bill” Donovan, who served as the ambassador to Thailand and a facilitator of the opium trade
  • The man who designed the first Braille dictionary with Thai script
  • The Bostonian who founded the Bangkok Post and whose gun was found beside the body of King Ananda who died in 1946
  • The philanthropist who became the first woman to receive the highest civilian decoration from the current king
  • Was silk tycoon Jim Thompson really a spook and gunrunner?
  • The first black American to call Bangkok his home
  • The American congressman who helped to write the constitution of 1932
  • The only Thai to fight in the American Civil War
  • Richard Nixon, John Wayne, Cary Grant and astronaut Neil Armstrong’s visits to Bangkok
  • What’s the real meaning of the term “Ugly American” and where did they shoot the film with Marlon Brando?

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