Freedom from Fear

By Aung San Suu Kyi, Michael Aris, Václav Havel, Desmond Tutu, Ma Than E

839 ratings - 4.01* vote

Aung San Suu Kyi, human-rights activist and leader of Burma's National League for Democracy, was detained in 1989 by SLORC, the ruling military junta. Today, she is newly liberated from six years' house arrest in Rangoon, where she was held as a prisoner of conscience, despite an overwhelming victory by her party in May 1990. This collection of writings, now revised with s Aung San Suu Kyi, human-rights activist and leader of Burma's National League for Democracy, was detained in

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Book details

Paperback, 374 pages
March 1st 1995 by Penguin Books

(first published 1991)

Original Title
Freedom from Fear and Other Writings
0140253173 (ISBN13: 9780140253177)
Edition Language

Community Reviews


Having just come back from a visit to Burma I was really interested to pick up this book. I had tried to find it before I left and was unsuccessful but read up a reasonable amount on the country before I arrived.

Frankly, my feelings were mixed. Part 1 ,which actually takes up about half the book, is a series of essays on Burma published by Suu Kyi before she became politically active. Although there was some interesting information on the history of Burma and her father I felt as if these were a little out of place for an average reader and tended to all discuss similar issues repeatedly (background on her father and the Thakin's) or provide large amounts of information that was hard to digest (going through all the provinces of the country and talking about their key characteristics). They didn't really convey any sense of who the author was to me or give me much understanding of her.

I understand that due to her lengthy incarceration there are not a huge volume of speeches and other materials to draw on but reading through part 1 I rapidly found myself losing interest. I feel bad saying that but it is just my honest feelings - it was almost as if they were put in as fluff to add some length to the text (not saying that was the reason but how I felt). In particular I felt the essay titled "Intelectual Life in Burma and India Under Colonialism" was a gruelling read and just not relevant enough or set at a reasonable level for someone who does not have an indepth knowledge of Burmese or Indian history to understand. It seemed to be a very indepth, analytical dissertation style piece that is very hard for a casual reader such as myself to take much from.

Once Part 2 begins we move onto her political works and this is where I really found myself enjoying the book. Some of her speeches and writings really are truly inspiring. There is no question she is an incredible person but for the first 167 pages of the book I found it hard to connect with her. The background on her father (who is clearly a vital influence on her politics) was appreciated at first but became tired as I felt after essay number 1 no new ground was really covered. It's a real shame for me that I felt Part 1 was such a struggle as it really restricted my overall enjoyment of the book. They could easily have cut out 2/3 or even 3/4 of this section, left enough to provide some background history on her father and Burma, suggested some other readings for those interested, and moved on.

I dont want my overall review to seem harsh but after struggling through over 1/2 the book I feel like it would be just as productive to do a little background reading on Burma before picking up this book, read the introduction and then skip straight to Part 2.

Hopefully in the next few years we will see an another piece of literature from Suu Kyi where she can speak freely on her experiences these last 20+ years. That is something I cant wait to read.


This is a collection of essays by and about the Burmese pro-democracy activist. It's split into three sections, the first being essays that she wrote before becoming politically active. This contains a biography of her father, the man regarded as the father of the modern Burma; a history of the country written for a younger audience; a comparison of colonialism in Burma and India; and a review of Burmese literature and nationalism. This section shows that she's an intelligent and intelligible writer with a wide range, but it's the second section where she comes into her own. This is a collection of speeches and essays after her political activism began. Apart from one very dry and difficult piece about economics, peace and development, they're all very clearly written and her passion and drive come through clearly. The final section is a series of appreciations of Aung San Suu Kyi written by other people.

The most heartbreaking thing about this book is that it was published in the mid 90s, and more than a decade later nothing has changed. Aung San Suu Kyi is still under house arrest, the military are still in control and it doesn't look like they're going to give up any time soon. Reading her words, her optimism and hope shine through: she really believed that the military would talk to her and accept the mandate of the people where her party won over 80% of the seats contested.

This book shows that Aung San Suu Kyi is an intelligent, strong and incredibly capable woman. She's been called Burma's Gandhi and I hope that she lives to see her dream of Burma's transition to a democratic state.


Short-term objectives — such as mass demonstrations, the formation of political parties and elections — are worthless if human rights are not consistently observed.
Upon finishing this book, I completed my set goal for the Year of Reading Woman of Color 2016 challenge sponsored by the 500 Great Books By Women group. While I will not do what I did a number of times in the past year and extend the finish line by another ten books or so, I will continue the balanced diet of reading I've apportioned for my four books at once reading policy, thus ensuring that I will extend my YoRWoC2016 count by 2-3 books, if not more. In terms of this being a learning experience, my drop in the top reviewer rankings more than attests to that. I've also become aware of what it really means when I find it easier to confine my reading to 20% of the world's population than to 40%, give or take a few percentage points. Part of it is availability, part of it is marketing, and a huge chunk is the brainwashing the concept of "universal" has done to anyone who's come close to standardized education. I was able to access a great number of the severely underread works in my goal count through UCLA libraries, but the difference between those and what I'll be studying for my upcoming GRE and English subject tests is vast indeed.
There is nothing new in Third World governments seeking to justify and perpetuate authoritarian rule by denouncing liberal democratic principles as alien. By implication they claim for themselves the official and sole right to decide what does or does not conform to indigenous cultural norms.
Aung San Suu Kyi was confined to house arrest before I was born and was released during my second year of college. I first got a notion of her existence when I watched 'Beyond Rangoon' in freshman year of high school, a movie whose quality of being out of touch with the actual issues at hand only increases with every passing year, the change in the city name only being one of the more ironic death knells. The times being what they are, I don't see the point in reading books at the moment that aren't in some way politically motivated, whether they are records of nonviolent resistance, memoirs of genocides, and seemingly innocuous works that, for all their incorporation into the mainstream, would not survive on the premise of white patriarchal supremacy. Even I will need a break from that from time to time, but seeing as how for years I've preferred to devote my reading to realms beyond my comfort zone and save the indulgences for movies and video games, I don't see any reason to change that now.
[Nehru] denounces as a 'kind of art for art's sake' the study of the past which is not linked to the present and which does not derive from it the urge to action. For him the ideal was action which was not divorced from thought but which flowed from it in a continuous sequence.
It's interesting how my haphazard autodidacicism prepared me rather well for tackling this work, as the title 'Freedom from Fear and Other Writings' is both technically true and wildly misleading. Contrary to what the summary states, around half to three quarters of the writing is by Aung San Suu Kyi, if that. Of what she herself authored, 'Freedom From Fear' is one of perhaps two or three essays that touch directly upon events initiated by Aung San Suu Kyi returning to Myanmar (Burma) to nurse her sick mother. To get more of a glimpse of the place in history the author is most famous for, one must turn to the pieces in the last portion of the book written by others ranging from professors to scholars to a retired UN employee whom Aung San Suu Kyi referred to as her 'emergency aunt'. The situation here is that, during the time of this book's creation, Aung San Suu Kyi was far out of reach, and the efforts to combine her scholarship with contemporary concerns means including a sizable portion of writing requires drawing on what pieces she has done on her father as national hero, her country, and highly academic articles such as 'Intellectual Life in Burma and India under Colonialism' and 'Literature and Nationalism in Burma'. If you've read anything along the lines The Discovery of India and are already inclined towards thinking concretely about the relationship between literature and life, you won't have that much trouble connecting the dots. If you're thinking of picking up this book as your first introduction to Myanmar in the late 1980's, I highly suggest you look at Letters from Burma instead. Saying that you'll be lost and likely frustrated by the mounds of new and highly contextualized information that manages through many viewpoints to border on repetitive is putting it lightly.
A revolution which aims merely at changing official policies and institutions with a view to an improvement in material conditions has little chance of genuine success. Without a revolution of the spirit, the forces which produced the iniquities of the old order would continue to be operative, posing a constant threat to the process of reform and regeneration.
The last essay had some reservations on Aung San Suu Kyi's leadership based on a prioritizing of a Bamar (Burmese) construction of parliament over incorporation of all minorities prior to making any decisions of the larger government. In light of the situation nearly two decades later with the Rohingya people and other Muslim populations living in Myanmar, the author was right to be concerned over something as deceptively simple as the semantics of a proposed constitution. My situation is removed from this one, but when considering the US has had some kind of hand in every military dictatorship even before Neo-Nazis started calling themselves in the alt-right in 2016, what escalating Islamophobia there is over here will most definitely carry over there. For all that, I can't say what the future holds. However, if someone was willing to spend two decades under house arrest for said future, I can only try to match that in my own way.

Sai Kishore

Re-rating this.Who deserves the Nobel peace prize? A spectator who see 123,000 people fled across the border with horrific stories to carry with them? Is this not a text book example of ethnic cleansing ?

Saw Thinkar

Aung San Suu Kyi Vs Aung San’s Burman army Vs ethnic minorities of Myanmar

Greg Collver

A collection of her essays, speeches and other works. I enjoyed the speeches most, especially "Freedom from Fear" and "Empowerment for a Culture of Peace and Development". "Suu Burmese", a biography of Suu by her friend Ann Slater was also enjoyable.


Thank you for the inspiration she provide all of us (our country) who share the values of democracy, human rights, and justice. We stand by "mother suu" now and always.


I suppose this is what your high school guidance counselor called "inspirational writing." Ignore him/her and his/her fuzzy cardigans. He/she probably has a way of ruining things you like, ranging from hot cocoa to Cinema Paradiso.

Aung San Suu Kyi manages to pair an astonishingly courageous democratic strategy with graceful political writing. These aren't dense, theoretical cogitations, but commonsense illustrations of the present conditions in Burma and how they can be rectified.

This collection though, was best when she was speaking with her own voice. The commentaries on her were at points charming, but I don't especially care what Aung San Suu Kyi was like in her Oxford days. We all know she's a remarkable person-- we don't need the adulations of her acquaintances to reinforce this.

Josie Crimp

I have very mixed feelings about this book. I finished it (it was a long slog) full of admiration for Suu Kyi, but feeling that its publisher made some poor decisions. I don't think the average reader needed the amount of in-depth Burmese history that is presented here, and that you ostensibly have to wade through before you get to hearing about Suu Kyi herself. I know she was the author of these essays but I think it's a mistake to see the purpose of a book like this as presenting the history of Burma, when the reader is wanting to find out about Suu Kyi herself and her approaches to non-violent resistance. If it hadn't been that I was determined to have less books on my Kindle that I still hadn't read, I doubt I would have got through the first 50%. Once I was there, I got onto the more personal section, and found it a much more interesting read henceforth.


I loved this book, Aung San Suu Kyi has captured my heart as well as Burma.