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CONFUCIUS AND OPIUM

CHINA BOOK REVIEWS

An offbeat, erudite work of China-centered literary criticism.

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This collection of cultural and literary criticism examines the ways the West and China have viewed each other over the centuries.

China has always had a complex relationship with the West, shaping foreign visitors even as it has been molded by them. Cook takes this exchange as his subject, particularly the books that have dealt with it (largely from a Western perspective). In the eponymous first essay, the author appraises the evidence of whether or not opium was in use in Confucius’ time before launching into a larger investigation of the possible influence that imported entheogens—naturally occurring psychedelics—had on the development of Chinese philosophy. In “Living the Taiping,” he evaluates a little-known 19th-century rebellion that was one of the deadliest conflicts in world history and yet one that is largely ignored in Chinese textbooks. Other essays deal with topics such as the demolition of Shanghai’s city wall, 19th-century Western travel narratives, historical true crime set in China, and evaluations of modern Chinese literature and Western novels with Chinese backdrops. Cook, an American expatriate who has lived in China for 26 years, is in some ways a living participant in the sorts of exchanges he examines. He’s a Westerner writing about China and the other Westerners who have portrayed the country in books. The texts he describes include historical novels, travelogues, popular histories, and more. His reviews move from one volume and subject to the next, adeptly drawing out common themes or compelling threads that hint at larger trends in Chinese history. The author himself is a peculiar personality, and his idiosyncratic (and occasionally off-putting) views sometimes bleed into the work. “For the right concubine,” he admits during a discussion of the historical practice, “I would pay. I think you would too. Say you encounter the woman of your dreams—one with your ideal ‘10’ body. I mean the kind of body that would make you cheat on your wife or girlfriend (or husband or boyfriend) for the very first time.” Such moments aside, readers will learn much about Chinese history and will walk away with quite a long reading list of books to explore.

An offbeat, erudite work of China-centered literary criticism.

Pub Date: March 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-73227-742-7

Page Count: 265

Publisher: Magic Theater Books

Review Posted Online: June 3, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2020

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  • Kirkus Reviews'
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  • New York Times Bestseller


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  • National Book Award Finalist

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KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON

THE OSAGE MURDERS AND THE BIRTH OF THE FBI

Dogged original research and superb narrative skills come together in this gripping account of pitiless evil.

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  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2017


  • New York Times Bestseller


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  • National Book Award Finalist

Greed, depravity, and serial murder in 1920s Oklahoma.

During that time, enrolled members of the Osage Indian nation were among the wealthiest people per capita in the world. The rich oil fields beneath their reservation brought millions of dollars into the tribe annually, distributed to tribal members holding "headrights" that could not be bought or sold but only inherited. This vast wealth attracted the attention of unscrupulous whites who found ways to divert it to themselves by marrying Osage women or by having Osage declared legally incompetent so the whites could fleece them through the administration of their estates. For some, however, these deceptive tactics were not enough, and a plague of violent death—by shooting, poison, orchestrated automobile accident, and bombing—began to decimate the Osage in what they came to call the "Reign of Terror." Corrupt and incompetent law enforcement and judicial systems ensured that the perpetrators were never found or punished until the young J. Edgar Hoover saw cracking these cases as a means of burnishing the reputation of the newly professionalized FBI. Bestselling New Yorker staff writer Grann (The Devil and Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness, and Obsession, 2010, etc.) follows Special Agent Tom White and his assistants as they track the killers of one extended Osage family through a closed local culture of greed, bigotry, and lies in pursuit of protection for the survivors and justice for the dead. But he doesn't stop there; relying almost entirely on primary and unpublished sources, the author goes on to expose a web of conspiracy and corruption that extended far wider than even the FBI ever suspected. This page-turner surges forward with the pacing of a true-crime thriller, elevated by Grann's crisp and evocative prose and enhanced by dozens of period photographs.

Dogged original research and superb narrative skills come together in this gripping account of pitiless evil.

Pub Date: April 18, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-385-53424-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Feb. 1, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2017

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NIGHT

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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