In 1270, one year before the start of Marco Polo's fabled adventure, a Jewish merchant from the Adriatic port of Ancona set sail for the Orient; over 700 years later, his recently discovered account affords a rare and fascinating glimpse into the peoples, commerce, and thought of the 13th century. Selbourne, a former Oxford professor with an interest in Judaica, presents a fully annotated, very readable translation from the medieval Italian. It reveals Jacob d'Ancona as a savvy businessman, a scholar, a knowledgeable healer—and someone who never shies from disputation. Jacob sails to the eastern Mediterranean; journeys overland to Basra, where he attends the wedding of his son to a wealthy merchant's daughter; crosses the Arabian Sea, alighting on India's Malabar Coast; and then via Sumatra sails north to the Chinese port of Zaitun, the ``City of Light.'' Readers may be surprised to learn that Europeans of all stripes, as well as Saracens, or Muslims, had already been engaged in thriving trade with the Chinese for perhaps hundreds of years, Jewish merchants being among the most prominent. Zaitun itself was a Sodom of sorts: Its ``light'' is a consequence of the all-night commerce in human pleasures, which the pious Jacob abhors. But it is also a center of learning and a great agglomeration of peoples from the known medieval world. During his five-month sojourn, Jacob becomes involved in the intellectual and practical debates swirling around the city, which faced imminent invasion by Kublai Khan, to whom Polo would shortly become an advisor. Jacob's somewhat prolix disquisitions on piety and religion, the relationships among Jews, Christians, and Muslims, and the wisdom of confronting the Mongols earn him both admiration and enmity, and he must finally flee the city, though not without considerable financial success. An exciting, stimulating, and unique human document, and one that will no doubt become a much-trumpeted addition to the historical record. (50 b&w photos)

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 1997

ISBN: 0-316-17353-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1997

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A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

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A collection of articulate, forceful speeches made from September 2018 to September 2019 by the Swedish climate activist who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Speaking in such venues as the European and British Parliaments, the French National Assembly, the Austrian World Summit, and the U.N. General Assembly, Thunberg has always been refreshingly—and necessarily—blunt in her demands for action from world leaders who refuse to address climate change. With clarity and unbridled passion, she presents her message that climate change is an emergency that must be addressed immediately, and she fills her speeches with punchy sound bites delivered in her characteristic pull-no-punches style: “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.” In speech after speech, to persuade her listeners, she cites uncomfortable, even alarming statistics about global temperature rise and carbon dioxide emissions. Although this inevitably makes the text rather repetitive, the repetition itself has an impact, driving home her point so that no one can fail to understand its importance. Thunberg varies her style for different audiences. Sometimes it is the rousing “our house is on fire” approach; other times she speaks more quietly about herself and her hopes and her dreams. When addressing the U.S. Congress, she knowingly calls to mind the words and deeds of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy. The last speech in the book ends on a note that is both challenging and upbeat: “We are the change and change is coming.” The edition published in Britain earlier this year contained 11 speeches; this updated edition has 16, all worth reading.

A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

Pub Date: Nov. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-14-313356-8

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2019

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A quirky wonder of a book.



A Peabody Award–winning NPR science reporter chronicles the life of a turn-of-the-century scientist and how her quest led to significant revelations about the meaning of order, chaos, and her own existence.

Miller began doing research on David Starr Jordan (1851-1931) to understand how he had managed to carry on after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake destroyed his work. A taxonomist who is credited with discovering “a full fifth of fish known to man in his day,” Jordan had amassed an unparalleled collection of ichthyological specimens. Gathering up all the fish he could save, Jordan sewed the nameplates that had been on the destroyed jars directly onto the fish. His perseverance intrigued the author, who also discusses the struggles she underwent after her affair with a woman ended a heterosexual relationship. Born into an upstate New York farm family, Jordan attended Cornell and then became an itinerant scholar and field researcher until he landed at Indiana University, where his first ichthyological collection was destroyed by lightning. In between this catastrophe and others involving family members’ deaths, he reconstructed his collection. Later, he was appointed as the founding president of Stanford, where he evolved into a Machiavellian figure who trampled on colleagues and sang the praises of eugenics. Miller concludes that Jordan displayed the characteristics of someone who relied on “positive illusions” to rebound from disaster and that his stand on eugenics came from a belief in “a divine hierarchy from bacteria to humans that point[ed]…toward better.” Considering recent research that negates biological hierarchies, the author then suggests that Jordan’s beloved taxonomic category—fish—does not exist. Part biography, part science report, and part meditation on how the chaos that caused Miller’s existential misery could also bring self-acceptance and a loving wife, this unique book is an ingenious celebration of diversity and the mysterious order that underlies all existence.

A quirky wonder of a book.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6027-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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