Tremendous insight into little-remembered yet crucial events at the beginning of the formation of modern China.



A vividly characterized account of the Lincheng Incident of 1923, a significant moment in the collision of cultures and political currents in post-imperial China.

Zimmerman, a Beijing-based lawyer who has lived and worked in China for more than 25 years, examines a largely forgotten yet important international incident: On May 6, 1923, an army of bandits attacked a luxury passenger train traveling from Shanghai to Peking, robbed and killed passengers, and took 120-plus hostages, many foreigners, to extract political concessions. The event exposed the lawlessness of China at the time and highlighted the eagerness of other nations to exploit the tumultuous post-imperial political landscape, mostly controlled by powerful warlords. Sun Mei-yao, a rebel peasant leader and former soldier and his army of disgruntled brigands—the so-called “Self-Governed Army for the Establishment of the Country”—aimed to bring international attention to the plight of those exploited by the ruling warlords. The group derailed the train near Lincheng in the middle of the night, looted it in waves, shot protestors, and dragged hostages on a forced march to the army’s hideaway at the top of Paotzuku Mountain. As the author demonstrates in this deeply researched text, sympathy lay with foreigners on the train, including American heiress Lucy Aldrich, John D. Rockefeller Jr.’s sister-in-law; John B. Powell, “publisher of Shanghai’s Weekly Review and the Chicago Tribune’s man in China”; Italian lawyer Giuseppe D. Musso, who represented the Shanghai Opium Combine; various U.S. military officers and their families; and a host of powerful Jewish businessmen. After many weeks, American fixer Roy Scott Anderson negotiated a peaceful release of the hostages. The perpetrators, despite reassurances of safety, received severe punishment. Zimmerman goes on to show how Mao Zedong later regarded the incident as a worthy peasant revolt that failed because it “lacked a unifying political strategy.”

Tremendous insight into little-remembered yet crucial events at the beginning of the formation of modern China.

Pub Date: April 4, 2023

ISBN: 9781541701700

Page Count: 352

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Jan. 25, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2023

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A rousing, suspenseful adventure tale.



A harrowing expedition to Antarctica, recounted by Departures senior features editor Sancton, who has reported from every continent on the planet.

On Aug. 16, 1897, the steam whaler Belgica set off from Belgium with young  Adrien de Gerlache as commandant. Thus begins Sancton’s riveting history of exploration, ingenuity, and survival. The commandant’s inexperienced, often unruly crew, half non-Belgian, included scientists, a rookie engineer, and first mate Roald Amundsen, who would later become a celebrated polar explorer. After loading a half ton of explosive tonite, the ship set sail with 23 crew members and two cats. In Rio de Janeiro, they were joined by Dr. Frederick Cook, a young, shameless huckster who had accompanied Robert Peary as a surgeon and ethnologist on an expedition to northern Greenland. In Punta Arenas, four seamen were removed for insubordination, and rats snuck onboard. In Tierra del Fuego, the ship ran aground for a while. Sancton evokes a calm anxiety as he chronicles the ship’s journey south. On Jan. 19, 1898, near the South Shetland Islands, the crew spotted the first icebergs. Rough waves swept someone overboard. Days later, they saw Antarctica in the distance. Glory was “finally within reach.” The author describes the discovery and naming of new lands and the work of the scientists gathering specimens. The ship continued through a perilous, ice-littered sea, as the commandant was anxious to reach a record-setting latitude. On March 6, the Belgica became icebound. The crew did everything they could to prepare for a dark, below-freezing winter, but they were wracked with despair, suffering headaches, insomnia, dizziness, and later, madness—all vividly capture by Sancton. The sun returned on July 22, and by March 1899, they were able to escape the ice. With a cast of intriguing characters and drama galore, this history reads like fiction and will thrill fans of Endurance and In the Kingdom of Ice.

A rousing, suspenseful adventure tale.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-984824-33-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 30, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

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A lucid, astute text that unpacks the myths of Russian history to help explain present-day motivations and actions.


An expert on Russia delivers a crucially relevant study of a country that has been continuously “subjected to the vicissitudes of ruling ideologies.”

Wolfson History Prize winner Figes, one of the world’s leading authorities on Russian history and culture, shows how, over centuries, Russian autocrats have manipulated intertwined layers of mythology and history to suit their political and imperial purposes. Regarding current affairs, the author argues convincingly that to understand Putin’s aggressive behavior toward Ukraine and other neighboring nations, it is essential to grasp how Russia has come to see itself within the global order, especially in Asia and Europe. Figes emphasizes the intensive push and pull between concepts of East and West since the dubious founding of Kievan Rus, “the first Russian state,” circa 980. Russia’s geography meant it had few natural boundaries and was vulnerable to invasion—e.g., by the Mongols—and its mere size often required strong, central military control. It was in Moscow’s interests to increase its territorial boundaries and keep its neighbors weak, a strategy still seen today. Figes explores the growth of the “patrimonial autocracy” and examines how much of the mechanics of the country’s autocracy, bureaucracy, military structure, oligarchy, and corruption were inherited from three centuries of Mongol rule. From Peter the Great to Catherine the Great to Alexander II (the reformer who freed the serfs) and through the Bolsheviks to Stalin: In most cases, everything belonged to the state, and there were few societal institutions to check that power. “This imbalance—between a dominating state and a weak society—has shaped the course of Russian history,” writes the author in a meaningful, definitive statement. Today, Putin repudiates any hint of Westernizing influences (Peter the Great) while elevating the Eastern (Kievan Rus, the Orthodox Church). In that, he is reminiscent of Stalin, who recognized the need for patriotic fervor and national myths and symbols to unite and ensure the oppression of the masses.

A lucid, astute text that unpacks the myths of Russian history to help explain present-day motivations and actions.

Pub Date: Sept. 20, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-250-79689-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Metropolitan/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: June 8, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2022

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