Of considerable interest to students of world trade, geopolitics, and history.

SUPERPOWER INTERRUPTED

THE CHINESE HISTORY OF THE WORLD

Business journalist Schuman, who has more than 20 years of experience in Asia, takes a big-picture look at the reemergence of China as a leading power.

A superpower projects its influence through numerous vehicles. One is military. More important, though, are economic and cultural influences—e.g., the primacy of the dollar as a unit of international exchange, the dominance of English as a lingua franca. China’s ascent is no surprise: Schuman writes that the nation, “for nearly its entire history,” has commanded all these vehicles. For much of world history, it has been the dominant power in its region, has controlled trade networks extending all the way to Europe, and been a technological innovator. “Recall that when Christopher Columbus sailed into the unknown he was not searching for Mexico, but China,” he adds. Numerous injuries inflicted on a tottering political regime in the 19th century, among them the Opium Wars, brought China under foreign control and reduced its influence, but many Chinese now, under Xi Jinping, believe that the time has arrived to reclaim Chinese hegemony. Schuman offers a lucid crash course in Chinese history and some of its more noted political and economic thinkers, from Confucius to King Wu and Liang Qichao, the last of whom counseled that China would not flourish until its “common people participated in the process of governing.” That has yet to happen, but it is inarguable that since the 1980s, with Deng Xiaoping’s reopening of the nation to international trade—“among the most momentous events of modern times,” Schuman rightly notes—China has become wealthy, and if it still relies on other nations (especially the U.S.) for technological innovations, it is taking an ever larger role on the world stage in a way that it has not for half a millennium: “Xi himself appears a reincarnation of the empire-building emperors of old,” Schuman concludes.

Of considerable interest to students of world trade, geopolitics, and history.

Pub Date: June 9, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5417-8834-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2020

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A lucid (in the sky with diamonds) look at the hows, whys, and occasional demerits of altering one’s mind.

THIS IS YOUR MIND ON PLANTS

Building on his lysergically drenched book How to Change Your Mind (2018), Pollan looks at three plant-based drugs and the mental effects they can produce.

The disastrous war on drugs began under Nixon to control two classes of perceived enemies: anti-war protestors and Black citizens. That cynical effort, writes the author, drives home the point that “societies condone the mind-changing drugs that help uphold society’s rule and ban the ones that are seen to undermine it.” One such drug is opium, for which Pollan daringly offers a recipe for home gardeners to make a tea laced with the stuff, producing “a radical and by no means unpleasant sense of passivity.” You can’t overthrow a government when so chilled out, and the real crisis is the manufacture of synthetic opioids, which the author roundly condemns. Pollan delivers a compelling backstory: This section dates to 1997, but he had to leave portions out of the original publication to keep the Drug Enforcement Administration from his door. Caffeine is legal, but it has stronger effects than opium, as the author learned when he tried to quit: “I came to see how integral caffeine is to the daily work of knitting ourselves back together after the fraying of consciousness during sleep.” Still, back in the day, the introduction of caffeine to the marketplace tempered the massive amounts of alcohol people were drinking even though a cup of coffee at noon will keep banging on your brain at midnight. As for the cactus species that “is busy transforming sunlight into mescaline right in my front yard”? Anyone can grow it, it seems, but not everyone will enjoy effects that, in one Pollan experiment, “felt like a kind of madness.” To his credit, the author also wrestles with issues of cultural appropriation, since in some places it’s now easier for a suburbanite to grow San Pedro cacti than for a Native American to use it ceremonially.

A lucid (in the sky with diamonds) look at the hows, whys, and occasional demerits of altering one’s mind.

Pub Date: July 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-29690-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: April 14, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2021

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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