A well-researched and entertaining but somewhat scattershot look at a single watershed year in history and how its upheaval changed the world.
The year 1616 experienced numerous small transformations, writes Christensen (Worse Than a Monolith: Alliance Politics and Problems of Coercive Diplomacy in Asia, 2011, etc.). Because the author doesn’t focus on just one country or individual, he is able to look at world events more broadly than other history books that tackle the same period. Addressing economics, the role of women, art, science and more, Christensen discusses disparate geographic areas jointly, connecting Europe with the Mughal Empire in India and beyond. However, this structure also has a significant drawback: the lack of an overarching narrative. Each chapter is a set of stories illustrating Christensen’s central thesis of “a world in motion,” but even with his commentary these accounts don’t always coalesce into an ordered history. As a result, the narrative tends to meander and lose momentum. The challenge of writing a book of such broad scope is that the organization must be meticulous, and Christensen doesn’t fully succeed. However, he was clearly scrupulous about the research, and he discusses the material with the authority of an expert. The illustrations, photos, timeline and selected reading section also enhance reader understanding of the issues at play. “I hope that in the book…readers will find some fraction of the enthusiasm that I felt in reliving the year 1616,” he writes. In that he succeeds.
Despite organizational issues, Christensen provides interesting anecdotes and a unique reading experience. The book comes together more as a series of historical vignettes than as a comprehensive history.