With useful maps and stories within stories, this is an ingenious look at an often misunderstood country.

GREAT STATE

CHINA AND THE WORLD

A Canadian scholar of Chinese history offers a fresh look at China’s engagement with the outside world over centuries in the form of 13 illustrative stories.

In this academic yet mostly accessible work, Brook makes two significant revisionist arguments about China and its history. First, he moves up China’s sense of being a unified state from the third century B.C.E., when it developed “dispersed kingdoms,” to the 13th century, when its occupation by the Mongol armies imbued it with a sense of military domination exercised through conquest. This was the self-important “Mongol Great State,” and every ruler since then has declared his regime to be a “Great State,” according to Brook. Second, the author argues that, contrary to the myth of Chinese isolation from the world, the nation was very much aware of the “10,000 countries” that lay outside it, as the author relays through fascinating stories of contact. These involve a wide variety of protagonists that may be unfamiliar to many readers, including the “Persian Blue Princess” whom Khubilai Khan recruited for the Mongol throne; Korean emissaries who blew off course and landed in China; the Italian Jesuit missionaries who spread Renaissance ideas; and the droves of European traders descending on ports such as Canton. Indeed, Brook reminds us, China has frequently endured waves of conquest and occupation by “foreign” armies, from the marauding Mongol hordes led by Khan, who established the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), to the subsequent rise of the Ming Dynasty until 1644, when the Manchus swept through and established the Qing Great State, which collapsed in 1911. Brook then takes us all the way up to the early 21st century, noting how “China’s relationship with the world will continue to change.” The author also turns up intriguing new DNA evidence that the plague had likely emerged from Central Asia and devastated Chinese cities far earlier than it arrived in Europe.

With useful maps and stories within stories, this is an ingenious look at an often misunderstood country.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-295098-7

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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

NIGHT

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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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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