History has a way of inspiring quirky fanfiction. Back in the 1980s, Terry Johnson’s play (later Nicolas Roeg’s film) Insignificance imagined an evening where Marilyn Monroe (or as she was called simply, “The Actress”) finds herself thrown together with Albert Einstein (“The Scientist”), Joseph McCarthy (“The Senator”) and Joe DiMaggio (“The Ballplayer”), who collectively spin an intriguing rumination about the meaning of fame in America. Johnson’s dialogue rather deviated from historical record, but hearing The Actress explain relativity to The Scientist was a hoot.

The Power of Print in Modern China: Intellectuals and Industrial Publishing from the End of Empire to Maoist State Socialism, Robert Culp (Columbia University Press, May 2019)
The Power of Print in Modern China: Intellectuals and Industrial Publishing from the End of Empire to Maoist State Socialism, Robert Culp (Columbia University Press, May 2019)

Amid early twentieth-century China’s epochal shifts, a vital and prolific commercial publishing industry emerged. Recruiting late Qing literati, foreign-trained academics, and recent graduates of the modernized school system to work as authors and editors, publishers produced textbooks, reference books, book series, and reprints of classical texts in large quantities at a significant profit. Work for major publishers provided a living to many Chinese intellectuals and offered them a platform to transform Chinese cultural life.

The image of Central Asia in the minds of many in the West is that of an exotic, distant land ruled by evil despots—its entrenched culture of corruption and repression both eternal and intractable. However, in Dictators without borders: Power and Money in Central Asia, academics Alexander Cooley and John Heathershaw aim to refresh and reframe our understanding of the region.

Two famous Englishmen, two hundred years or so apart, tried to emigrate to America and failed. One was Oliver Cromwell, who in 1634 found himself in so much debt that he sold up much of his property and decided to sail off to Connecticut for a life in the New World. Unfortunately, he was denied permission to leave England, and never got on the boat, leaving historians to wonder what would have happened (or wouldn’t have) had he been issued a passport. The other was Rudyard Kipling, who fared rather better.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, two Jewish cartoonists brought the term “graphic novel” to the mainstream. Will Eisner’s A Contract With God tells the story of poor Jewish immigrants in New York tenements while Art Spiegelman’s Maus depicts two storylines that center around the Holocaust. These books address heavy subjects and differ from the lighter fare in comic books, which are usually thinner, magazine-like publications. The term graphic novel has come to refer to non-fiction, not just fiction.