A walk down any shopping street in South Korea reveals countless images of glamorous celebrity women, endorsing skincare products from the windows of stores such as Olive Young and Innisfree. Seoul’s affluent Gangnam neighborhood is crowded with buildings filled with competing plastic surgeons, and decorated with commercials with before/after photos showing the starkly unadorned next to the newly beautified. Job applicants may find themselves asked to include a headshot with a resume and cover letter. In casual conversation, it won’t be long before appearance comes up, along with myriad techniques and products that can improve it.

Among the current surfeit of books that claim to explain China, Terminus: Westward Expansion, China, and the End of American Empire, a new treatise on Sino-American relations, distinguishes itself by placing the current bilateral tensions in the context of almost two and half centuries of American expansion (“imperial expansion” as author Stuart Rollo puts it) which, it argues, had China as its target and which have reached its limit (hence “Terminus”). 

Narrative history at its best, Adrian Goldsworthy’s Rome and Persia is informative, readable, carefully sourced, and cautious in its judgments about events that occurred between 90 BCE and the 600s CE in the Mediterranean world, north Africa, and western Asia. It is also instructive about imperial rivalries, geopolitical competition, and human nature across the ages—including our present one. 

In the opening chapter of Susumu Higa’s manga, Okinawa, a group of Japanese soldiers land on a Ryukyuan island to prepare for World War II’s Battle of Okinawa. A child asks her principal whether the soldiers will occupy their island forever. “Until they know all of us are safe,” he replies. His words are an ominous beginning for readers who know anything about the next seventy years of Okinawa’s history.