The region of Northeast China best known as “Manchuria” has long held a special place in the global imagination. Its geopolitically important location near the borders of Russian, Korea and Japan have seen it inspire Hollywood films and countless spy novels.
“History has not been kind to Himalaya,” writes historian and travel writer John Keay in his latest book Himalaya: Exploring the Roof of the World. The region, nestled between India, China and Central Asia, has long been subject to political and imperial intrigue–and at times violent invasion. But the region also provided a wealth of scientific information, like geographers puzzling over how these tall peaks were thrust upwards by plate tectonics.
In the 19th century, one group of American merchants reported an odd request from the Vietnamese emperor. An envoy asked if the traders could help procure a commodity brought by a previous delegation: a precious good that turned out to be a bottle of Best Durham bottled mustard.
The history of Indian queens—or ranis—has so far been left largely unexplored because mainstream history deals primarily with the annals of the kings. Queeny Pradhan’s Ranis & the Raj presents a perceptible shift in focus as it views the British Raj in 19th-century India from the perspective of six Indian queens—Rani Chennamma of Kittur, Rani Lakshmi Bai of Jhansi, Maharani Jindan of Punjab, Begum Zeenat Mahal, Guleri Rani of Sirmur and Queen Menchi of Sikkim—from geographically and culturally varied regions which offer a pan-Indian dimension to the history of the ranis.
The core of the Ottomans’ political culture could never be replicated. Based on military slaves, forcibly recruited from non-Muslim subjects, a harem full of nubile captives hoping to become sultanas, an emperor who had to murder his brothers to secure his throne, and a pliant clergy that reconciled these extra-legal practices with religion, the “Eternal State”, devlet-e ebetmüdat, ruled over immense territories and numberless peoples for 600 years.
On 2 September 1945, on the US battleship Missouri, US General Douglas MacArthur concluded the formal surrender ceremony of the Pacific War by stating: “Let us pray that peace be now restored to the world, and that God will preserve it always.” When the guns of the Second World War fell silent in Asia, peace did not return to the peoples of East and Southeast Asia. Instead, as Ronald Spector details in his meticulous and informative military history of the postwar Far East, the region “erupted” as a result of decolonization, civil wars, and the broader Cold War. The region became a vast “bloodlands” in which nearly four million combatants and probably close to 20 million civilians died.
Scholar and professor Joseph Sassoon was never interested in his family’s history until he received a letter ten years ago from another Joseph Sassoon. The name is not common and, sure enough, this other Joseph was a very distant relative who had come across an article by Professor Sassoon about authoritarian regimes. The two spoke on the phone, which sparked interest in the family and led to Professor Sassoon’s new book, The Sassoons: The Great Global Merchants and the Making of an Empire, a story of a refugee family that reinvented itself in India, China, and ultimately the United Kingdom, and one that sometimes takes on biblical dimensions.