The Persian Empire fascinates and rightly so. Founded by Cyrus the Great in 559, represented the culmination of 2,000 years of Middle Eastern history. During their two centuries of rule, the Persians united much of the then civilized world, from Egypt to India. Lloyd Lewellyn-Jones argues, in partial justification for his new history, that this era is ignored or misunderstood, a claim that seems at odds with now a rather long list of books on the Empire that may be found on Amazon. As both Llewellyn-Jones, grudgingly, and Matt Waters, more graciously, demonstrate, we know a huge amount about this empire, in part because it coincided with the classical age of Greek literature. In addition, this Empire recorded in clay tablets every loaf of bread and cup of wine provided to its civil and military functionaries. The very richness of the archaeological and literary sources make constructing a coherent story challenging. Llewellyn-Jones makes the history cogent and exciting by stretching his sources about as far as they can go, and provides no footnotes. Waters uses the same sources, amply documented, and in a gingerly fashion, for his painstakingly complete life of Cyrus the great.
If there’s a country that “punches above its weight”, it’s South Korea. It’s home to some of the world’s largest and most important companies, and the source of pop culture that dominates Asia—and even planted a foothold in the West.
The fighting on Borneo during World War II is often forgotten because in the larger picture of the Pacific War it was relatively insignificant compared to the battles in New Guinea, the Philippines, and smaller islands of the central Pacific and southwest Pacific. The fighting on Borneo occurred near the end of the war between March and September 1945. Most of the heavy fighting took place on the small island of Tarakan, along the east coast near Balikpapan, and in Northern Borneo along the coast near Laubuan.
South Asian history is so complex and layered that making sense of it can take considerable effort. T Richard Blurton’s richly-illustrated India: A History in Objects emphasizes precisely this complexity and diversity—“The variety of South Asia is remarkable in terms of language, script, ethnicity, religion and architecture”— rather than a single narrative throughline.
Today, the idea that the Himalayas have the world’s tallest peaks—by a large margin—is entirely uncontroversial. Just about anyone can name Mount Everest and K2 as the world’s tallest and second-tallest mountains respectively.
Royal patronage gave impetus to great works of art. In a period when artists’ craft required years of apprenticeship, when the raw materials included costly powders and rare preparations, when collaboration among a large number of artists was required, the final result is practically a celebration of the presiding monarch. So it is with two manuscripts from the British Museum, covered in Treasures of Herat, Addendum 25900 and Oriental 6810. They represent the apogee of the Herat school of art, under the last great Timurid ruler, Sultan Husayn Bayqara (1438-1506).
The first diplomatic mission from Brazil to China took place from 1879-1882; it also included Brazil’s first circumnavigation of the globe (sailing east in this case). An account—Primeira circum-navegação brasileira e primeira missão do Brasil à China (1879) by Marli Cristina Scomazzon and Jeff Franco—has recently been published. This excerpt about the delegation’s stop-over in Hong Kong and Macau has been translated from the original Portuguese and is published with permission.