Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, was the earliest advocate of the Non-Alignment Movement, a doctrine that enabled the newly decolonized nations to keep away from the larger world politics of the Cold War. Additionally, Gandhi, the Father of the Nation, took the stance of non-violence that, in the sphere of international politics, restrained India from interacting with the world in a way that requires aggression. On the one hand, both non-alignment and non-violence have encouraged a view of India as a nation that has not engaged with the world in terms of clearly taking a stand in the face of international conflicts. On the other, India also has also been known to cultivate strategic alliances with nations that show considerably less reticence contrary to the spirit of non-alignment. India also maintains nuclear weapons, thus seemingly violating the fundamentals of non-alignment and non-violence. 

Imagine sitting in front of a large picture window and looking out. What you see before you isn’t your usual view, though, because you have been transported back to Japan at the turn of the 20th century by means of a massive book containing nearly seven hundred views of Japan in the last decade or so of the Meiji era (1867-1912). That it weighs some fourteen pounds (I viewed it on my newly-bought book-stand) ceases to matter as the photographs simply take over; the huge format becomes altogether appropriate, and readers will be mesmerized by its cinematographic proportions, vivid colors and sheer presence.

It’s the 16th century, and the Ottoman Empire has just defeated the Mamluk Sultanate, conquering Damascus and Cairo, important centers of Arab learning and culture. But how did these two groups—Arabs and “Rumis”, a term used to refer to those living in Anatolia—interact? How did Arabs deal with these powerful upstarts, and how did Rumis try to work with their learned, yet defeated, subjects?

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.