John Keay has written well over 20 books, ranging from European to Middle Eastern history, but it’s his writing on the Subcontinent that he’s best known for. His new book draws on decades of research to provide a comprehensive portrait of the Himalaya from geology and politics to revolution and religion.
The vast watery expanse of the Indian Ocean has often been called the cradle of globalization. Long before the Age of Steam, intrepid mariners had taken advantage of the seasonal monsoon winds. The routes they charted energized, over time, the transoceanic circulation of people, goods, religions and ideas. By the early modern period, the episodic sea voyages of antiquity had given rise to a dense web of connections that integrated the far-flung littorals of Eastern Africa, the Bay of Bengal and Southeast Asia in a shared, ocean-oriented trading world.
Earlier this year, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists estimated that India has 160 nuclear warheads that can be delivered by aircraft, land-based ballistic missiles, and sea-based ballistic missiles—a small nuclear triad. How and why India developed nuclear energy and weapons programs in the midst of the Cold War is the subject of Jayita Sarkar’s fascinating and revealing book Ploughshares and Swords.
The First Emperor, founder of the short-lived Qin Dynasty (221-207 BCE) and even “China” writ large by some accounts, is a well-known historical figure. The excavation and subsequent global circulation of the Terracotta Warriors, crafted to guard his tomb, have given rise to a certain “Qinomania” Stories of the entombed ruler only heighten the fascination of the mass-produced and life-sized soldiers. Born into a hostage situation, the man known as Ying Zheng broke with the past, burned books, and buried scholars alive as he forged a new kind of centralized state. He survived assassination attempts and became infamously obsessed with a doomed quest for immortality. But how do we really know what we know about this world-shaking unifier of “all under heaven”?
In her new book High, Erika Fatland traverses the Himalaya. Her journey starts in Kashgar in Western China. From her starting point in Xinjiang, she crosses the border into Pakistan and travels down the Karakorum highway onto Gilgit, Chitral and the Swat Valley. Dropping down to Lahore her journey takes her across the Punjab and into Indian Kashmir, then Leh, Manali, Dharmsala, Darjeeling and Sikkim before venturing onto Bhutan and Arunachal and Assam. Then in a second later trip to Nepal, Fatland goes trekking to Everest base camp, down to Lumbini and onto Upper Mustang then to before crossing into Tibet and onto Lake Manasarovar. After a short visit to a tightly-controlled Lhasa, her journey finishes in Zhongdian, the so-called Shangri La in Yunnan province.
The Tokaido is the most famous route in Japan, linking its two major population centers: Kanto (essentially Tokyo and its suburbs) and Kansai (Osaka and Kyoto). Between the 17th and 19th centuries, the Daimyo, local rulers of Japan’s regions, were required to spend one year out of every two at the capital (then named Edo), and so had to cross the country on a regular basis. The Tokaido was the main route for those coming from the West, making it the central artery of early modern Japanese travel.
Art of course is often more than just art. When the National Opera of Ukraine reopened in May, defying the thud of artillery and wail of air-raid sirens, it was a political and social statement as much as an artistic one. Less dramatically, public performances of Cantonese opera in Hong Kong have for decades contributed to the formation and perpetuation of a local identity.