For the last few decades, China has been in the midst of a building boom. Since the socio-political changes brought about by Chinese economic reforms since 1978, urbanization and, hence, architecture have  accelerated. The country’s rapid growth has been accompanied by unprecedented change in the built landscape. At the same time, the possibility of building at unprecedented scales has been accompanied by a freedom to experience with architectural forms.

Whether or not an explicit counter to current attempts to define a Hindu nationalist version of Indian identity, recent books for the general reader that present a nuanced multi-millennium, multi-everything story of Indian history are a welcome trend. While Tony Joseph deployed recent genetics research in Early Indians: The Story Of Our Ancestors And Where We Came From and Namit Arora visited a carefully-curated selection of ancient sites in Indians: A Brief History of A Civilization, Peggy Mohan’s vehicle is linguistics, which she uses to tell—as goes the subtitle of her recent book Wanderers, Kings, Merchants—“the story of India through its languages”.

In the 11th century Persian classic Book of Alexander, the great world conqueror goes to the farthest reaches of the world, only to have a wiseman show him what he was looking for, in a mirror—self-awareness. But as Edmund Richardson shows here in his powerful retelling of the life of Charles Masson, we do not live only to know ourselves. We are social animals and we care very much what others think about us. Alexander’s quest led, if not to gnostic knowledge, then to undying fame. Masson’s quest for Alexander’s lost city in the Hindu Kush ended in poverty and obscurity. What did Masson lack that other great explorers and archaeologists had?

Well before ping-pong diplomacy in the early 1970s, there was acrobat diplomacy. As a result, many people around the world became familiar with Chinese acrobats, performers that did more than just walk a trapeze or juggle on stilts. Chinese acrobats brought circus performing to a new level, for instance by balancing multiple stacks of cups and saucers on the top of long sticks—often from two hands and a foot. In Jingjing Xue’s memoir, Shanghai Acrobat, the author not only tells of training with the Shanghai acrobats from a young age, but also shows how these troupes became the face of China, starting in developing countries and eventually reaching the west.

Few nations can boast eras of peace and prosperity as long as the Tokugawa period in Japan, which lasted almost 300 years from the 17th through 19th centuries. Pax Tokugawana: The Cultural Flowering of Japan, 1603-1853 by renowned Japanese studies professor Toru Haga offers a detailed and nuanced portrayal of life under the strict rule of the Tokugawa Shogunate, and how the peace established by the stringent policies of the ruling warrior class defined the zeitgeist of the era.