Moïse de Camondo came from one of the most prominent Jewish families in 19th-century Constantinople, but in 1869 at the age of nine he moved with his family to a new promised land for Jews: Paris. At the conclusion of the French Revolution almost a century earlier, France became the only nation in Europe to grant citizenship to Jews. The Camondo family and many others around Europe and Russia, including the Ephrussi family from Odessa, built homes on the Rue de Monceau in Paris’s 8th arrondissement. Edmund de Waal, author of the best-selling memoir, The Hare With Amber Eyes, is a descendant of the Ephrussis and a distant relative of the Camondos. His latest book is a collection of imaginary letters to the late Moïse de Camondo from the archives of Moïse’s former residence, the Musée de Camondo. 

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.

During the Cultural Revolution, many young Chinese in the cities were encouraged—if not ordered—to move to the countryside. Millions of young Chinese in high school and university moved to rural China ostensibly to “receive re-education from the poorest lower and middle peasants to understand what China really is” (to quote Mao Zedong, at the time). Many students remained in the countryside until the end of the Cultural Revolution almost a decade later.