In 1480, the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II, who had conquered Constantinople fewer than three decades earlier, sat for a portrait by the Venetian painter Gentile Bellini. Bellini had been sent to Istanbul to fulfill a request for a “un bon depentor que sapia retrazer”—“a good painter who knows how to paint portraits”. The Sultan apparently wanted his portrait done.

The Hindi film industry also known as Bollywood, or B-grade Hollywood, has an interesting history intertwined with economy, much of which remains unknown. The early years of the talkies as they unfolded in Bombay inform Bombay Hustle: Making Movies in a Colonial City, a recent book by Debashree Mukherjee. The author’s first-hand experience in Mumbai as a freelance assistant director makes her well-placed to write about the past of the film and the city.

Although conceived well before the advent of the pandemic, Priya Basil’s Be My Guest: Reflections on food, community, and the meaning of generosity, ends up particularly appropriate to this time of reflection, winter holidays, and the much hoped-for re-emergence from the current cloud under which we live. For anyone who enjoyed the travelogues of Anthony Bourdain, Be My Guest is a deeper and weightier exposition of the themes he explored—starting with food and extending to the movements of governments, and the meaning of self and other—and Basil similarly shares the joys of both writing and eating.

Photo Poetics: Chinese Lyricism and Modern Media Culture, Shengqing Wu (Columbia University Press, December 2020)
Photo Poetics: Chinese Lyricism and Modern Media Culture, Shengqing Wu (Columbia University Press, December 2020)

Chinese poetry has a long history of interaction with the visual arts. Classical aesthetic thought held that painting, calligraphy, and poetry were cross-fertilizing and mutually enriching. What happened when the Chinese poetic tradition encountered photography, a transformative technology and presumably realistic medium that reshaped seeing and representing the world?

This curious little book by Japanese technologist Ishiguro Hiroshi, now available in a very readable English translation by Tony Gonzalez, nominally discusses what robotics research teaches us about what it means to be human. But one can’t help but be left with the impression that what it really shows is just how different Japan can at times be from other parts of the world.