In Crime, Justice and Punishment in Colonial Hong Kong, authors May Holdsworth and Christopher Munn use the intersection of the city’s former main police station, magistracy and jail—now the photogenic and commercial Tai Kwun—to tell a unique history of the city under British rule.

What do you do with a gang of monks who have been condemned to death for immorality? If you are King Rama II of Siam (1809-24), you commute their sentences to hard labor, which consists of making them cut grass for your elephants every day. This is one example of the sometimes quirky humanity of the Chakri Dynasty, which, as royal houses go, is a relative newcomer, having been founded only in 1784.

The morning after Notre-Dame Cathedral caught fire last year, Diana Darke remarked on Twitter and then on her blog that much of what is considered iconically European about the cathedral—the twin towers, the gothic arches—is Middle Eastern in origin. This created something of a stir and in the provocatively-entitled Stealing from the Saracens, Darke sets out to prove it.

Quagmire in Civil War, by Jonah Schulhofer-Wohl (Cambridge University press, February 2020)
Quagmire in Civil War, by Jonah Schulhofer-Wohl (Cambridge University Press, February 2020)

Our understanding of civil war is shot through with the spectre of quagmire, a situation that traps belligerents, compounding and entrenching war’s dangers. Despite the subject’s importance, its causes are obscure. A pervasive “folk” notion that quagmire is intrinsic to certain countries or wars has foreclosed inquiry, and scholarship has failed to identify quagmire as an object of study in its own right.

“As soon as he took his first spear, he writhed in pain. Leaking urine and making a miserable spectacle, he took nine spears.” The gruesome and cruel execution of one Heizō Takamiya described here took place in Osaka in 1829; the unfortunate Heizō was accompanied by five other people, one a woman (Toyoda Mitsugi) and four others who were already dead and had been pickled in salt so that their remains could be symbolically crucified and methodically stabbed with spears as a form of humiliation.

Indian history has two “great” emperors: Ashoka of the ancient Mauryan dynasty and Akbar, one of the Mughals. Ira Mukhoty’s biography of the latter, Akbar: The Great Mughal, is a comprehensive yet simple account of the emperor’s life, one that will be of great help to readers wanting to understand more about the king while also familiarizing themselves with the how he has been represented in books, biographies, and popular culture since his time.