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.

Most people tend to mark the beginning of Indian international relations thought to Nehru, and his self-proclaimed attempt to build a true non-aligned movement and more enlightened international system. But Indian thought didn’t emerge sui generis after Indian independence, as Rahul Sagar notes in his edited anthology, To Raise a Fallen People: The Nineteenth-Century Origins of Indian Views on International Politics.

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”? 

For a book that is fundamentally about hope, Philippe Sands’s The Last Colony is a depressing read, not just its in its tale of colonial injustice, but also in its recounting of the US and Britain’s refusal to abide by the norms, the “rules-based order”, that they demand of others. “One rule for you, another for us?” as Sands succinctly puts it.

Blind in Early Modern Japan: Disability, Medicine, and Identity, Wei Yu Wayne Tan (University of Michigan Press, September 2022)
Blind in Early Modern Japan: Disability, Medicine, and Identity, Wei Yu Wayne Tan (University of Michigan Press, September 2022)

While the loss of sight—whether in early modern Japan or now—may be understood as a disability, blind people in the Tokugawa period (1600–1868) could thrive because of disability. The blind of the era were prominent across a wide range of professions, and through a strong guild structure were able to exert contractual monopolies over certain trades. Blind in Early Modern Japan illustrates the breadth and depth of those occupations, the power and respect that accrued to the guild members, and the lasting legacy of the Tokugawa guilds into the current moment.