on December 5, 2005
I was originally attracted by the title of the book, but when I browsed through the first chapter a couple of years ago, I became skeptical of its structure, which seemed to be a Procrustes' bed. How could one fit such a broad subject in such a nice way? Recently I started to read it more carefully, because I planned to write on the same subject. I cannot put this book down. I have not been impressed by an author's erudition, originality, insights, and wisdom for a long time. Among numerous experts, I count Adshead among a mere handful of masters. This book has a huge impact on me. On the one hand, it will make it difficult for me to come up with better things to say; on the other, it will guide my research and inspire my interests. No doubt, I will quote him in the future. I had never written a review on the Amazon, but when I realized that he is an emeritus professor, I thought that I would be remiss if I did not express my appreciation for his work. Thank you, Prof. Adshead!
on January 30, 2010
I don't know whether it was because I was in more familiar territory reading this book or whether it was because the author was in more familiar territory writing it, but I enjoyed this book much more than Inner Asia in World History -- although the author still annoys me with two bad habits: he throws around ten-dollar words like candy at a parade, and he bombards you with obscure references until your mind simply evaporates under the strain of trying to keep up with them.
This guy is an idea man. He's not very good at explaining the details he assaults you with, but he is a master at connecting the dots between various historical eras and venues. And not just the major dots either, but seemingly all of the tiny dots in between. In fact, this is more a book about world history than about China per se.
Just a couple of examples. On page 296 he references a letter by a French priest describing the labor process in the manufacture of Chinese porcelain and cites it as a possible source for Adam Smith's concept of the "division of labor." Then on page 371 he cites an account of drilling for brine in Sichuan province as a possible source for the first commercial drilling of oil in Pennsylvania. And these aren't just isolated examples. It seems like every page contains one or two of these surprising little revelations.
Which leads to an obvious question: Can one man really know so much about seemingly everything that has happened in the last two or three millenia? Either this man has one of the most brilliant minds in the world or he is an utter sham. But since I can't point my finger at anything to prove he is a sham -- and in some of the areas he covers I do have more than just a passing knowledge -- I have to conclude that it is more likely the former. Here is this incredibly expansive mind who apparently spent his life hidden away in New Zealand.
This is not a book for the intellectually faint, but if you want to see how history could be done, indeed should be done (minus the irritating habits pointed out above), this is a book that is worth the read. And if you are a graduate student in world history -- any area of world history -- looking for a topic for your thesis, I can't think of a better place to start.
on February 17, 2010
I'm grateful for this book, as I threw away my four years of Chinese History lecture notes years ago. Each one hour lecture took four hours to type up, as they were packed full of fact, mixed with compelling, and revealing conclusions.
I know I will refer to this work often for many years to come, a brilliant introduction to China, and History, if you are looking for one.
Even if you are familar with other works touching on this theme, you will continue to find this a generous banquet.
One is grateful for an historian who neglected to attend departmental meetings, and simply got on with the job. An inspiring read.