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Great General Resource on the Great Tang
on January 7, 2010
This was the first book in the History of Imperial China series that I've read, and if the other volumes live up to the informative and comprehensive quality of this one, I can see this series perhaps supplanting the unwieldy Cambridge series.
Mr. Lewis provides a surprisingly detailed survey of one of the most interesting Chinese dynasties in about 300 pages (plus appendices, notes and index). No small feat, considering the vast wealth of in-depth scholarly work available regarding the Tang. That is not to say, of course, that this is a merely a brief skimming of the highlights; to the contrary, Mr. Lewis gives us a wonderful grounding in the geographic and political climate before taking us deep into the streets of Chang'an and Luoyang, to the countryside of the Central Plain, or to the mountain retreats of the eremitic Tang poets. Ample citations of Tang prose and poetry, as well as cultural anecdotes, are present to give the reader a learned picture of what it meant to be a student of the 'jinshi' examinations, a singer in the pleasure quarter, or a court poet.
This is, however, a scholarly work through and through. Well cited and referenced, the information given is well-chosen and aimed squarely at those seeking to learn about the Great Tang, as opposed to being simply entertained by its many colorful nuances. Mr. Lewis is a strong writer for this kind of book, and his prose is easy to follow and to the point. This may not be the best choice for bedtime reading, but it is accessible to all readers, especially those new to the subject.
I highly recommend this book to any beginning student of Chinese imperial history, and to any reader interested in learned writing on one of the most important eras in one of the most important civilizations in the world.