The Silk Roads by Peter Frankopan, a one-volume history of the world centered on the old silk road regions "running broadly from the eastern shores of the Mediterranean and the Black Sea to the Himalayas".
The first half of the book is fascinating. He makes a good case for how these regions were pivotal. Firstly they were where the most wealth, the biggest cities, the most developed economies existed. Secondly, ideas as well as goods flowed across these regions: religions, technologies, philosophies.
Frankopan manages to keep things from being too drily high level by including lots of fascinating anecdotes. He also makes an interesting case that the discovery of routes to the Americas changed the centre of gravity of the world: now Western Europe was in the crucial middle position where it could take advantage of the trade routes passing through it.
One minor point is thatEngland didn't celebrate victories over the Ottoman Turks at Vienna and Lepanto because England regarded the Turks as useful allies against Catholic Spain, signing trade deals and sending gifts. This might be why Othello can be seen as a semi-sympathatic figure in Shakespeare.
The second half of the book, as he moves into the Twentieth century and beyond, is less successful. The lengthy criticism of Western nations' Middle East policy are accurate, but have been made elsewhere, and there isn't enough space to go into great depth. His theory that dependence on Middle Eastern oil has again made these regions pivotal is only partly convincing. Yes, there's a lot of wealth and the rest of the world has pay attention to the middle east. But ideas don't seem to flow along oil pipelines the way they flow along caravan routes, and the modern Middle East doesn't seem to have the cultural dominance of the old cities.
Inevitably when you try to condense world history into one volume things go missing. The book pays some attention to the Americas, but Asian history is curiously scarce in the second half. There's not much about how the Russo-Japanese war shattered the idea of European dominance, how Gandhi helped form anti-colonial resistance, Japan's and then China's economic resurgence, etc.
Overall though, a fascinating book. Well worth reading.
What I'm Reading
The Christmas List by Chrissie Manby, Short and very light romance novella. OK but the ending seemed a bit rushed. Currently free on Amazon Prime.
Had a business trip abroad for the first time in ages. Five days in Eastern Europe where the company has a development office. Trip went OK: flights and hotel were fine. Mostly socialising with coworkers but generally just had a meal out and a fairly early night.
Kid was very glad to see me when I got back, practically bowled me over running to meet me. Wife says he was OK without me though.
Socioeconomics. How "competitiveness" became one of the great unquestioned virtues of contemporary culture. If you tax the rich, they won't leave. National Audit Office assumes QE debt is cancelled. Climate change performance index. Piketty on the Catalan economy.
Articles. Europe's hidden fractures. Soviet hippies. The American Conservative: "As to the diabolic, there are three authors that series lovers of Romantic literature should avoid: Philip Pullman, Michael Moorcock, and Stephen Donaldson, each of whom has intentionally set out to undermine, subvert, and pervert the Christian elements of Tolkienian fantasy."
Here's the thing: No one will win in 2018 or 2020 by trying to convert the most hardcore of Trump supporters. That isn't how elections are won. It never has been: Herbert Hoover, in the depths of the Great Depression, held about 80 percent of his vote from the previous election. You can imagine stories going deep into Hoover country quoting diehard Hooverites explaining away their president's failures. But Hoover still lost his reelection bid in a landslide.Power of the press. Kenneth Clark:
"Within a few weeks of taking over my prime minister arranged a meeting with Rebekah Brooks. Rebekah Brooks described herself as running the government now in partnership with David Cameron. I found myself having an extraordinary meeting with Rebekah who was instructing me on criminal justice policy from now on, as I think she had instructed my predecessor, so far as I could see... She really was solemnly telling me that we had got to have prison ships because she had got some more campaigns coming...
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