While the book was not chock-full of shocking revelations as its publicity implies, it was a very amenable read on the state of the Americas before Columbus. The only really interesting thing for me was its explanation of the population collapse due to disease, something we’ve known but at least I didn’t quite fathom its scale.
Every once in a while there comes a movie that makes you think when you’re watching but leaves you with a sense of wonder once it’s done. Based on a popular book I am yet to read, Cloud Atlas uses the same idea of the reincarnated group of souls as one of my favourite novels: The Years of Rice and Salt.
There’s loads of historic novels about Julius Caesar, William the Conqueror, Hernán Cortés, Francis Drake or Alexander the Great, but this is the first time I read a series of books about Genghis Khan, his progeny and the creation of the Mongol Empire. The style is riveting, the story very dramatic and the writer even clarifies in the appendices where he takes creative liberty with historical facts (after all, it’s a novel, not a chronicle).
Go read this now before it becomes a Hollywood movie.
Although it’s natural in brutally hard times to retreat back to tribal encampments encircled by walls of tariffs and fences against immigrants, this atomization of economic and political purpose needs to be resisted, on both sides of the Atlantic, if we are not to slide into another deep and dark age of violently angry populations and dangerously combative posturing.
Whether we like it or not, we are all—across the oceans and continents—entangled in a common destiny, perhaps more than ever in the entirety of the world’s history. We share the same predicament of a physically degraded planet; we are bound together—the Chinese bondholder and the American debtor; the Greek insolvent and the German banker—in the troubles of a common human home. Turning one’s back is not an option; it will merely guarantee that one day it will be stabbed by the mischief of history. To let the worst off sink is to make it harder for us all to swim. Better to hearken to John Donne: “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent … If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were …; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls …”
A veces me da pena pensar que aunque me sé comunicar más o menos en ocho idiomas, todos son de origen europeo. Quisiera aprender aunque sea un poco de náhuatl o maya yucateco, pero probablemente tendrá que esperar a que me retire.
This is a very interesting book by Niall Ferguson that has already been reviewed here and here. It also has a companion TV documentary.
Behind each great historical phenomenon there lies a financial secret, and this book sets out to illuminate the most important of these. For example, the Renaissance created such a boom in the market for art and architecture because Italian bankers like the Medici made fortunes by applying Oriental mathematics to money. The Dutch Republic prevailed over the Hapsburg Empire because having the world’s first modern stock market was financially preferable to having the world’s biggest silver mine. The problems of the French monarchy could not be resolved without a revolution because a convicted Scots murderer had wrecked the French financial system by unleashing the first stock market bubble and bust.
This should be required reading or viewing for everybody who handles money every day i.e. for all of us. For good or ill our livelihood depends on understanding the financial events around us but in order to graduate from high school you need to understand science, biology and language but not how to calculate compound interest. Money, as they say, is portable power. Get something to eat and watch the full TV documentary below (also divided by episodes in the PBS website).
I’ve always been interested in finding out “the other side of the story”. That was one of my main incentives in learning foreign languages, and the reason why I usually scan international newspapers. As a recent project put me in constant contact with Turkey, I was able to pick up this book at Istanbul airport and was able to read it through. While this blog gives a longer review of the book than I’d be willing to write here, the most interesting bit of the whole book was that for the peoples comprising Medieval Islam, Europe was an uninteresting barbaric fringe following an antiquated superseded religion, and so approached their contact with Europeans from a stand of perceived moral superiority. Not unlike the way Europeans viewed the peoples of the New World in the 1500′s.
The book then gives a summary of how those attitudes changed with the faster European development of the Renaissance to a situation where while European technical, scientific & military expertise was sought after, cultural contact was still avoided. 300 years later, the situation is starting to change as can be seen in the TED talk below:
Disclaimer: I know Turkey is in general much less traditionalist than other Muslim countries. It is generally agreed that the push West was started by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, which was not covered in this book.