25 August 2011

Book Review: Daily Life in China in the XIII century, by Jacques Gernet, *****

Gengiz Khan and Chinese Tangut envoys
This book deals with one of the periods when China, then numbering sixty million inhabitants, was the richest and most powerful empire in the world. (Another such period would occur some 500 years later, and another one might be soon in the making.)

During the Sung dynasty the country flourished, even though wealth was far from evenly distributed, and the excesses of a small minority contributed to a worsening balance of payments and eventual weakening of the economy.

This empire would take a beating because of the Mongols' invasion in 1276, but up to then it was an even more impressive China than that Marco Polo would witness several decades later.

The capital was in Hangzhou, a port city near today's Shanghai, and its commercial fleet plied the seas exporting porcelain and silk. There was also relative peace, despite the fact that the Northern provinces had been lost already to the Mongols, who were held out for a while until Gengiz Khan invaded.

The book is written in scholarly academic style, but its flowing prose remains accessible to the non specialist as well. Buy this book on Amazon!

15 August 2011

Book Review: The Two Thousand Isles: A Short Account of the People, History and Customs of the Maldive Archipelago, by T. W. Hockly (1935), ***

Old Friday mosque in Malè, perhaps early XX century

A short account of the people, history and customs of the Maldive Archipelago, written in 1935.  T.W. Hockly spent many weeks in the Maldives in 1935 and his book is an interesting account of his time there. He tells about life in the islands, and especially in the capital Male' where he actually spent his time. His account is interspersed with historical and political commentary, much of which is useful to put his experience in context.

14 August 2011

Book Review: Spectrum Guide to Maldives, by Camerapix, ****

This is an interesting book on the Maldives, unlike most guide books on the market. It contains lots of useful data about the country's history and culture, and therefore it is still interesting even if published many years ago.

10 August 2011

Book Review: Maldives Mistery, by Thor Heyerdahl, ***

From the museum of Malè, 2009

When the Maldive Islanders converted to Islam in the 12th century, they discarded or destroyed all traces of earlier cultures, thus denying their past. Recent archeological discoveries prompted the government to invite Heyerdahl to examine the artifacts and attempt a reconstruction of pre-Islamic history.

Located in the Indian Ocean southwest of India and west of Sri Lanka, the Maldives encompass two broad, reefless sea passages ("One-and-Half" and Equatorial Channels) well-known to ancient mariners. Heyerdahl, an authority on primitive sea travel (Kon-Tiki, The Ra Expeditions, unravels a mystery that reaches into the vanished civilizations of Sumer and the Indus Valley. The Maldivan artifacts showed that temples were built around A.D. 550; that the original settlers had been sun-worshipers. (Reed Business, 1986).

03 August 2011

Il mercato dei libri in Italia: poveri noi lettori di libri, "protetti" dalla nuova legge sugli sconti.

Il parlamento italiano ha approvato, con nefasto consenso trasversale, una legge che regolamenta il prezzo dei libri, il "ddl Levi 2281-B", dal nome del primo firmatario. Solo i radicali si sono pilatescamente astenuti, tutti gli altri hanno votato a favore. E allora vediamo un po' in cosa consiste questo capolavoro normativo che ha messo d'accordo tutto il parlamento.

02 August 2011

Book Review: Rickshaw Coolie: A People's History of Singapore (2003), by James Warren, *****


Between 1880 and 1930 colonial Singapore attracted tens of thousands of Chinese immigrant laborers, brought to serve its rapidly growing economy. This book chronicles the vast movement of coolies between China and the Nanyang, and their efforts to survive in colonial Singapore.