What We Are Reading Today: Unfabling the East 

Updated 30 August 2018
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What We Are Reading Today: Unfabling the East 

During the long 18th century, Europe’s travelers, scholars, and intellectuals looked to Asia in a spirit of puzzlement, irony, and openness. In this panoramic and colorful book translated to English by Robert Savage, Jürgen Osterhammel tells the story of the European Enlightenment’s nuanced encounter with the great civilizations of the East, from the Ottoman Empire and India to China and Japan.

Here is the acclaimed book that challenges the notion that Europe’s formative engagement with the non-European world was invariably marred by an imperial gaze and presumptions of Western superiority. Osterhammel shows how major figures such as Leibniz, Voltaire, Gibbon, and Hegel took a keen interest in Asian culture and history, and introduces lesser-known scientific travelers, colonial administrators, Jesuit missionaries, and adventurers who returned home from Asia bearing manuscripts in many exotic languages, huge collections of ethnographic data, and stories that sometimes defied belief. 

Osterhammel brings the sights and sounds of this tumultuous age vividly to life, from the salons of Paris and the lecture halls of Edinburgh to the deserts of Arabia, the steppes of Siberia, and the sumptuous courts of Asian princes. He demonstrates how Europe discovered its own identity anew by measuring itself against its more senior continent, and how it was only toward the end of this period that cruder forms of Eurocentrism — and condescension toward Asia — prevailed.

A momentous work by one of Europe’s most eminent historians, Unfabling the East takes readers on a thrilling voyage to the farthest shores, bringing back vital insights for our own multicultural age.


What We Are Reading Today: Plato’s Fable 

Updated 18 September 2018
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What We Are Reading Today: Plato’s Fable 

  • Plato’s Fable is not simply a work of textual exegesis. It is an attempt to move debates within political theory beyond their current location

AUTHOR:  Joshua Mitchell

This book is an exploration of Plato’s Republic that bypasses arcane scholarly debates. Plato’s Fable provides refreshing insight into what, in Plato’s view, is the central problem of life: The mortal propensity to adopt defective ways of answering the question of how to live well.

How, in light of these tendencies, can humankind be saved? Joshua Mitchell discusses the question in unprecedented depth by examining one of the great books of Western civilization.

He draws us beyond the ancients/moderns debate, and beyond the notion that Plato’s Republic is best understood as shedding light on the promise of discursive democracy. Instead, Mitchell argues, the question that ought to preoccupy us today is neither “reason” nor “discourse,” but rather “imitation.” To what extent is man first and foremost an “imitative” being? This, Mitchell asserts, is the subtext of the great political and foreign policy debates of our times.

Plato’s Fable is not simply a work of textual exegesis. It is an attempt to move debates within political theory beyond their current location. Mitchell recovers insights about the depth of the problem of mortal imitation from Plato’s magnificent work, and seeks to explicate the meaning of Plato’s central claim — that “only philosophy can save us.”

Joshua Mitchell is professor of Government at Georgetown University, where he teaches the history of political thought.