What We Are Reading Today: Unfabling the East 

Updated 30 August 2018

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: Parisian Lives by Deirdre Bair

Updated 08 December 2019

What We Are Reading Today: Parisian Lives by Deirdre Bair

  • Parisian Lives “pulls you in slowly but deeply

Award-winning biographer Deirdre Bair explores her 15 remarkable years in Paris with Samuel Beckett and Simone de Beauvoir, painting intimate new portraits of two literary giants and revealing secrets of the biographical art.

Parisian Lives “pulls you in slowly but deeply. It isn’t just about writing about two famous authors but the memoir (of the) writer’s life as well and what it takes to be a biographer,” said a review published in goodreads.com. 

It said the stories relating to both Beckett and de Beauvoir “are different but equally compelling. These stories are page turners.”

The review added: “Drawing on Bair’s extensive notes from the period, including never-before-told anecdotes and details that were considered impossible to publish at the time, Parisian Lives is full of personality and warmth and give us an entirely new window on the all-too-human side of these legendary thinkers.”

It said that Bair’s memoir “is the interrelated stories of writing biographies of Beckett and de Beauvoir and Bair’s own journey of discovery while launching her academic career.”