What We Are Reading Today: Unfabling the East 

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

What We Are Reading Today: Unfabling the East 

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: Doom: The Politics of Catastrophe

What We Are Reading Today: Doom: The Politics of Catastrophe
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Updated 08 May 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Doom: The Politics of Catastrophe

What We Are Reading Today: Doom: The Politics of Catastrophe

Author: Niall Ferguson

Drawing from multiple disciplines, including economics and network science, Doom: The Politics of Catastrophe offers not just a history but a general theory of disaster.
The book falls into multiple parts, the first of which forms the bulk of the text with an examination of disasters throughout history, both natural and man-made, some in the deep past, others in more recent memory.
As author Niall Ferguson shows, governments “must learn to become less bureaucratic if we are to avoid the impending doom of irreversible decline,” said a review on goodreads.com.
“While populist rulers certainly performed poorly in the face of the pandemic, Ferguson argues that more profound pathologies were at work — pathologies already visible in our responses to earlier disasters,” said the review.
It said that Ferguson “examines various plagues through the ages, as knowledge of how they work gradually grew, and how such knowledge was usually ignored or abused by those in power.”


What We Are Reading Today: The Big Roads by Earl Swift

What We Are Reading Today: The Big Roads by Earl Swift
Updated 06 May 2021

What We Are Reading Today: The Big Roads by Earl Swift

What We Are Reading Today: The Big Roads by Earl Swift

A man-made wonder, a connective network, an economic force, a bringer of blight and sprawl and the possibility of escape — the US interstate system changed the face of our country. 

Earl Swift’s The Big Roads charts the creation of these essential American highways. From the turn-of-the-century car racing entrepreneur who spurred the citizen-led “Good Roads” movement, to the handful of driven engineers who conceived of the interstates and how they would work to the protests that erupted across the nation when highways reached the cities and found people unwilling to be uprooted in the name of progress, Swift follows a winding, fascinating route through twentieth-century American life. 

How did we get from dirt tracks to expressways in less than a century? Through decades of politics, activism, and marvels of engineering, we recognize in our highways the wanderlust, grand scale, and conflicting notions of citizenship and progress that define America.


What We Are Reading Today: The Bomber Mafia by Malcolm Gladwell

What We Are Reading Today: The Bomber Mafia by Malcolm Gladwell
Updated 05 May 2021

What We Are Reading Today: The Bomber Mafia by Malcolm Gladwell

What We Are Reading Today: The Bomber Mafia by Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell’s The Bomber Mafia is an exploration of how technology and best intentions collide in the heat of war.

Most military thinkers in the years leading up to World War II saw the airplane as an afterthought. But a small band of idealistic strategists asked: What if precision bombing could cripple the enemy and make war far less lethal?

In contrast, the bombing of Tokyo on the deadliest night of the war cost thousands of civilian lives, but may have spared even more by averting a planned US invasion. In The Bomber Mafia, Gladwell asks, “Was it worth it?”

Things might have gone differently had LeMay’s predecessor, General Haywood Hansell, remained in charge. Hansell believed in precision bombing, but when he and Curtis LeMay squared off for a leadership handover in the jungles of Guam, LeMay emerged victorious, leading to the bombing of Tokyo. The Bomber Mafia is a riveting tale of persistence, innovation, and the incalculable wages of war.


What We Are Reading Today: If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino

What We Are Reading Today: If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino
Updated 03 May 2021

What We Are Reading Today: If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino

What We Are Reading Today: If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino

Italo Calvino’s masterpiece combines a love story and a detective story into an exhilarating allegory of reading, in which the reader of the book becomes the book’s central character. He imagines a novel capable of endless mutations in this intricately crafted story about writing and readers.

If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler turns out to be not one novel but ten, each with a different plot, style, ambience, and author, and each interrupted at a moment of suspense. Together they form a labyrinth of literatures through which two readers pursue both the story lines that intrigue them and one another.

In between chasing missing chapters of the book, the hapless readers tangle with an international conspiracy, a rogue translator, an elusive novelist, a disintegrating publishing house, and several oppressive governments. 

The result is a literary labyrinth of storylines that interrupt one another — an Arabian Nights of the postmodern age. 


What We Are Reading Today: Crying in H Mart

What We Are Reading Today: Crying in H Mart
Updated 03 May 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Crying in H Mart

What We Are Reading Today: Crying in H Mart

Author: Michelle Zauner

While Michelle Zauner may be best known by her musical project, Japanese Breakfast, she writes with an equivalent passion.
Crying in H Mart revolves around Zauner’s mother, Chongmi, and her deterioration and death from cancer.
The memoir goes on to depict Zauner’s fraught relationship with her mother, especially when it comes to appearance and disposition.
In this exquisite story of family, food, grief, and endurance, Zauner proves herself far more than a dazzling singer, songwriter, and guitarist.
With humor and heart, she tells of growing up the only Asian American child at her school in Eugene, Oregon; of struggling with her mother’s particular, high expectations of her; of a painful adolescence; of treasured months spent in her grandmother’s tiny apartment in Seoul, where she and her mother would bond, late at night, over heaping plates of food.
Crying in H Mart “is the quiet, haunting, beautiful story of what and who we take for granted, and the little moments we never appreciate until they’re gone,” a critic commented on goodreads.com.