River of Ink: Literature, History, Art

River of Ink: Literature, History, Art

Thomas Christensen

Language: English

Pages: 385

ISBN: 1619028336

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


Thomas Christensen’s previous title 1616: The World in Motion looked at a single year in the age of early maritime globalism—Publishers Weekly gave it a starred review, calling it “a stunning overview of the nascent modern world.” By contrast his new gorgeously illustrated River of Ink ranges widely across time and cultures and offers what amounts to a magisterial history of literacy.

The book’s title refers to the sacking of Baghdad in 1258 when the Tigris ran black with the ink of books flung into the water by Mongol invaders. Other essays range from the writings of prehistoric Chinese cultures known only through archaeology to the state of book reviewing in the US today to the heroic efforts of contemporary Afghanis to keep the legacy of their ancient culture alive under the barrage of endless war.

Christensen’s encyclopedic knowledge of both world art and a vast understanding of literature allows him to move easily from a discussion of the invention of moveable type in Korea to Johannes Kepler’s search for the harmony of the spheres to the strange journey of an iron sculpture from Benin to the Louvre. Other essays cover the Popul Vuh of the Maya as exemplum of translation, the pioneering explorations of the early American naturalist John Bartram, the balletic works of Louis-Ferdinand Celine.

It is Christensen’s unparalleled gift to seemingly see the world whole and to offer a wealth of absolutely vital connections adequate to our position as citizens of an ever more rapidly globalizing world.

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About 1616: The World in Motion “Thomas Christensen’s 1616 is a delight, an adventure, a reading and visual treat of the first order” (Cleveland Plain Dealer). “1616 is a whirlwind tour, taking readers from Istanbul to Manila to Algiers and introducing them to sailors, royals, and sultans” (Christian Science Monitor), a “fresh, deeply researched and thoughtfully composed window back in time” (Foreword). It is “a brimmingly generous intellectual feast, lavishly curated by Mr. Christensen — on

(Collection of literature arranged by categories), by Ouyang Xun, ca. 604 CE Literary accounts such as the Tang-dynasty encyclopedia the Yi Wen Lei Ju and historical classics such as Sima Qian’s Han dynasty Shi ji seem ancient from our perspective, yet they are nearly as close in time to our twenty-first century CE as to the twenty-first century bcE when the Xia dynasty — until recently considered legendary by many scholars and still a subject of controversy — was China’s An cien t Past 99

With the arrival of the Shang dynasty we approach the intersection China’s Ancien t Past 101 of archaeology and history. The Shang made inscriptions on tortoise shell and ox bone, and later on bronze. The earliest site with written inscriptions that connects with the later written record is Anyang, which was one of the first excavated. Oracle bones had been reported in the region since at least the nineteenth century, and in 1928 major excavations were begun; further digs in 1991 yielded

that is, March 1974, when farmers digging a well in the village of Xiyang in Lintong, Shaanxi province, unearthed large fragments of terra-cotta. Excavations on the site revealed an immense army of life-size terra-cotta warriors in pre-battle formation, no doubt intended to protect the emperor in his quest for immortality. Besides thousands of infantrymen, the army included cavalry, officers, and war chariots. Also uncovered were offices, halls, stables, palaces, a theater, even a zoo. (The

important, for tyranny hates memory. And so Mutanabbi Street starts here — it starts wherever books Remembering Mu tanabbi 7 are made, exchanged, and shared. It starts when we remember the bomb that destroyed part of Baghdad’s historic booksellers row, on March 5, 2007, killing more than thirty people and injuring many more. The intent of the bomber was to prevent the free discussion that books attract. And, to a degree, he was successful. But so long as we do not forget to remember, he will

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