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The Ottoman Empire and Early Modern Europe (Daniel Goffman, 2018/#1): Focuses on similitudes and relationships as much as in differences and distance; after all, the Ottomans weren't just Islamic (rather heterodox ones at the beginning, although this changed after they took over the Sunni sacred sites) and Turkish, but they also took from the Byzantine empire not just Constantinople, but also peoples, government structures, and so on, and even, in a way, their role as heirs of the Roman empire and as the hub of the Eastern Mediterranean. The author emphasizes the adaptability of the Ottomans, a necessary trait given that at one point most of the people they ruled were Christian. They were helped in this by Islam's approach to non-Muslims in their territories, which under the more flexible readings of its tenets can be allowed to exist lightly taxed (compared to some of the Christian states they took over, specially when Orthodox ruled Latin or vice versa; the Ottomans conquered so much so quickly in part because and most often where they were fighting societies where rulers badly abused the ruled, even by the standards of the age) and in some minor but significant ways self-governed, although of course not equal to Muslims. Not tolerance in the modern sense, by any degree, but still better than what most Christian societies offered at the time. The author makes the interesting point that this sort of formal allowances given by the Ottomans to traders from Europe might have inspired some of Venice's seminal developments in diplomatic practice. Paraphrasing, ultimately the Ottoman Empire didn't collapse as much as failed to keep up with Northwest Europe, hardly an indicator of inherent civilizational inferiority when you consider that pretty much nobody in the Eastern Mediterranean did, Italian city-states included.

The Troubled Empire: China in the Yuan and Ming Dynasties (Timothy Brook, 2018/#2): A look at China during the Yuan and Ming dynasties. It's a very good book; it mixes (without overdetermining developments) ecological changes, cultural changes, economics, and long-distance interactions in interesting ways. In many senses, what we (i.e., me, a not very informed layperson) think of as classic China is really a reflection of/construct of the late Ming, so seeing how they came to be, and in response to what, is illuminating. Besides, the book begins with dragon sightings, and what more can anybody ask for?

Mediterranean Identities in the Premodern Era: Entrepôts, Islands, Empires (Ed. John Watins and Kathryn L. Reyerson, 2018/#3): Some of the essays are interesting: a look at the multiple material translatios Venetians used to define their identity, the fascinating issues of janissary identity, the pragmatics of polyglot rulership, even, to a degree, the strange "gineteadas aren't Moorish, they are *Trojan*, read the Aeneid" thing of post-Reconquista Spain, or the a posteriori troublesome in their historical echoes biological metaphors of Inca Garcilaso de la Vega); other were, I'm afraid, quite bad. But the good ones justify picking up the book.

The Chinese State in Ming Society (Timothy Brook, 2018/#4): What it says in the can. The Ming state was both absurdly intrusive (for Medieval/Early Modern standards) and quite weak. The dynastic founder's initial reorganization of spatial arrangements is fascinating as an attempt (as is his pivot from pro-Buddhism (as an orphan he lived in a monastery) to awfully suspicious of unregistered, vagrant monks), but more successful than latter attempts to keep up to date registers of who lived where, or, as tax bases changed, what was raised where and who owned what. Given the size of the Empire and the sparseness of bureaucracy — the central government's lowest functionary wasn't somebody you'd necessarily ever see unless you were part of the local gentry — mapping taxable resources was both critical and impossible; all things said, I don't think they did a bad job. Ditto when it comes to rice polders and larger common infrastructure; getting local gentry to paid for them, specially as social arrangements shifted and things became more mercantile and wealth-driven by the late Ming, was a headache. Even censorship was, practically speaking, outside the power of the late Ming, given the fascinatingly huge and pervasive commercial book sector (the size and number of private libraries, and the sheer social spread of reading as a pleasure activity in late Ming China, makes the West at the time look positively ridiculous; I knew there had been a catch-up process, but I hadn't internalized how large it had to be. The fact that schools had to first build libraries because, as gifts from the Emperor, the official books coming from the court (the Four Treasures) had to be appropriately housed is kind of funny. Another tidbit that struck me: the way some Emperors sold what were basically "monk certificates" as a way to raise extra revenue — because monks didn't pay taxes, everybody understood that this was a way to pay, as it were, all your taxes in advance, forever, so nobody took those certificates into account when estimating the monk population (as moving, non-tax-paying/corvee-able? people, monks were rather suspect). Very highly recommended.

Opium Regimes: China, Britain, and Japan, 1839-1952 (Ed. Timothy Brook and Bob Tadashi Wakabayashi, 2018/#5): Short version: the British were pretty much indefensible on this, but then, so was almost everybody else. I hadn't realized the structural importance of opium not just at the level of international trade, but also for colony- and state-building in South and East Asia. In many places it was the first mass consumption "recreational" commodity, as well as a necessary ergogenic for early forms of exploitative export-driven enterprises — more significantly, addicting (already indebted) workers in mines and plantations to opium meant that essentially work was free; this made viable previously unprofitable projects. It was so profitably taxable, in fact, that pretty much every colonial, occupation, or native regime found difficult to reject the revenues, and most did a back and forth between different forms of opium farming and government monopolies (with justifications varying between "control it because we need the money" and "control is so we can eventually shut it down"), and, generally speaking, only did away with opium for good when popular opinion shifted drastically against it. A very special mention goes to Du Yuesheng, the most powerful boss of the Green Gang in Shanghai during the 1920s and 30s, incredibly well-connected politically, and all around an slippery son of a bitch. One of the articles refers to him as "the Chinese Al Capone," but that'd only be true if Al Capone had had or controlled banks, newspapers, logistics companies, and a huge cetera.

Revolution: The History of England from the Battle of the Boyne to the Battle of Waterloo (Peter Ackroyd, 2018/#6): Another volume of his history of England; as readable and interesting as the previous ones.



cass, can you not

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