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[Comments] (6) Ancient Chinese Secret, Huh?: I am interested in ancient history; I don't know why, but I like hearing about things that happened an incredibly long time ago. Let's say between 1000 BC and 1400 AD. About a year ago I reached the satiation point of my original interest in the Roman Republic and Empire (though I still plan to finish Gibbon, and to read primary sources). I've branched out both temporally and geographically, but I am having big problems finding good-quality books on ancient history. Part of this is probably due to a lack of written documentation about many parts of the world, or at least documentation that is not written by foreigners and full of crap about how peoples' feet are mounted on their foreheads. But some of it is just weird inexplicable gaps.

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Posted by Josh Myer at Wed Apr 27 2005 18:34

I should probably learn about ancient Indian history from sources besides Amar Chitra Katha comic books. I think not all of those are canon since they often include things like flying monkeys.

That probably discredits my knowledge of modern India gained from watching Mr. India while eating dinner in Sunnyvale one time.

Posted by steve minutillo at Wed Apr 27 2005 23:26

For a primary source on Chinese history, you could try The Records of the Grand Historian. English translations of at least parts of it are available.

Posted by kim at Wed Apr 27 2005 23:29

That is because most of Chinese history before the Boxer rebellion follows this pattern: peasants farm, grow prosperous, get evil emperor who taxes or does other cruel things to peasants, peasants can't take it anymore and rebel against evil emperor, install a new dynasty and have better emperors, until they get another evil emperor and rebel against him. The Westerners completely disrupted that pattern, and everything after the Boxer rebellion is a mess. Jonathan Spence is a very good, readable historian, but I don't know if he did work on anything prior to 1700.

Posted by Riana at Thu Apr 28 2005 00:33

I enjoyed Gillingham's Richard the Lionheart, as it is written in an accessible manner, that is, more like a fun story than a dusty recitation of dates and place-names, and includes the following gem:

"Philip's best mangonel was given the traditional name of Malvoisin, 'Bad Neighbour' while another machine built with funds from the crusaders' common chest was called 'God's Own Catapult'." (173)

I also highly recommend the British classic 1066 and All That. It's scarcely more trustworthy than Amar Chitra Katha comics, but it was written by writers from Punch in the golden days of that publication, so who cares. ...Oh, hey, it's got its own Wikipedia entry.

Posted by Tim May at Thu Apr 28 2005 14:17

It's a pity you're done with Rome, the last good history book I read was Holland's Rubicon.

Hsu's The Rise of Modern China goes back at least to the 17th century, and IIRC has quite a bit on earlier history. I don't really remember it well enough to give a strong recommendation, but I don't remember any obvious flaws.

This History of India (that's a review) sounds pretty good. (I haven't read it, but then you've got no particular reason to value my opinion over Anoop's, so it's just as good a recommendation.)

I've been meaning to do some reading on the Americas myself. Based on stuff I can find online, my list currently includes (for the three premier-league civilizations): The Maya (Coe), The Ancient Maya (Sharer), The Aztecs (Townsend), The Aztecs (Smith) and The Incas (D'Altroy). I haven't read any of these, though (except maybe an earlier edition of Coe a long time ago, I think).

Posted by caleb at Sun May 01 2005 12:40

There's a great book about Indian history (that also has some flying monkeys, or at least jumping monkeys, if my memory serves me correctly,) called Arrow of the Blue Skinned God, by Jonah Blank. (He swears that's not a pseudonym.) The author retraces the path taken by Rama in the Ramayana and talks about different aspects of Indian culture and history.

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