The book I have before me feels rather expensive, well-made, a hardback with a striking dust jacket bearing an enlarged portion of an historic print. Inside, the paper is silky smooth, the ink dark and clean, the layout elegant with generous outer margins. The illustrations too are clean and clear, dropped into the text.
There are several novel things about this book that make it worth reading. The first one relates to the author. Unlike most other historians of Japan, who come from the areas of Japanese or East Asian studies, the author of this book arrives from an unexpected field. L. M.
Elizabeth Freke has the distinction among my autobiographical acquaintance of being the memoirist I would least like to meet. This is not because she was toothless, lame, blind and probably bald and, as she said in 1711, 'a diseased criple with a rhumatisme and tisick confined to a chair for this eighteen months past' (p.158).
On the cover of Gerald MacLean’s engaging new study, The Rise of Oriental Travel: English Visitors to the Ottoman Empire, 1580-1720 is a ‘Portrait of a European Man’ by the Ottoman Artist Abdelcelil Celebi, known as Levni, and painted c.1720. MacLean does not discuss this portrait, but its selection as a cover image is calculated and significant.
Some books enlighten and disappoint at the same time. This is how I felt having read Oleg Tarasov’s book. Originally Tarasov’s doktorskaia dissertatsiia (the second PhD), the book was first published in Russian and has now been painstakingly translated by Robin Milner-Gulland and lavishly published by Reaktion Books.
It is not often that a tutor is handed an entire course on a plate, ready for consumption, served up complete with material for the lectures, case studies, points for seminar discussion, essay questions, as well as primary and secondary readings for student use. But that is exactly what the pair of books under review provide.
In spite of its intellectual, literary and comic brilliance, this book contains a dark and disturbing, but revealing, message. In some ways, my melancholy reading of Bodies Politic has inevitably been shaped by Roy's recent untimely death. Roy Porter was without doubt the finest social historian of medicine this country, or indeed the world, has produced.
The cover is a view from Stirling Castle: in the foreground a carved lion rampant, in the background the Wallace Tower, the Scottish national monument, raised by public subscription in 1859; in the valley below, Stirling Bridge somewhere near the site of William Wallace's victory over the forces of Edward I in 1297; just out of the picture, the field of Bannockburn.
Gender in History is a timely publication. The field of gender history is reaching maturity in two senses. Firstly, numerous studies have been published about the impact of gender at various times and places. Professor Merry Wiesner-Hanks draws on this wealth of scholarship and her own research to provide a welcome overview of gender in global history from prehistory to date.
One of the most difficult, and under-rated, jobs undertaken by the historian is that of the synthesis. Text books covering long periods of historical time demand the exclusion of vast quantities of material.