Today I got on the internet after spending the morning with my kids and then lifting with a friend, to see Tyler Cowen say this: “this is one of the very best non-fiction books of the year,” in relation to Genghis Khan: His Conquests, His Empire, His Legacy. I’ve read a fair amount on the Mongols conquests and Central Asia in general (e.g., <Empires of the Silk Road: A History of Central Eurasia from the Bronze Age to the Present or Lost Enlightenment: Central Asia’s Golden Age from the Arab Conquest to Tamerlane). And, I’ve also read the author, Frank McLynn before. His Marcus Aurelius: A Life, could have been a bit more thoroughly edited. People ask me how I figure out which books to read. One of them is by strong recommendations from people whose judgement I don’t think is crazy. I don’t know Tyler Cowen that well, and he’s not a god in my universe, but he decided to type out “one of the very best non-fiction books of the year”, and it’s on a topic which I’m already somewhat interested in, then of course I’m going to read it (also, at 700+ pages, there is a high possibility of lots of information per unit of cost).
When people try to talk about cross-cultural comparisons I often tell them to shut up. For example, let me mention the reader (who I will not name though I know this person continues to read me) who could not think of any non-Western thought which expressed the sort of altruistic ethos reminiscent of the Christian Gospel (this reader was not at the time a Christian by the way). When I asked if they knew of the thinkers of ancient China they admitted they were only very familiar with Western works. Which immediately prompted me to ask how they could make a comparative judgement in the first place.
This is a reminder to readers that though any truly educated person does not need to know the works and thought of all societies across history, one does need to sample more than one. I have long thought one of the most important figures in fact, if not legend, in Chinese history was Xunzi, who influenced both later Confucianism as well as Legalism. And, as it happens, there is a recent affordable translation of his thought, striking the right balance between being overly academic and excessively abridged. Last week I promoted Meditations, so this week I thought I should balance it out.
Obviously still very busy with things since coming back from ASHG. My blogging productivity tends to be a bit punctuated…. You know how it goes.