What Virginia Postrel is Reading

Posted inCreative Voices

What I’ve been reading:

The Man Who Loved China by Simon Winchester (audio, listened to twice, should buy the Kindle edition for future reference). Beginning during World War II, Joseph Needham collected and read countless historic manuscripts and books from China and, by pulling together the information they contained into his massive, multivolume Science and Civilisation in China, fundamentally altered our understanding of the history of science and technology. Although it’s hardly the most important fruit of this work, I can’t imagine my book The Fabric of Civilization without it.

The Perfectionists: How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World by Simon Winchester (audio, then bought Kindle). I found the earlier chapters of this book more interesting than the more recent ones. But that’s probably more a reflection of my interest than the book’s strengths.

Wild Swans by Jung Chang (audio, then bought paper). Massive, bestselling book telling the story of modern China through the stories of the author, her parents (officially her mother, but her father is more than a background figure), and herself. It’s very good at showing the complexities of the Chinese Civil War and resistance to Japan, demonstrating why someone would join the early Maoists, and capturing the devastation of the Great Leap Forward famine and the Cultural Revolution.

China’s Good War by Rana Mitter (audio, then bought paper). Fascinating book on how China has revised the scholarly and official understandings of World War II, reincorporating the Nationalist resistance to Japan. The book discusses both serious scholarship and propaganda purposes.

Greetings from Bury Park by Sarfraz Manzoor (audio, after watching the movie, Blinded by the Light, which was based on it). Mostly just fun, especially if you like Bruce Springsteen. Also a window into Pakistani immigrants in the UK.

A Lost Lady by Willa Cather (audio, after reading that Cather hated the movie made from it, which does sound like a travesty). I’m slowly becoming a Cather completist. I have a Kindle collection of all her works so I’ll probably read that version as well. If you haven’t read it, check out my post on her.

The Jewel House: Elizabethan London and the Scientific Revolution (Kindle). I’m still in the midst of this book on the specimen collectors and experimenters centered on Lime Street in London. They’re distinguished from later natural philosophers by both their methodology— mostly collecting and exchanging specimens— and their economic positions. These were people who worked at regular jobs rather than academics or aristocrats. Not riveting but solid research on a little-explored aspect of early modern science.

I’m also working through a stack of books on early retailing, credit, and consumption. Interlibrary Loan is one of the great perks of being at Chapman.

This essay was originally published on Virginia’s blog.

Header photo of the author: “Twoish-year-old me ‘reading’ to my dolls who are ‘sitting’ in shoes.”