"Reinventing Knowledge: From Alexandria to the Internet" - by Ian McNeely & Lisa Wolverton. This is a new and insightful book which reminds and reintroduces us to the key institutions that have shaped and channeled knowledge in the West through the ages. These institutions are the Library, the Monastery, the University, the "Republic of Letters", the Disciplines and the Laboratory. The first three on the list are likely to be familiar, or at least self-explanatory. The "Republic of Letters" (roughly 1500-1800) can be defined as an international community of learning stitched together initially by handwritten letters in the mail and later by printed books and journals. The Disciplines (1700-1900) refers to the specialisation of intellectual labour (into disciplines) after the Enlightenment produced the West's first mass market for knowledge. Finally the Laboratory (1770-1970) is about the physically enclosed domain of objective fact, as well as the extension of its methods to ever wider spaces, which enlarged the realms of scientific experts.
Korean phrase book - Ahh, out of sheer necessity (I'm going to Seoul for work next week), I'm dipping into this one to pick up some common words and phrases. Ann yeong haseiyo (which means good morning/afternoon/evening), Kamsa hameda (thank you) .... etc etc. I must admit I'm quite curious about Korea, especially how it has been successful exporting its culture (think about Korean TV drama series, taekwondo, music, Korean food etc), and I'm sure I'll find much to write about from this upcoming trip there.
"West End Chronicles: 300 Years of Glamour and Excess in the Heart of London" - by Ed Glinet. I've always had a soft spot for London, having spent a good eight years there for education and work in the late 70's and early 80's. Now, my own daughter is there studying Performance Arts at a leading drama college of the University of London. So I've spent a fair share of time in the West End of London. This book - part history, part tour-guide, part collection of rare factoids - is very interesting as it traces the origins of some of the sites I'm so familiar with - Marble Arch, Oxford Street, Bond Street, Soho, Chinatown, Picadilly Circus - and I learn things I never knew before about the early roles or functions of these places.
"Shadow of the Silk Road" - by Colin Thurbon. Leaving the best for last, this one is a gem for anyone remotely interested in history or travelling or China. It's about the Silk Road, the famous series of trading routes that have been used over the early centuries and links China and Europe. It served not only as a conduit for exchange of products (eg. silk, foods, materials) but also innovation and information (eg. paper, gunpowder, the stirrup) . One could even say this was the original Information Superhighway! Thurbon writes brilliantly, and I swear that in my mind's eye I can visualise myself walking through the streets of Xian (formerly the great city of "Chang An", literally "Eternal Peace"), riding a camel through dust storms westwards into the mountains of Central Asia, across northern Afghanistan and into the plains of Iran and Turkey. This book makes me want to make the real journey ("Journeys I Want to Make" is going to be the topic of a soon upcoming blog entry) ! This book has to be one of my best reads this year.
Some good movies and documentaries I've watched this month ...
"Mongol" is a movie made in the Mongolian language, though one can also view it in Thai. English subtitles, of course. It is the story of Temudjin, the Mongol child who grew up to become Genghiz Khan. There are few actors we can recognise in this movie, which makes it more genuine, to me at least. This movie was apparently Oscar-nominated.
"The Mummy III: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor" - starring Brandon Fraser, Jet Li and Michelle Yeoh - featured action from beginning to end, with great special effects and digital graphics, as well as nice humour.. This is a great example of "movie as escape" as the audience is taken on this fast-paced classic adventure of good versus evil.
"The Forbidden City" - from the History Channel - was about the design and construction of the Forbidden City in Beijing. I enjoy watching documentaries about Chinese history, and this one was pretty well made.
And finally, I'm almost through listening to an audiobook, which is very relevant given the current political happenings in the US - "Dreams From My Father" by Barack Obama. I especially liked the fact that it was read by the author himself. It is important to get a sense of the man who could possibly become the 44th President of the United States. The book was first published in 1995, so it is insightful to listen to the man who, it is probably fair to say, doesn't yet realise that a dozen years later, he would be going for the highest post in the US, and therefore is more likely to express his views with candour.