Why Learning History Was So Much Easier in China, a guest post by Xiran Jay Zhao

Ever since I started sharing stories from Chinese history online, many people have asked me “How do you know so much of this, Xiran? Are you a historian?” I am not—my degree was in biochemistry. And the truth is that I don’t consider myself an expert of Chinese history, just a mildly knowledgeable enthusiast. My … Read more

A history of death

In her review of my book This Mortal Coil: A history of death (April 15), Emily Wilson writes that I make the “repellent assumption” that “disability is necessarily a fate worse than death”. Her only justification for this assertion is that I included a discussion of Down Syndrome, since this “is not a fatal condition”. … Read more

Getting history wrong

This uncompromising novel denies its readers many of the pleasures of fiction. More concerned with the ambiguity of ideas than with clarity of plot or character, it is a heartfelt celebration of the life of the mind – though its defiance is qualified by the wryness we would expect from Julian Barnes. Neil, the narrator, … Read more

A Genius on the Wrong Side of History: Tolstoy’s Conflicts and Contradictions

IT IS DAUNTING to write a biography of Tolstoy. Hundreds or even thousands of books have already put each detail of his life and work under a microscope, and the archives contain no more hidden treasures. Yet, new interpretations of Tolstoy’s life continue to pour in, with more expected in the run-up to the writer’s … Read more