Tag Archives: Asia

He who would search for pearls must dive below… John Dryden

Tears of mermaids : the secret story of pearls  Stephen G. Bloom  New York : St. Martin’s Press, c 2009  Hardcover. 1st ed. and printing.      x, 382 p. ; 25 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. [357]-366) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

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For Tears of Mermaids, Stephen G. Bloom traveled 30,000 miles to trace a single pearl — from the moment a diver off the coast of Australia scoops from the ocean floor an oyster containing a single luminescent pearl to the instant a woman on the other side of the world fastens the clasp of a strand containing the same orb.

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Bloom chronicles the never-before-told saga of the global pearl trade by gaining access to clandestine outposts in Japan, China, the Philippines, French Polynesia and Australia.  Bloom infiltrates high-tech pearl farms and processing facilities guarded by gun-toting sentries, and insinuates himself into the lives of powerful international pearl lords.

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Bloom farms for pearls in rural China, goes behind scenes at million-dollar auctions in Hong Kong, trails pearl brokers and Internet entrepreneurs in Asia, hires himself out as a deckhand on an Australian pearling vessel, and goes backstage at Christie’s for a fast and furious auction of the most expensive pearl ever sold.  Teeming with rogue humor and uncanny intelligence, Tears of Mermaids weaves a nonstop detective story of the world’s most enduring gem.

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It was what we Japanese called the onion life, peeling away a layer at a time and crying all the while…

Sword and blossom : a British officer’s enduring love for a Japanese woman  Peter Pagnamenta and Momoko Williams  New York : Penguin Press, 2006  Hardcover. 1st American ed. and printing. ix, 318 p., [16] p. of plates : ill. (some col.), maps, ports. ; 24 cm.  Includes bibliographical references. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG   

In 1904, when thirty-four-year-old British Army captain Arthur Hart-Synnot was sent to Japan to learn the language of his country’s new ally, romance was the furthest thing from his mind. At least five generations of the Hart family had served in the British Army – his father, grandfather, and uncle had risen to the rank of general, and the ambitious young officer expected to keep up the tradition. Arriving in Tokyo on the eve of the Russo-Japanese War,  Arthur met Masa Suzuki at the Officers’ Club and tested out his first few words of Japanese on her.

Masa had grown up in the working-class section of Tokyo, amid small-shop keepers and craftsmen. The sixth in a family of seven, she had left school at age fourteen to work in a shop. She was a dutiful Japanese daughter – when she helped her mother serve meals, she would kneel at a respectful distance while her father and brothers ate. Arthur and Masa fell in love quickly and powerfully. Throwing convention to the wind, they lived together in Tokyo until orders came for Arthur to return to England.

For the next decade and a half, the two unlikely soul mates attempted to make a life together, testing the limits of racial and cultural tolerance in their countries and in themselves. Separated for years at a time, they stayed in touch through long, deeply affectionate letters they wrote to each other in Japanese. The great love affair sustained Arthur through some of the most horrific battles of the First World War, and even when the relationship came to an end, in a way that neither could have foreseen, they continued their correspondence.

They wrote to each other through the troubled interwar period, as Arthur’s family estate was caught up in a civil war in Ireland, as the great earthquake of 1923 ravaged Tokyo, as the militarists seized control of Japan and took the country into a brutal invasion of China, and finally, in a bitter twist of fate, as the once-allied Britain and Japan faced off against each other in the Second World War. Her letters to him were lost, but she saved every one of his, more than eight hundred in total. The authors use this treasure trove of letters to describe a story of great love and great loss and of destinies etched amid the conflicts of the first half of the twentieth century.

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Maps tend to come in two varieties: small, schematic, and bewildering; and large, fantastically detailed, and bewildering… Charles C. Mann

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The fourth part of the world : the race to the ends of the Earth, and the epic story of the map that gave America its name  Toby Lester  New York : Free Press, 2009  Hardcover. 1st ed. and printing. xii, 462 p. : ill, maps ; 23 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. 407-435) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

The 1507 Universalis cosmographiae by Martin Waldseemüller is the first map to show the continents of the New World separated from Asia, revealing the Pacific Ocean. Often called the “Birth Certificate of America,” it is also the first map on which the name “America” appears. The only surviving copy, displayed here, is a masterpiece of woodblock printing and is modeled after the earlier world maps of second century geographer Claudius Ptolemy.

The 1507 Universalis cosmographiae by Martin Waldseemüller is the first map to show the continents of the New World separated from Asia, revealing the Pacific Ocean. Often called the “Birth Certificate of America,” it is also the first map on which the name “America” appears. The only surviving copy, displayed here, is a masterpiece of woodblock printing and is modeled after the earlier world maps of second century geographer Claudius Ptolemy.

The Waldseemüller Map of 1507 introduced an astonishing collection of cartological firsts. It was the first map to show the New World as a separate continent, alongside Europe, Africa and Asia – and the first on which the word ‘America’ appears. It was the first map to suggest the existence of the Pacific. It was, in short, the first map to depict the whole world as we know it today.Beautiful, fascinating and revealing, it arrived on the scene as Europeans were moving out of the Middle Ages and into the Renaissance, thanks to a tiny group of European mapmakers who pieced together ideas going back to the ancients and through Marco Polo to Vespucci. In The Fourth Part of the World, Toby Lester charts the amazing and colourful history of this map, whose profound influence has been neglected for centuries and which changed the world-view of all humankind.

Printed on twelve sheets, the Carta Marina, like the Martin Waldsemüller’s 1507 world map, was part of the volume of cartographic materials, known as the Sammelband, assembled by mathematician, alchemist, and globe-maker Johann Schörner. Sheet number six appears slightly different in color from the other eleven sheets of the map because it is printed on a different type of paper and most probably was a proof sheet. This sheet of the map was not originally bound into the Sammelband like the others and seems to have been added at a later date.

Printed on twelve sheets, the Carta Marina, like the Martin Waldsemüller’s 1507 world map, was part of the volume of cartographic materials, known as the Sammelband, assembled by mathematician, alchemist, and globe-maker Johann Schörner. Sheet number six appears slightly different in color from the other eleven sheets of the map because it is printed on a different type of paper and most probably was a proof sheet. This sheet of the map was not originally bound into the Sammelband like the others and seems to have been added at a later date.

The Schöner Sammelband is arguably one of the most important compilations of cartographic materials to survive from the early Renaissance. The Sammelband, or compilation, was discovered in 1901 by the Jesuit historian, Father Josef Fischer, in the library of the Castle of Wolfegg, in Württemberg, Germany. The volume had been assembled sometime after 1516 and contained the only surviving copies of Martin Waldseemüller’s 1507 Universalis cosmographiae, his 1516 Carta Marina Navigatoria (page shown)and globe patterns by the mathematician, alchemist and globe-maker Johann Schöner (1477–1547).

The Schöner Sammelband is arguably one of the most important compilations of cartographic materials to survive from the early Renaissance. The Sammelband, or compilation, was discovered in 1901 by the Jesuit historian, Father Josef Fischer, in the library of the Castle of Wolfegg, in Württemberg, Germany. The volume had been assembled sometime after 1516 and contained the only surviving copies of Martin Waldseemüller’s 1507 Universalis cosmographiae, his 1516 Carta Marina Navigatoria (page shown)and globe patterns by the mathematician, alchemist and globe-maker Johann Schöner (1477–1547).

This is a portion of a sixteenth-century portolan (or sailing) chart of the Pacific Coast of Central and South America, showing the region from Guatemala to northern Peru. The names of coastal towns on the map are written in two different hands, dating the chart to the middle of the sixteenth century.

This is a portion of a sixteenth-century portolan (or sailing) chart of the Pacific Coast of Central and South America, showing the region from Guatemala to northern Peru. The names of coastal towns on the map are written in two different hands, dating the chart to the middle of the sixteenth century.

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When the people heard the sound of the trumpet, and the people shouted with a great shout, the wall fell down flat… Joshua 6:20

Print shows Uncle Sam using "Congressional Mortar" and building blocks carried by ethnic workers to construct a wall with the stones are labeled "Law against Race, Prejudice, Jealousy, Competition, Fear, Anti Low Wages, Non-Reciprocity, [and] Congressional Blunders". Across a river, in the background, Chinese workers work with picks to dismantle the Great Wall, as China opens its doors to trading with the West. 1882

Print shows Uncle Sam using “Congressional Mortar” and building blocks carried by ethnic workers to construct a wall with the stones are labeled “Law against Race, Prejudice, Jealousy, Competition, Fear, Anti Low Wages, Non-Reciprocity, [and] Congressional Blunders”. Across a river, in the background, Chinese workers work with picks to dismantle the Great Wall, as China opens its doors to trading with the West. 1882

This is a new type of entry for this blog. Using the publisher’s description and other pictorial archives we are presenting a book that we believe to be important and worthy of your consideration. The Great Wall of China has been both a symbol and a fact – possibly more important as the former than the latter – but in either case it is impossible to ignore.

A caravan outside the walls of Peking 1893

A caravan outside the walls of Peking 1893

The Great Wall : the extraordinary story of China’s wonder of the world  John Man  Cambridge, Mass. : Da Capo Press, 2008  Hardcover. 1st ed. and printing. xii, 336 p., [32] p. of plates : col. ill. ; 25 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. 319-323) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

[Great victory for the daring Awaya, regimental commander, at the time of the general offensive against Tʻien-chin, China] 1900 September Print shows the Japanese commander on horseback as Japanese and allied forces attack the walled city at Tianjin, China.

[Great victory for the daring Awaya, regimental commander, at the time of the general offensive against Tʻien-chin, China] 1900 September Print shows the Japanese commander on horseback as Japanese and allied forces attack the walled city at Tianjin, China.


The Great Wall of China is a wonder of the world. Every year, hundreds of thousands of tourists take the five-mile journey from Beijing to climb its battlements. While myriad photographs have made this extraordinary landmark familiar to millions more, its story remains mysterious and steeped in myth. In this riveting account, John Man travels the entire length of the Great Wall and across two millennia to find the truth behind the legends. Along the way, he delves into the remarkable and complex history of China — from the country’s tribal past, through the war with the Mongols, right up to the modern-day when the Great Wall is once more a commanding emblem of China.

Print shows Uncle Sam standing at the top a wall labeled "Prohibitive Tariff" on land labeled "U.S.", looking across a body of water at the "Chinese Wall" being torn down by European and Japanese rulers labeled and caricatured as "France" (Felix Faure), "Germany" (William II), and "Japan" (Meiji), "England (George V), and "Russia" (Nicholas II).

Print shows Uncle Sam standing at the top a wall labeled “Prohibitive Tariff” on land labeled “U.S.”, looking across a body of water at the “Chinese Wall” being torn down by European and Japanese rulers labeled and caricatured as “France” (Felix Faure), “Germany” (William II), and “Japan” (Meiji), “England (George V), and “Russia” (Nicholas II).

China - [Pagoda] on the Great Wall at Shan-Hai-Kwan  [between 1910 and 1920]

China – [Pagoda] on the Great Wall at Shan-Hai-Kwan [between 1910 and 1920]

Shan-hai-kwan, eastern end of China's Great Wall - south from Liao Hsi Mts., to Pe-Chi-li Gulf 1904

Shan-hai-kwan, eastern end of China’s Great Wall – south from Liao Hsi Mts., to Pe-Chi-li Gulf 1904

Camel train from Mongolia via Nankow Pass, coming through the Great Wall of China 1902

Camel train from Mongolia via Nankow Pass, coming through the Great Wall of China 1902

Great wall of China [1936 or 1937]

Great wall of China [1936 or 1937]

Family living in an arch under the Great Wall [1895]

Family living in an arch under the Great Wall [1895]

Chinese Wall, Pekink, China - the Great Wall, Peking - Rebels have passed another part of the wall and are marching on Peking  [between ca. 1908 and 1926]

Chinese Wall, Pekink, China – the Great Wall, Peking – Rebels have passed another part of the wall and are marching on Peking [between ca. 1908 and 1926]

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You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus… Mark Twain

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By deft slight of hand the Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court saves himself from execution by threatening to blot out the Sun. As Twain describes it; I have reflected, Sir King.  For a lesson, I will let this darkness proceed, and spread night in the world; but whether I blot out the sun for good, or restore it, shall rest with you.  These are the terms, to wit:  You shall remain king over all your dominions, and receive all the glories and honors that belong to the kingship; but you shall appoint me your perpetual minister and executive, and give me for my services one per cent of such actual increase of revenue over and above its present amount as I may succeed in creating for the state.  If I can’t live on that, I sha’n’t ask anybody to give me a lift.  Is it satisfactory?

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With Yankee ingenuity he has simply used his knowledge of the date of a solar eclipse to not only save himself but to cut himself a nice large serving of the public wealth in the bargain. He has so much in common with the planet Gore crowd that it would be hilarious if it weren’t so tragic. Keys book is an effort to give some historical necessity to planet Gore arguments but is no more magical than Sir Boss. There probably was a Krakatoa type eruption around 535 A.D. and it probably had some effects on global weather which in turn had effects of political stability in a world that lived off of just in time food rather than just in time logistics.

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There have been and will be such events of greater and lesser consequences based on thousands of contributing factors. Our ability to predict such events is minescule at best and our ability to control them is even less. We have responsibilities based in everything as high as stewardship and as crass as seeking our own best advantage to not contaminate our world but they do not include being duped by Sir Boss, his heirs or assigns. Keys book is fun the same way a book questioning how would the Revolutionary War have been different if George Washington had an air force but it is just as speculative and no more enlightening.

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Catastrophe: an investigation into the origins of the modern world New York: Ballantine Pub., 2000 David Keys Human beings Effect of environment on History Hardcover. 1st American ed., later printing. xviii, 343 p.: ill., maps; 25 cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

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It was a catastrophe without precedent in recorded history: for months on end, starting in A.D. 535, a strange, dusky haze robbed much of the earth of normal sunlight. Crops failed in Asia and the Middle East as global weather patterns radically altered. Bubonic plague, exploding out of Africa, wiped out entire populations in Europe. Flood and drought brought ancient cultures to the brink of collapse. In a matter of decades, the old order died and a new world — essentially the modern world as we know it today — began to emerge.

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Archaeological journalist David Keys dramatically describes the global chain of events that he says began in the catastrophe of A.D. 535, and then offers an explanation of how and why this cataclysm occurred on that momentous day centuries ago.

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The Roman Empire, the greatest power in Europe and the Middle East for centuries, lost half its territory in the century following the catastrophe. During the exact same period, the ancient southern Chinese state, weakened by economic turmoil, succumbed to invaders from the north, and a single unified China was born. Meanwhile, as restless tribes swept down from the central Asian steppes, a new religion known as Islam spread through the Middle East. Keys speculates that these were not isolated upheavals but linked events arising from the same cause and rippling around the world like an enormous tidal wave.

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Keys’s narrative circles the globe as he credits the eerie fallout with the months of darkness: unprecedented drought in Central America, a strange yellow dust drifting like snow over eastern Asia, prolonged famine, and the hideous pandemic of the bubonic plague. With a selection of ancient literatures – in translation – and what passes for historical records, Keys makes hitherto unrecognized connections between the “wasteland” that overspread the British countryside and the fall of the great pyramid-building Teotihuacan civilization in Mexico, between a little-known “Jewish empire” in Eastern Europe and the rise of the Japanese nation-state, between storms in France and pestilence in Ireland.

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In the book’s final chapters, Keys delves into the mystery at the heart of this global catastrophe: Why did it happen? The answer, at once surprising and definitive, holds chilling implications for our own precarious geopolitical future.

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