Unlike many other history books, which look at grand, sweeping ideas and focus on facts, dates, statistics, and artifacts, Brook presents major portions of Chinese history through the lens of narratives, sort of like miniature biographies. Each chapter focuses on a different individual of whom we have a record and who can be used to explain and demonstrate the evolution of China in that time period. This format helps keep the book from falling into the trap of many other nonfiction works I have read recently, where the first 1/3rd to 1/2 of the book is interesting, and the remainder is repetitive.
Sometimes it's interesting to read a biography of a lesser-known historical figure, like President James Monroe. He was the last of the American Founding Fathers to serve as president, yet almost nothing has survived into the common body of modern knowledge about him. Perhaps this McGrath biography will change that.
With this review, I guess I'm writing about writing about writing. At least, I think that's the right number of layers. You know, I've never really had much in the way of formal writing education. I took a grand total of one creative writing course in high school, and I only took one English course of any kind in college. In my defense, my studies of astronautical engineering were somewhat time consuming. However, I've never done a lot of reading about writing, either, especially considering my penchant for teaching myself things by reading books on them.
Or, as I wanted to title this post: A Splendid Review. Unfortunately, I wouldn't go so far as to call this a splendid book. You might be starting to think that I'm just biased against nonfiction, considering that I think the majority of the nonfiction books I've reviewed on the site have all been described as something along the lines of "mediocre," but I promise there are some that I would call excellent. Chernow's biographies of Washington and Hamilton, for instance, or another splendid biography on Lincoln, or several books on theoretical astrophysics...unfortunately, I read those before I started doing book reviews on the site, and it just so happens that the nonfiction books that I've read since I started have been somewhat disappointing.
Like I've said, I try to read broadly, but this book was pretty broad even for me. It's a nonfiction memoir type recollection about someone who buys a wildlife reserve in Africa, and adopts a herd of semi-renegade elephants. There are some really interesting bits, especially for someone who hasn't been to Africa, and then there are some parts that made me raise an eyebrow. So let's get into the review, shall we?
Oh dear, a three star review. It's not that this book was bad, and please don't accuse me of some sort of non-fiction bias, but it was not quite as strong as other books I've read of similar nature. There were some interesting parts, but much of the book didn't seem especially helpful. Therein lay the problem.