Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Cundill Prize 2012: Stephen Platt on China's wars

The $75,000 Cundill Prize in History was awarded the other day to Stephen Platt, historian at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, Mass, for Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom: China, The West, And The Epic Story of The Taiping Civil War.

The Taiping Civil War oppressed China in the 1850s and 1860s and may have killed more people than any other civil war in history.  Last February the NY Times published a review by Dwight Gardner, who mostly makes it sound fascinating, except he opens with a patronizing paragraph about how no one will read it.
There should be a term in German that describes the sinking feeling you have when reading a serious book of scholarship, one whose determined author deserves praise and tenure, that no civilian reader should pick up
I'm sure there is a term in German for reviews like this. Meanwhile, Platt, who looks youngish and is an associate prof, not someone emeritus or anything, says
“I never intended to become a historian – I was a math major who ended up in the English department – it was only in the course of a two-year teaching position in the Hunan province after college that I began to take a serious interest in how the past and present interweave,” Platt said at the soirĂ©e. “As most who practice history know, the truth can indeed be more wondrous than fiction.” 
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