Thomas Christensen’s previous title 1616: The World in Motion looked at a single year in the age of early maritime globalism—Publishers Weekly gave it a starred review, calling it “a stunning overview of the nascent modern world.” By contrast his new gorgeously illustrated River of Ink ranges widely across time and cultures and offers what amounts to a magisterial history of literacy.
The book’s title refers to the sacking of Baghdad in 1258 when the Tigris ran black with the ink of books flung into the water by Mongol invaders. Other essays range from the writings of prehistoric Chinese cultures known only through archaeology to the state of book reviewing in the US today to the heroic efforts of contemporary Afghanis to keep the legacy of their ancient culture alive under the barrage of endless war.
Christensen’s encyclopedic knowledge of both world art and a vast understanding of literature allows him to move easily from a discussion of the invention of moveable type in Korea to Johannes Kepler’s search for the harmony of the spheres to the strange journey of an iron sculpture from Benin to the Louvre. Other essays cover the Popul Vuh of the Maya as exemplum of translation, the pioneering explorations of the early American naturalist John Bartram, the balletic works of Louis-Ferdinand Celine.
It is Christensen’s unparalleled gift to seemingly see the world whole and to offer a wealth of absolutely vital connections adequate to our position as citizens of an ever more rapidly globalizing world.