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River of Ink

Literature, History, Art

List Price: $35.00

December 16, 2014 | Hardcover | 6 x 9, 320 Pages | ISBN 9781619024267
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“This gorgeously illustrated volume of essays ranges widely across time and cultures.” —San Francisco Chronicle

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.

THOMAS CHRISTENSEN previous books include New World/New Words: Recent Writing from the Americas, A Bilingual Anthology, The U.S.–Mexican War, and The Discovery of America and Other Myths as well as translations of books by such authors as Laura Esquivel, Carlos Fuentes, Julio Cortázar, Alejo Carpentier and Louis-Ferdinand Céline. He is director of publications at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco and lives with his wife in Richmond, CA.


“This gorgeously illustrated volume of essays ranges widely across time and cultures.” —San Francisco Chronicle

“An eclectic and sporadically brilliant book in which an erudite writer takes his readers on a set of historical and cultural birdwalks.” —Huffington Post

“Christensen, a Richmond resident who serves as director of publications at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, takes the reader on a world tour of literary landmarks from the invention of movable type in Korea to the “poetry of silence” of Spanish writer José Ángel Valente and the extraordinary tale of Pocahontas in London. The book is beautifully illustrated and Christensen writes with clarity, insight and admiration for these enduring wonders of the world.” —San Jose Mercury News

“Christiensen’s lively curiosity informs several quirky and engrossing essays.” —Kirkus

“Christensen (1616: The World in Motion) a proud generalist and non-academic, addresses a slew of disparate subjects…and proves himself to be voracious reader who can clarify the present with knowledge of the past, accessibly summarize a subject, and share a fine story.” —Publishers Weekly

“An idiosyncratic world tour of diverse cultural histories, a tour de force of eclectic scholarship, a relief map of the journeys of a restless intellect, Thomas Christensen’s River of Ink flows from ancient China to the current Americas with myriad revelations along the way. Christensen is a genial guide to little-known wonders with a wealth of information and a light touch.” —Stephen Kessler, author of The Tolstoy of the Zulus

“Truffle-rich, cumin-exotic, from Mutanabbi Street to Céline live ballets, Gutenberg and the Korean, a winged sphinx and an iron man and Nur Jahana—oh, and a beturbaned Sadakichi Hartman—these world-trotting essays make one groovy box of idea-chocolates.” —C.M. Mayo, author of The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire

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