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Unfabling the East

The Enlightenment's Encounter with Asia
Narrated by: Ric Jerrom
Length: 25 hrs and 49 mins
Categories: History, European
5 out of 5 stars (1 rating)

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Publisher's Summary

How Enlightenment Europe rediscovered its identity by measuring itself against the great civilizations of Asia

During the long 18th century, Europe's travelers, scholars, and intellectuals looked to Asia in a spirit of puzzlement, irony, and openness. In this panoramic book, Jürgen Osterhammel tells the story of the European Enlightenment's nuanced encounter with the great civilizations of the East, from the Ottoman Empire and India to China and Japan.

Here is the acclaimed book that challenges the notion that Europe's formative engagement with the non-European world was invariably marred by an imperial gaze and presumptions of Western superiority. Osterhammel describes how major figures such as Leibniz, Voltaire, Gibbon, and Hegel took a keen interest in Asian culture and history, and introduces lesser-known scientific travelers, colonial administrators, Jesuit missionaries, and adventurers who returned home from Asia bearing manuscripts in many exotic languages, huge collections of ethnographic data, and stories that sometimes defied belief. Osterhammel brings the sights and sounds of this tumultuous age vividly to life, from the salons of Paris and the lecture halls of Edinburgh to the deserts of Arabia, the steppes of Siberia, and the sumptuous courts of Asian princes. He demonstrates how Europe discovered its own identity anew by measuring itself against its more senior continent, and how it was only toward the end of this period that cruder forms of Eurocentrism - and condescension toward Asia - prevailed.

A momentous work by one of Europe's most eminent historians, Unfabling the East takes listeners on a thrilling voyage to the farthest shores, bringing back vital insights for our own multicultural age.

©2018 Jürgen Osterhammel and Robert Savage (P)2018 Princeton University Press

Critic Reviews

"Osterhammel’s nuanced position is sensible and intelligent." (Joan-Pau Rubiés, Times Higher Education)

"It is impossible to imagine a reader who would not learn a great deal from Osterhammel’s book." (Robert Irwin, Literary Review)

"Unfabling the East is a brilliant new book by Jürgen Osterhammel that goes back to the original sources, and carefully reconstructs the evolution of European views of Asia." (Michael Savage, Quillette)

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  • 13-01-2019

The Prequel to ‘Orientalism’

This is a book that’s been on my list since it came out. In a time when East Asia is once again being accepted as a model for politics and economic development, this book harkens back to the last time this was the case — in a time before the stench of social Darwinism, imperialism and scientific racism overwhelmed all else. It is massive, at times mazy and idiosyncratic but it is packed with amazing insights. In particular, I enjoyed the passages on the evolution of “oriental despotism,” nomadism and the intro / conclusion. The audio version was engaging and even more impressive given the sheer number or obscure names.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful