Month: June 2011

About 1616: The World in Motion

The World in Motion
By Thomas Christensen

Forthcoming January 2012
from Counterpoint Press

The world of 1616 was a world of motion. Enormous galleons carrying silk and silver across the Pacific created the first true global economy, and the first megacorporations were emerging as economic powers rivaling political states. In Europe In Europe the deaths of Shakespeare and Cervantes marked the end of an era in literature. The spirit of the Renaissance was giving way to new attitudes that would lead to the age of revolutions. Kepler and Galileo, following Copernicus, claimed that the earth itself revolved. In Persia the philosopher Mulla Sadra said that motion was the very essence of existence. In East Asia the last native Chinese dynasty was entering its final years, while Japan was beginning its long period of shogunal rule. Artists there, as in many part of the world, were rethinking their connections to ancient traditions and experimenting with new directions. Women were redefining their roles in family and society. Slave trading was relocating large numbers of people, while others were migrating in search of new opportunities — a Japanese samurai became governor of a province in Thailand, an Ethiopian slave became the prime minister of a principality in India, a Powhatan maiden from Virginia attended a royal court masque in London. The first tourists, traveling not for trade or exploration but for personal fulfillment, were exploring this new globalized world: an Englishman walked across India, an Italian explored Muslim West Asia, a Chinese scholar spent decades compiling a massive account of journeys through China.

In 1616: The World in Motion Thomas Christensen illuminates these changes by focusing on a single riotous year, telling surprising stories of the men and women who were forging a new world and drawing unexpected connections across countries and continents as he traces the developments that would set the world on the march to modernity.

THOMAS CHRISTENSEN’s previous books include New World/New Words: Translating Latin American Literature, The U.S.–Mexican War, and The Discovery of America, 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 Francico.


The above is very early promotional copy for my new book, tentatively scheduled for publication in January 2012.

At this time I need to update the cover image, which is still showing an older version of the subtitle. I love the cover painting, which combines Western, Hindu, Muslim, and other elements. Art critics call this style of painting, commissioned by the Mughal emperor Jahangir, “allegorical painting” — this painting suggests Jahangir’s (imagined) world domination. The painting, by Abul Hasan, depicts Jahangir shooting an arrow through the mouth of the decapitated head of Malik Ambar (a rebel leader; this part of the painting is hidden behind the book title cartouche). The painting dates, naturally, from 1616.

I suspect the subtitle may change.

I’ll make this a sticky post at the top of the 1616 category page and update it as the prepublication process moves along. I’ll just update the time stamp to keep this at the top of the category page.

Help wanted: Italian painting specialist

quirinal fresco

Help! For the book I’m working on I’m trying to identify the painters of these frescos in the Quirinale (the Italian equivalent of the White House). They depict foreign ambassadors to the Vatican, and I’d also like to identify the ambassadors — but first things first.

quirinale frescos

I’ve consulted several books in both English and Italian but remain uncertain about the attributions. My best guess at this point is that the top two are mainly by Carlo Saraceni, the third one by Agostino Tassi, and the last one perhaps by Giovanni Lanfranco.

quirinale frescos

Among the ambassadors are Robert Sherley, Aliqoli Beg (not entirely sure who that is), Emanuele Ne Vunda, Hasekura Tsunenaga, and Luis Sotelo (the last a Franciscan missionary and not an ambassador per se). Can the Turkish and Persian ambassadors be distinguished by their styles of turbans?

Even if you don’t know the answers to these questions, if anyone can point me in the direction of an obliging Italian painting specialist I could be in touch with about this it would be a great help. Thanks!

Monkeys and squirrels in trees

This image is by the great Mughal painter Abul Hasan (I devote a few pages to him in the book I’m currently working on). Usually called “Squirrels in…


When you attempt something ambitious you’re bound to make some mistakes along the way. I’m sure the book I’m working on will have its fair share (recently I…

The Naipaul Test

V. S. Naipaul continues to provoke and offend. In a talk at the Royal Geographic Society he said: I read a piece of writing and within a paragraph or…

Randomized Editing

I have a month to polish up the book I’m currently working on, and I’m experimenting with a randomized editing process. Most writers spend a lot of time…