concept to publication

Category: 1616 Page 1 of 2

Maria Félix Google doodle

María Félix, 1914-2002

Maria Flix as Catalina de Erauso

María Félix as Catalina de Erauso

Nice to see the great María Félix as a Google Doodle today (April 8, her 103rd birthday). Here she is as Catalina de Erauso in The Lieutenant Nun (from my book 1616: The World in Motion). In this cunning disguise nobody was able to identify her as a woman.


Also died Sevan Tethys, years ago, Thomas Christensen wrote tasty

some Chinese website

1616 was an eventful year, the British Shakespeare died, the Spanish side of the car also died Sevan Tethys, years ago, Thomas Christensen wrote tasty Universal Modern History, interception of the title of the year is 1616, the year of motion! Shakespeare referred to the book and the death of the Cypriot public, as if that were not the Soul Lihen Tang Gongzi, it was not bad, anyway, but I can not Linchuan Four Dreams realize what’s contemporary …


So Google translates … something. An article or a catalogue, I guess. I’d give a link if I was sure it wasn’t some ripoff. Regardless, though I don’t know what the original says in Chinese, I think the big G’s translation is marvelous.




Beyond Shakespeare at The Critical Flame

"Beyond Shakespeare" at <em>The Critical Flame</em>

“Beyond Shakespeare” at The Critical Flame.

Thanks to Daniel Pritchard and the Critical Flame for publishing my short opinion piece on Shakespeare and globalism. I wrote the piece in conjunction with my participation in the 1616 Symposium held at Rhodes College in April.

The Critical Flame is a great online magazine devoted to encouraging “intelligent public discussion about literature and culture through long-form literary and critical essays covering a wide range of topics.”


The pot in the garden

early 17th c. pipe

early 17th c. pipe

Shakespeare’s garden, that is (click image for link to BBC video).



Mailbag: NCBR (1616)

This is nice. While I was traveling I received this e-mail:

Dear Tom Christensen,

On behalf of the Northern California Book Reviewers (NCBR), I am delighted to tell you that 1616: The World in Motion has been nominated for the Northern California Book Award in General Nonfiction as one of the best works by a northern California author published in 2012. Congratulations!

We hope that you can join us for the ceremony. Please let us know. It is free and open to the public; feel free to invite your friends and family. If you can’t attend yourself, please send a friend or representative to represent you and to accept should you receive the award. All nominated books at the awards will be celebrated, acknowledged, and made available for purchase and signing. We are looking forward to celebrating all of the nominated books and authors.

The 32nd Annual Northern California Book Awards will be held Sunday, May 19, 2013, at Koret Auditorium, San Francisco Main Library, 100 Larkin, at Grove, at 1:00 p.m.

Immediately following the awards, a public reception with book signing for all of the nominated books will begin in the Latino/Hispanic Room at the Library. (The Library closes at 5:00 on Sunday.)

The event draws an enthusiastic literary audience to celebrate books and writers in northern California. All of the nominees will be brought on stage for recognition during the ceremony, and the winner in each category will be asked to speak briefly and read for three minutes. (Please come prepared to read for three minutes if you are announced as winner.)

Your book will be ordered for purchase at the reception by Friends of the San Francisco Library’s Readers Bookstore at the Main. During the reception, please stand or sit near your books for a time, so those who wish their books signed may find you. Please introduce yourself to the booksellers. There will be a reserved table for book signing at the reception.

The Northern California Book Awards were established by the NCBR (formerly BABRA) in 1981 to honor the work of writers and recognize exceptional service in the field of literature in northern California. The awards recognize excellence in Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, Translation, and Children’s Literature. In addition to the book awards, the Fred Cody Award is presented annually for lifetime achievement. This year, poet and educator Kay Ryan will be honored. A complete list of nominees is posted on

The Northern California Book Awards are sponsored by Northern California Book Reviewers, Poetry Flash, Center for the Art of Translation, Red Room (, Mechanics’ Institute Library, PEN West, the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library, and San Francisco Public Library.

Someone representing NCBR may contact you directly regarding an interview opportunity if we receive a media request.

Please let me know if you have any other questions.

Warmest regards,

~Joyce Joyce Jenkins, NCBR chair

N C B R * Northern California Book Reviewers

1616 review recap

scribe by rizi-yi-abbasiSome highlights (well, hey, the topic interests me):

Cleveland Plain Dealer (March 29, 2012)
“Thomas Christensen’s 1616 is a delight, an adventure, a reading and visual treat of the first order. Once you hold it in your hands, and the sumptuous, well-chosen illustrations fall open, its $35 pricetag will seem like a bargain.”

Maclean’s Magazine
 (Canada; April 2, 2012 issue)
” Where Christensen shines … is in his tales of individuals incongruently ricocheting around this newly opened world.”

East Bay Express
 (March 21, 2012)
” A swashbuckling, stargazing, witchcrafty, ’round-the-world-in-three-hundred-plus-pages historical adventure disguised as an art book, 1616: The World in Motion is simply dazzling.”

San Jose Mercury News (March 3, 2012)
“This thoughtful, beautifully illustrated book examines the key events in art, science, war and politics, as well as mass migrations, new modes of trade and women’s emerging roles.

ForeWord Magazine (Spring 2012 issue)
A “fresh, deeply researched and thoughtfully composed window back in time.”

Publishers Weekly (starred review, December 12, 2011; also named one of PW‘s top ten history books for the season)
“A stunning overview of the nascent modern world through a thematic exploration of the year 1616.”

Kirkus Reviews (November 15, 2011)
” Well-researched and entertaining … a unique reading experience.”

1616 landing page updated

1616 landing page

Earlier I talked about creating a landing page for my book 1616. At that time I just put together a quick image map with hot spots for links. But this meant the text was an image, which meant it was neither very editable nor very googleable. In addition, I thought the middle column was a bit too thin and the type too small. So I’ve redone the page as CSS. I’ve also included a new link to an e-mail newsletter that I intend to send out every couple of months or so. You can sign up for it here.

If anything on the landing page seems amiss please let me know.

Living in the material world

An advance copy of 1616 arrived this week. I gather only a couple of copies were air shipped from the printer (R.R. Donnelley) in China, so it was kind of my publisher, Counterpoint, to send one to me. The bulk shipment should be here in a few weeks, and the book should hit stores in the second half of February.

Counterpoint went to more expense and trouble on the production of this book than I expected, beginning with color throughout, which was a little surprising as this is a book intended for the trade and not a museum catalogue or art book per se. The book has nice chocolate-colored boards and a red and yellow headband. The 7¼ x 10 in. trim size makes it a little bigger than a standard trade book (often 5½ x 8½ or 6 x 9) but not so big as books intended mainly for the art market (which are often 9 x 12 or larger).

1616, full book

The front cover and spine are stamped with gold stamping (a little washed out here by my flash).

spine of 1616

There are colored ensheets front and back. The image is a pair of Japanese screens (one shown above the other one) from the period covered in the book. Together these happen to fit the dimensions of the book perfectly, and they represent some of the best geographical knowledge of the time.

1616 endsheets

The book is well bound with sewn bindings so that it lies flat when opened.

1616, spread with Galileo image

All things considered, the art is nicely produced on 128 gsm matte paper with good opacity.

1616, spread with Avercamp image

All in all, a nice piece of work, and for now attractively priced at $35.

1616, spread with Francken image

Stunning, excellent, fabulous

1616 received a starred review yesterday in Publishers Weekly. PW, the most influential of the big four advance review publications (the others are Kirkus Reviews, Booklist, and Library Journal) reviews about 10,000 books a year, and not too many get stars. In the book publishing industry, starred PW reviews are believed to increase media coverage and bookstore and library orders — we’ll see about that. Meanwhile, here is the review (for which I’m most grateful). The book will be published in March by Counterpoint Press.

 1616: The World in Motion

Thomas Christensen. Counterpoint (PGW, dist.), $35 (384p) ISBN 978-1-58243-774-3

At the outset, Christensen confesses his lack of academic standing to write history, given his background as a translator (Like Water for Chocolate, with Carol Christensen) and editor and director of publications at the San Francisco Asian Art Museum. Nevertheless, he has created a stunning overview of the nascent modern world through a thematic exploration of the year 1616. Christensen interweaves various narratives to describe such trends as the increasing roles of private corporations like the Dutch East India Company and of economics in world politics or the emerging voices of women as writers—such as Dorothy Leigh, whose The Mother’s Blessing had 23 printings—and occasionally powerful participants in statecraft, like Nur Jahan, who aided her husband in ruling the Mughal empire. Juxtaposing concurrent growths in witch hunting and scientific discoveries, Christensen points out that Kepler calculated the laws of planetary motion while also defending his mother, an illiterate herbalist, against witchcraft charges. Careful to include events from around the world, not just Europe and the Americas, Christensen enhances his excellent explications of backgrounds and settings with dozens of fabulous illustrations. Most readers will want an atlas to track the action in 1616’s “world in motion.” (Mar.)

Reviewed on: 12/12/2011

More about:

Seeking the man behind science’s champion

Since at least the mid-twentieth century there has been a line of Galileo scholarship that has held that Galileo’s problems with the Inquisition should not be viewed as indicating a basic conflict between science and religion but instead as just problems peculiar to Galileo the man, the personality. I think the ultimate motivation for this line of argumentation is the worry of twentieth-century scientists that their work would somehow be seen as godless and communistic.

In some respects this seems the oddest angle to take on Galileo and his work. It is true he never saw himself as undermining religion. His case was more an expression of internal politics within the church itself than any kind of assault on it. Still, the church — let’s just say it — came down squarely on the wrong side of this one, and that reflects badly on it. Nonetheless, the argument continues to this day, as this review of a recent biography indicates.

Turkey Day

turkeycock by mansur

North American Turkey, ca. 1612, by Mansur. Victoria and Albert Museum, IM 135-1921.

In honor of Thanksgiving, here’s a painting of an American turkeycock by the great Mughal painter Mansur (from my forthcoming book 1616: The World in Motion). Mansur was the greatest Mughal painter of natural history subjects.

It was an area in which the Mughal emperor, Jahangir, was deeply interested. A world in motion brought to his court many strange and curious creatures, which he invariably directed his painters to document. In 1612, when a large number of birds and animals were brought to his court from Goa, he wrote, “As these animals appeared to me to be very strange, I … ordered that painters should draw them in the Jahangirnama [his reign journal], so that the amazement that arose from hearing of them might be increased.”

Among the birds brought from Goa was this American turkey painted by Mansur. Like Abul Hasan (who painted the cover image of my book), Mansur ranked high in Jahangir’s esteem, and the ruler gave him the title of Nadir-ul-asr, “Unique of the Age.” “In the art of drawing,” he said, Mansur “is unique in his generation.” He ranked him together with Abul Hasan, saying, “In the time of my father’s reign and my own, these two had no third.”

Jahangir was proud of such creatures in his menagerie as flying mice, tailless monkeys, zebras, yaks, cheetahs, West Asian goats, Himalayan pheasants, dodos, ducks, and partridges. He had many of the foreign animals bred in captivity. When he received a strange animal he typically would record a verbal description of it before having its likeness painted. In 1616 he was presented with an Abyssinian elephant, noting that “Its ears are larger than the elephants of this place, and its trunk and tail are longer.” His concern for accuracy and completeness of documentation led to a naturalistic approach to paintings of natural history, of which Mansur was the foremost proponent.

1616 video trailers

I made two trailers for my forthcoming book 1616: The World in Motion. The short one is a little over a minute long and has no voice-over narration. It’s main advantage is that it’s, well, short. The other one, a hefty ten minutes long, is more informational.

The short video trailer:

Carol says the short trailer overemphasizes Asia, which is a fair criticism, but I’ve about hit my limit for now on video work! I thought the long video trailer was just probably too long for most people, but early listeners Anne and Ellen had the following reactions: Ellen says “I like the long trailer better! I think it has a better sense of the book and is more engaging. But I think the audio track needs some work — the music’s a little loud and your voice a little quiet in comparison. I like the script and images you chose though.” And Anne says of the long version “I enjoy the narration and all the fabulous graphics … the music is well selected too. I wonder though-if the sound track could have less volume so the voice over is clearer to listen to. I preferred it in areas where the music was lower. It does run a little long but is very interesting.”

So on the basis of that feedback I’ve turned down the volume on the music (I hope by the right amount), uploaded the long trailer to YouTube, and embedded it here:

Another boring blurb post

evan s. connell

evan s. connell

“Outstanding book. Tom Christensen’s scholarship is meticulous. The reproductions are beautiful. 1616 is a treasure.” — Evan S. Connell, Jr.

I got this nice blurb from Evan S. Connell (and to me that’s not boring at all). It’s great to get recognitions from a distinguished author not just of fiction (Mr, Bridge, Mrs. Bridge, etc.) but also of histories (Son of the Morning Star,etc.). Among his other honors, Evan was nominated for a Lifetime Achievement Man Booker Award.

I was a little anxious about blurbs for this book. I’ve been in museum publishing for so long that my literary rolodex had got pretty stale. But the blurb process has actually gone pretty well. I’m expecting one or two more to come in (I probably overdid it and should have left some for next time).

Right now the blurbs are looking something like this:

“Shakespeare may have died in 1616 (as incidentally did Cervantes—on the same date!) — but here we have Love’s Labour Found. A brimmingly generous intellectual feast, lavishly curated by Mr. Christensen — on every page a fresh marvel — the catalog, as it were, of a show just asking to be mounted, and the Show of the Year at that.” (Lawrence Weschler, Pulitzer Prize ­Finalist for General Nonfiction for Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder)

“With its stories of restless spirits and restless feet and its truly amazing images from Japan to Persia to Rome, this book will surprise and delight every reader and provide new insights into an interactive early modern world.” (John E. Wills, Jr., author, 1688: A Global History)

“Outstanding book. Tom Christensen’s scholarship is meticulous. The reproductions are beautiful. 1616 is a treasure.” (Evan S. Connell, Man Booker International Prize Nominee for Lifetime Achievement, author, Lost in Uttar Pradesh)

“With a masterful command of facts and data, Christensen shows how separate threads affected one another, transformed discourse, and contributed to the development of a truly global culture fully four centuries ago.” (Emily Sano, director emeritus, Asian Art Museum, San Francisco)

“Unforgettable characters and stories that illuminate many of today’s global aches and joys.” (Peter Laufer, James Wallace Chair in Journalism at the University of Oregon, and author, The Dangerous World of Butterflies)

“A brilliant creative examination and interpretation of the developed world’s recent history:  east, middle, and west. Christensen documents the main civilizations of East Asia, South Asia, the Near East, and Western Europe and the significant colonial civilization in Central and South America. A treasure of plates of art and maps alone.” (Gary Snyder, Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for Turtle Island)

John E. Wills on 1616

1688: A Global History“With its stories of restless spirits and restless feet and its truly amazing images from Japan to Persia to Rome, this book will surprise and delight every reader and provide new insights into an interactive early modern world.” — John E. Wills, Jr., author, 1688: A Global History

I received this lovely blurb for 1616: The World in Motion from the distinguished historian John E. Wills, Jr. (University of Southern California). Wills wrote a book called 1688: A Global History, which is perhaps the closest in spirit to mine. In fact, once I remembered having read reviews of that book it sort of hung over me while I was doing mine, and I scrupulously avoided looking at it to make sure my approach wouldn’t be influenced by it. (Now that I’m done and I’ve had a look I’m relieved to say that the books turned out to not that much alike.)

I don’t know Prof. Wills, and I approached him cold, and not without a bit of nervousness. Professional historians are often condescending to amateur historians like me. But Prof. Will was generous and gracious, and I am immensely thankful to him.

John E. Wills’s masterful history ushers us into the worlds of 1688, from the suicidal exaltation of Russian Old Believers to the ravishing voice of the haiku poet Bash?. Witness the splendor of the Chinese imperial court as the Kangxi emperor publicly mourns the death of his grandmother and shrewdly consolidates his power. Join the great caravans of Muslims on their annual pilgrimage from Damascus and Cairo to Mecca. Walk the pungent streets of Amsterdam and enter the Rasp House, where vagrants, beggars, and petty criminals labored to produce powdered brazilwood for the dyeworks. Through these stories and many others, Wills paints a detailed picture of how the global connections of power, money, and belief were beginning to lend the world its modern form. “A vivid picture of life in 1688…filled with terrifying violence, frightening diseases…comfortingly familiar human kindnesses…and the intellectual achievements of Leibniz, Locke, and Newton.”–Publishers Weekly

1616 landing page

1616 landing page

I made a simple landing page for 1616. (It’s just a big image map — a picture with clickable areas –that’s about 200 KB.) If it doesn’t load and look okay for you let me know.

There’s room to expand to the right. If I get another blurb or two I’ll shift the brief descriptive copy right. That copy is adapted from the publisher’s catalogue. Even though I live in Richmond, home of Rosie the Riveter, I would not normally refer to my own writing as “riveting.” But I am trying to be a good compliant author.

UPDATE 1: The blurb text was too small so I moved the descriptive copy right. Compare the finished page to the thumbnail above by clicking though on it.

UPDATE 2: I added a simple slide show of sample spreads.

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 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!

Third blurb in

Gary Snyder generously agreed to review my manuscript despite being in the middle of extensive traveling (to L.A. for a Lew Welch memorial and to Spain with Jim Harrison). I’m deeply grateful.

1616: The World in Motion is a brilliant creative examination and interpretation of the developed world’s recent history: east, middle, and west. In the seventeenth century, a sailing trip from London to Asia meant a year or more out of touch. Religion was about getting into a program that guaranteed you for eternity—one’s permanent status in the universe was at stake—and world population was one tenth of what it is now. Life was rich and intense. Christensen argues that there was already a global economy and a kind of Eastern Enlightenment in the works, as well as Occidental early science. He documents the affluence of the main civilizations of East Asia, South Asia, the Near East, and Western Europe and the significant colonial civilization in Central and South America. It is a treasure of plates of art and maps alone. The human future might hope to be a world like 1666 but with electricity. Back to that 90% lower population would leave room for solar panels, whales, Siberian tigers, cranes, dragons, and saints.

— Gary Snyder

This will probably be all the blurb work I’ll be doing until I get the ms. cleaned up and into galleys, when I’ll do another round.


Second blurb in

I just received this blurb from Emily Sano. Emily was kind enough to read the manuscript on short notice. She writes, “I read the whole book! Loved it.” That makes me happy!

In 1616: The World in Motion, Christensen conducts a horizontal survey of the world—the entire globe—at a single point in time. With a masterful command of facts and data, he ties together events in a brisk narrative, revealing a world “in motion,” vibrant with remarkable solutions, activities, and individuals. He shows how separate threads affected one another, transformed discourse, and contributed to the development of a truly global culture fully four centuries ago.

— Emily Sano, director emeritus, Asian Art Museum, San Francisco

First blurb in

Peter Laufer was kind enough to provide a blurb on short notice, working from the not-quite-finished manuscript:

Tom Christensen’s vividly illustrated 1616: The World in Motion is filled with unforgettable characters and stories that illuminate many of today’s global aches and joys. Immersing ourselves in this watershed year reminds us that if we look carefully every year counts, a lesson that can keep us mindful through the passing of our own years.

— Peter Laufer, James Wallace Chair in Journalism at the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication and author, The Dangerous World of Butterflies and Forbidden Creatures

You might have seen Peter on the Daily Show:



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