Author: John Man
Publisher: Da Capo Press
Pages: 336 pages
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Fast-paced and enjoyable for a book about a wall, this history/travelogue triggered those happy centers in my brain usually reserved for Bill Bryson. Right off the bat, John Man brings to mind all the things (maybe the only things) we know about the Great Wall: it runs unbroken across China, it can be seen from outer space, and it was designed to keep away hordes of invading barbarians. Now we don’t need to read the book, right? Actually, as Man quickly points out, none of those things are remotely true, shattering that internal, infallible wall of primary school education.
Man, who traversed the entire distance of the Wall, goes into the historical account of the Wall, which is really “accounts of Walls”: different segments were constructed at different times and for different reasons. He brings these histories vividly to life – smashing more general knowledge and myths along the way like a rabid, beserking Mongol (an unfair stereotype that is also a myth).
“The Great Wall” is written engagingly and fun – sometimes downright jokey – without sacrificing its scholarly intent. If you think you know anything about this world wonder, think again.
Rating: 4 stars