I’m a pretty big history buff, but my familiarity is pretty constrained to the US and Europe. Unsurprising, given that I’m a white American. That’s what we’re taught in school, and that’s what we’re exposed to as a culture.
But I’m also a pretty big political junkie. So China is a pretty important subject that I don’t know nearly enough about. Going into this, I knew that the Opium Wars were a thing. I knew that Great Britain sought inroads into China, and that the East India Tea Company was somehow involved in that. But I couldn’t really explain to you what their motivations were, or how this impacted China.
And, after having read this – I don’t know that my ignorance has been entirely expurgated.
To be clear, this is a pretty solid history of the First Opium War and the background that gives explanation for the events. I can’t fault Platt for his writing, or his understanding, or his telling of this story. I just…don’t care about British politics from 200 years ago. Maybe it was my mindset going into the book. Maybe I just needed a different story at this point in my life. Maybe I’ve just read some really interesting books lately, and couldn’t get out of those stories. Whatever it was, much of this book simply didn’t interest me like I thought it would.
But it was really only the British stuff. I found the Chinese sections fascinating. I knew almost none of this history prior to reading this book, so there was a lot of ground to cover, and I think the author does a superb job of giving enough context for it all to make sense.
Overall, I’d say this was a good book, but I wasn’t really in a place to appreciate it. If you want to know more about how China went from one of the wealthiest and most powerful nations on earth to a corrupt, impoverished empire, broken by internal strife and drug addiction, this book does a great job of pulling all the various threads together and making sense of a deeply complex history.