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1616: The World in Motion

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If you pick up 1616: The World in Motion, be prepared to dip into it again and again, if only to admire the gorgeous reproductions of art from around the world. Every major culture seems to be represented in paintings and drawings, turning this into a hybrid of history book and art book.

As for the text, Christensen convincingly argues that his year chosen at random is a pretty nifty one. In it, he says, you can make out “intimations of modernism” in all sorts of areas, from globalism and diasporism to rationalism, bureaucratization and individualism.

Diasporism? Bureaucratization? Yes, “1616” has an academic feel that makes for tough reading in spots. It doesn’t help that Christensen throws in plenty of obscure references. Anatolia, Togukawa Japan, and the Timurid empire, anyone?

Despite the hurdles for readers, Christensen does help us understand the ties that bound the world together. A Dutch map created in 1616 tells the story: It looks amazingly accurate considering that it’s some four centuries old. Many regions of the planet remained unexplored, but people generally knew where the continents began and ended.

And, of course, they knew how to get from place to place and make money in the process. You’ve probably heard of the Silk Road, but how about the China Road, which wasn’t even in Asia? It dragged on for 200 rugged miles in Mexico, of all places, which served as a way station for thousands of travelers and much of the world’s silk and silver.

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