Merchant, Soldier, Sage: A History of the World in Three Castes

David Priestland, Author
David Priestland. Penguin Press, $27.95 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-1-59420-310-7
Reviewed on: 12/24/2012
Release date: 03/21/2013
Hardcover - 400 pages - 978-1-84614-485-1
Hardcover - 330 pages - 978-0-241-95521-5
Ebook - 400 pages - 978-0-14-197082-0
Open Ebook - 288 pages - 978-1-101-60582-0
Paperback - 343 pages - 978-0-14-312507-5
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Distinguished Oxford historian Priestland (The Red Flag: Communism and the Making of the Modern World) offers a “big history” based on the power struggle between three different castes, each of which, he argues, embodies distinct “ideas and lifestyles, which they often seek to impose on others.” Citing figures and events from antiquity through to the present, he explores how tensions among the three groups repeatedly rise to a fever pitch, and eventually transform their host society, and sometimes the world—the most recent example of one of these “tectonic shifts” occurred with the financial crisis of 2008, when the exploits of the merchant short-circuited the global economy. Priestland predicts that in the future, the Great Recession will be classed among the great shakeups of the 20th century: WWI and II, the Great Depression, the fall of the Berlin Wall—each of which he touches on. In the course of his “broad sweep,” Priestland is consistently engaging, whether in his discussion of the marshaling of Confucius’s teachings for political ends, or in pegging former President George W. Bush as a warrior. The author’s project is necessarily exclusive—what, for example, of the laborer or scholar, or mother for that matter?—but it is also ambitious, well organized, and insightful, and will appeal to scholarly and popular audiences. Agent: Gill Coleridge, Rogers, Coleridge & White (U.K.). (Mar. 25)
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