Friday, May 01, 2015

Booknote: The China Collectors

Karl E. Meyer and Shareen Blair Brysac, The China Collectors: America's Century-long Hunt for Asian Treasures. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015. 

Genre: Nonfiction
Subgenre: history, museum studies
Format: e-book
Source: Netgalley (book provided by publisher in exchange for honest review)

The topic was interesting, but this writing in this book was a bit dry at times; the result is that the book was a slow read for me. Once you get past the first chapter, which lays out a lot of basic historical background, things do get a bit more interesting. The goal of the book is:

". . . to explore how and why Western collectors became captivated by Chinese art, to the lasting benefit of American museums" (18).

There are various reasons for that ranging from looting and greed to just opportunity of being in the right place at the right time. Often, it helped if you had a big fortune to spend buying artifacts and antiques (or bribing the right people to get them out of the original country).

One thing I found interesting is how the Chinese, when they can't just get looted items back, use their financial might to outright buy them back at auctions, so on. Overall, the trade comes across as a bit of an arms race. Another fascinating fact, and one that not many historians talk about is that:

". . . many New England fortunes, including those of Forbes, Russell, Sturgis, and Delano families, had roots in the opium trade" (51). 

The book has many little facts like that. In the end, the only reason I am not rating it higher is that it was just so dry to read. Although it claims to be for the lay reader, I see this book more in academic collections. Academic institutions with fields like museum studies will want to acquire this. For my college, I would not get this unless it was requested. As for public libraries, this is definitely an optional selection. 

In the end, it was OK, so it gets 2 out of 5 stars.

This book qualifies for the following 2015 Reading Challenges:

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