SNAP JUDGEMENT: BOOKS

The Lone Samurai
By William Scott Wilson
Asked to name the best swordsman ever, most Japanese would pick Miyamoto Musashi, the famous 17th-century samurai turned artist who is the subject of more than 50 movies and dozens of books. But most of those focus on his superb warrior skills. This fascinating new biography by Wilson, an American translator of samurai literature, goes much deeper, seeking to explain what ultimately drove Musashi from sword-fighting to Zen teachings, ink paintings and writing. He literally embodies the adage "the pen is mightier than the sword."

Wild East
Edited by Boris Fishman
Reading this short-story collection is like taking a whirlwind tour of what Fishman dubs the "last frontier"--the vast and oft-neglected region of Eastern Europe. Each of the 12 superb works sends you packing to another far-flung, former Iron Curtain destination, from St. Petersburg to Tbilisi, Grozny to Sarajevo, and beyond. Writ ten by locals and expats alike, these stories paint a sometimes hilarious and often tragic portrait of people struggling to find their bearings in places where all the rules have changed.

Mapping the Silk Road and Beyond
By Kenneth Nebenzahl
We often think of maps as utilitarian products that allow us to move from point A to point B. But this beautiful new collection of antique maps of Asia shows that cartographic creations can be more than that: striking works of art, or windows into the world views of mapmakers and their cultures. They can even be "inflammatory propaganda," a point Nebenzahl illustrates via a 1606 map of East Asia that shows a Christian being crucified in Japan. This book is a multicultural treat, including an eclectic mix of maps by cartographers based everywhere from Sicily to Goa.

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