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Eastern Empires—Book Summaries

    Japan     China     India     Russia     Islam

Colored stars indicate texts of special interest or importance.
Red Stars indicate comprehensive histories. Most study questions are based on these texts.
Gold Stars indicate recommended books of exceptional interest and quality.
Green Stars are assigned to high quality, but easy-to-read books for younger readers.
Black Stars indicate that only selected chapters pertain to the subject civilization.

Click on Title Link to add Book to Reading List.         Reading credits indicate book length.


Japanese Twins   by Lucy F. Perkins   46 credits
Join Taro and Take, 5 year-old Japanese twins, as they greet a new baby brother, play in their garden, and thrill to the sights they see when they ride in rickshaws to the temple to have their new brother blessed. A rainy day finds them painting pictures with colored sands and harnessing beetles with thread, then preparing for their first day of school. The story concludes with the celebration of their birthday-on different days! For Take and all the other girls in Japan celebrate their birthday on one day with a Feast of Dolls, and Taro and all the boys celebrate on another day with a Feast of Flags.

Japan: Peeps at History   by John Finnemore   55 credits
This succinct and nicely illustrated history of Japan covers the four main historical periods of Japan up until the First World War. These include the legendary period (660 B.C. to 645 A.D.), the Fujiwara and Taira Dynasties (645 to 1186), the Shogunate (1186 to 1868), and the modern period (from the opening of Japan in 1868). It is a short but excellent introduction to a fascinating culture.

Story of Japan   by R. Van Bergen   112 credits
This book gives an exceptionally good history of Japan from its legendary beginnings as the Kingdom of the Sun-Goddess to its fantastic transition from a feudal society to a modern technological one near the end of the nineteenth century. The author provides many stories which illustrate the unique culture of Japan and its dedication to the Samurai virtues of courage, loyalty, honor and duty.

Boy of Old Japan   by R. Van Bergen   69 credits
This book is a true history of the Japanese Genro, or "Statesmen of Revolutionary Times," written by an American who lived and work with the characters involved. The heroes include several clan leaders who put aside their own rivalries to overthrow the Tokugawa government, restore the emperors, and expel the hated foreigners. They succeeded in overthrowing the Shogunate, but soon realized that they could not beat the western powers, and instead committed to modernizing Japan.

Historical Tales: 12—Japanese and Chinese   by Charles Morris   143 credits
The stories in this volume cover the histories of both Japan and China from their earliest history, to the close of the 19th century. The stories given are a selection of the most interesting and romantic incidents in these ancient kingdoms, featuring characters who are well-known in these Asian countries, but not may be unfamiliar to western readers.


Story of General Gordon   by Jeanie Lang   38 credits
General Charles Gordon was an extraordinarily principled officer during the height of the British Empire, who accepted several very challenging assignments, both in China, during the Tae-Ping Rebellion, and in Africa where he opposed the slavers, and tried to bring order and civilization to the Sudan. He was tragically killed during a siege of Khartoum, when the British forces failed to send a relief party to his aid.

Story of China   by R. Van Bergen   95 credits
This book gives an excellent short history of China from the beginning of its civilization to the fall of the Manchu Monarchy in the early 20th century. In addition to historical development, there are many chapters devoted to Chinese customs and culture, including their system of government, language, schools, home life, and traditions.

China's Story   by William Griffis   117 credits
In addition to providing a chronological history of China, the author delves into some detail regarding customs, art, and special incidents in order to give flavor and insight into the unique Chinese culture. Topics such as tea drinking, foot-binding, and various superstitions are explained as well as the character of the Chinese government. This book was written during the midst of the Chinese republic, and gives and interesting perspective into western hopes for China in the early 20th century.

Travels and Adventures of Marco Polo   by George Towle   79 credits
This fascinating account of the life of Marco Polo follows him on his long journey to the east with his father and uncle and recounts all of his adventures at the court of Kublai Khan. Over 20 years after leaving Vienna, the Polo's returned home and at first were not recognized. Soon after his return home Polo was taken as a prisoner of war, and began writing his famous stories of the east while in prison.

Genghis Khan   by Jacob Abbott   99 credits
The story of Genghis Khan provides a fascinating picture of the nomadic tribes of Asia. At its height, Khan's empire extended all the way from China to Turkistan and was composed of hundreds of tribes of nomadic warriors. No town, no matter how well fortified, was safe from his seemingly endless horde of followers. No enemy that resisted him escaped his grasp.


Jataka Tales   by Ellen C. Babbitt   33 credits
The Jatakas are 'birth stories' based on sacred Buddhist texts from the east. These eighteen fables from the Jatakas of India are skillfully retold and strikingly illustrated. They include The Monkey and the Crocodile, The Merchant of Seri, The Turtle Who Wouldn't Stop Talking, The Foolish Timid Rabbit, The Banyan Deer, and many others.

More Jataka Tales   by Ellen C. Babbitt   32 credits
This is the second volume of The Jataka tales, or 'birth stories', that are based on sacred Buddhist texts, some dating as far back as the third century B. C. They are among the oldest collection of folklore extant, and like Aesop's fables, teach interesting moral and life lessons with the use of interesting characters.

Story of Lord Clive   by John Lang   32 credits
Robert Clive was a controversial, but extremely effective soldier, who is credited with gaining India for the British Empire. Though he started his career as a mere clerk for the East India Company, he was thrust into a series of adventures during which he showed extraordinary daring, and military genius. He made a great name for himself, and through a series of astounding victories, secured a foothold in several of the most important provinces of India.

Story of Lord Roberts   by Edmund F. Sellar   39 credits
Lord Frederick Roberts was the most eminent commander of the British Army in the late 19th century. As a young officer he fought to put down the Indian Mutiny, and spent most of his long career in India. He was involved in campaigns in Burma, Afghanistan, and Abyssinia during the hey-day of Imperial Britain. He was finally called out of retirement to lead the British against the Boers in South Africa at the turn of the 20th century.

India: Peeps at History   by Beatrice Home   45 credits
This history of India begins well before era of British colonization, during the age of the invasion of Alexander the Great, which was the west's first contact with the east. For much of the next millennium various Moslem lords rules parts of northern India. Finally, in the eighteenth century, France and Britain contested for control of the Asian trade centered in India, and for the following two centuries, India was Britain's most important colony.

Adventures of Akbar   by F. A. Steel   81 credits
Akbar the Great, who lived about the same time as Queen Elizabeth I. of England, was one of the most renowned emperors of the Mughal empire in India. This story, follows some of his adventures as a small boy, when under the protection of servants loyal to his parents, he had to flee across the mountains to escape from his families enemies.

Story of the Buddha   by Edith Holland   59 credits
This book tells the story of the legendary life of Siddhartha, founder of the Buddhist faith. He born in Nepal in the 5th century B.C. as a prince. His father tried to protect him from sights of human suffering, but he eventually escaped palace life to embark on a spiritual quest. He eschewed wealth and became a monk to contemplate the meaning of life. After becoming enlightened Siddhartha is said to have traveled throughout India spreading his doctrines and founding monasteries.

Our Empire Story   by H. E. Marshall   203 credits
This book provides a vivid and picturesque account of the principal events in the building of the British Empire. It traces the development of the British colonies from the days of discovery and exploration through settlement and establishment of government. Included are stories of the five chief portions of the British Empire: Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and India. (Part V India: 23 Chapters)

India   by Victor Surridge   120 credits
This book is part of the Romance of Empire series, written at the height of the British empire. It recounts many of the most exciting events in the history of India, from around the time Britain first established a trading post on the continent, in the 1600's, until the decades following the Indian Mutiny, in 1857. The treatment of Britain's involvement is in India is somewhat sympathetic, although many of the greatest blunders and questionable policies of the British Raj are owned up to squarely.

Story of the Guides   by F. Younghusband   79 credits
The Guides were a British regiment formed mostly of native soldiers who patrolled the highlands of Northwest India and Afghanistan during the late 19th century. They were renowned for their skill as horsemen, fighters, and explorers. This book tells the story of the formation of the Guides and recounts several of their most famous battles.

Heroes of the Indian Mutiny   by Edward Gilliat   174 credits
This book is not a comprehensive history of the Indian Mutiny, but rather, the life stories of many of the British heroes who were involved in the struggle. It is therefore best appreciated by someone already familiar with the course of events who is interested in learning more details of the battles and the background of the British presence in India prior to the mutiny.


When I was a Boy in Russia   by Vladimir de Bogory   47 credits
This book tells the fascinating story of how a young nobleman of great promise, growing up in 19th century Russia, became attracted to the revolutionary ideas popular among the upper classes of Old Russia. He tells of his involvement in early revolutionary movements, and of his disillusionment, arrest, imprisonment and escape to the west. This book was written shortly before the communist takeover, so give a wonderful portrayal of pre-revolutionary Russia. It is written at a very easy-to-read level, but very absorbing for older students as well.

Story of Russia   by R. Van Bergen   111 credits
This book gives the history of the Russian Slavic people from the Russian kingdom, founded by Rurik the Viking, to the years immediately before the Russian Revolution. The History of the Slavic people begins in towns and trading villages along Volga and Don Rivers. The Tartar invasion in the 13th century put Russia under the Mongol yoke for nearly two hundred years, but gradually, after Peter the Great brought Russia into the modern world, Russia become a great European power. By the end of the 19th century, however, her degenerate monarchy was ripe for revolution.

When the Prussians Came to Poland   by L. DeGozdawa   88 credits
This first person account of a American woman trapped in occupied Poland during the early years of the First World War gives a moving and chilling account of the atrocities perpetrated by the Prussian army. The arrogance of the Germans toward "inferior" races was tempered by the fact that the author claimed American citizenship, yet her sympathies were always with the oppressed Poles and Russians who were considered an inferior breed and brutally mistreated.

Young Folks' History of Russia   by Nathan Dole   175 credits
This is a detailed and richly illustrated history of the Russian people from the founding of the Rurick Dynasty, near Novgorod, to the early reign of Nicholas II, several decades before the Bolshevik Revolution. The book gives an especially detailed history of the Russian middle ages, including the reigns of Ivan, Basil, and the Tsars who lived before Peter the Great. The political situation during the 19th century, when Russia was at the height of her power and at war with the Turks and their European allies, is also well covered.

Historical Tales: 8—Russian   by Charles Morris   136 credits
This collection of stories from Poland and Russia begin with the Scythians, thought to be the predecessors of the Slavs, to the years immediately preceding the Russian Revolution. The stories of the earliest governors of Novogorod and the principality of Moscow are given, and the complete tale of Russia's rise from obscurity to one of the most powerful empires on the globe.

Peter the Great   by Jacob Abbott   106 credits
By sheer force of will, Peter the Great single-handedly imposed modernization on a highly resistant Russia. He overcame foes from within his country, including his sister Sophia, whom the anti-modernist forces favored for the throne. He overcame Charles XII of Sweden, his great rival for control of the Baltic, in spite of overwhelming defeats. He considered his son Alexis unworthy of the throne and had him killed rather than trust his kingdom to a libertine.

I Speak for the Silent Prisoners of the Soviets   by V. Tchernavin   179 credits
This deeply moving, and frightfully truthful book about the horrors of Soviet communism was written by one of the early victims of Stalin's Reign of Terror. The author was a Russian scientist who escaped from a labor-prison in Northern Russia and lived to tell the truth about the Soviet system. His story provides a horrifying portrait of a totalitarian state with no regard for human rights or dignity, but it was dismissed as "anti-Soviet propaganda" by many western apologists for socialism when it was first published in 1934.

Escape from the Soviets   by T. Tchernavin   136 credits
This book was written by the wife of a scientist who was imprisoned by the Soviet government. The first part of the book tells of her ordeal as both she and her husband are arrested, interrogated, and imprisoned, for no apparent reason. The second part tells of her daring escape with her husband and son from a Soviet prison camp north of the Arctic circle through the desolate wilderness of Northern Russia. It is a deeply moving, personal, and frightening account of a brutal, senseless, and utterly tyrannical government.


Stories from the Arabian Nights   by Amy Steedman   42 credits
Like most other books from the Told to the Children series, this book condenses its source volume, Arabian Nights by restricting itself to only a few tales so that each can be told with great interest. The selected stories are relatively famous selections, including Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, Aladdin and the Lamp, The Enchanted Horse, and Sinbad the Sailor.

Barbary Rovers: Peeps at History   by John Finnemore   44 credits
This book gives a short but fascinating history of the Barbary pirates from the time the Moors were driven from Spain in 1492 until the overthrow of Algeria by France in the late 1800's. For nearly four hundred years, the Barbary pirates were the terror of the Mediterranean and took thousands of Christian European captives. The story of their depredations is both tragic and entertaining.

Story of Mohammed   by Edith Holland   64 credits
This book tells the life story of Mohammed, founder of Islam, from his early years as a camel driver who married a wealthy widow, to his eventual triumph over all of the pagans who controlled the worship of religious idols at the Kaaba in Mecca. Mohammed and his small band of followers endured decades of persecution before prevailing over his enemies and bringing Arabia to the new faith.

Arabian Nights Entertainments   by Andrew Lang   184 credits
Lang's rendition of the great tales from the Arabian Nights has been a children's favorite for over a hundred years. Some of the best known tales include the Merchant and the Genius, the Fisherman, Adventures of Haroun-al-Raschid, the Blind Baba Abdalla, Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp, and of course, the seven voyages of Sinbad the Sailor. Like many of Lang's books, the Arabian Nights is beautifully illustrated by Mr. H. J. Ford.

Lance of Kanana   by Harry French   46 credits
This dramatic story of an Arabian shepherd boy whose courage and cleverness help save Arabia from an attack by the Byzantine forces is a terrific romance that illustrates the life of the Arab Bedouins in the early seventh century. The boy delivers messages between the Caliph and his general, Kahmed, and later, spies on the Byzantine camp. The portrayal of a noble and courageous, but peace-loving Mohammedan boy is entertaining, but entirely fictional.

Greatest Nations: Turkey   by C. F. Horne   70 credits
This history tells the story of the Rise and Fall of the Ottoman empire in Turkey. It begins with the rise of Osman, who laid the foundation of the Ottoman kingdom during the thirteenth century, immediately after the Crusades. It follows the rising fortunes of the Ottomans to their height in the 16th century, and their gradual decline. By the 19th century the Ottoman Empire was dominated by European powers and it expired entirely after the Great War.

Crusaders   by Alfred J. Church   100 credits
This history of the Crusades is not comprehensive, but rather gives a detailed picture of some of the most interesting incidents in the First, Third, and Eighth Crusades. It is told from the point of view of a "wandering Jew" and gives romantic insight into some of the most famous characters and incidents.

Harun Al-Rashid: Caliph of Bagdad   by Gabriel Audisio   80 credits
This biography of Harun al-Rashid, the greatest Caliph of the early Abbasid empire, was based on Masudi's account. It recounts the rise of Harun under the guidance of his ambitious mother, the fall of the powerful Barmecide family, the height of Harun's power, his relations with surrounding empires, and the tragedies attending his later years.

Stories of the Magicians   by Alfred J. Church   93 credits
These stories from the Persian chronicles have been retold with great skill by a master storyteller. In addition to many well-known stories about the Persian hero Rustem, the Stories of the Thalaba and Kehama are also given. Most of the legends in this book pertain to the doing of magicians and sorcerers who read the stars, cast spells and bestow magic power on people.

Eothen: Traces of Travel in the East   by A. W. Kinglake   134 credits
This delightful travelogue of a young Englishman's journey through the middle east, in 1835 has become a permanent classic. The authors personal observations of the characters he encounters, including Pashas, interpreters, camel merchants, slave-traders, magicians, Bedouins, governors, soldiers, Jews, monks, pilgrims, and even a famous expatriate stateswoman turned astrologist, are all amusing and give great insight into the Arab character. Kinglake braved the plague, and numerous other ills in order to undertake these travels when transportation in the area was still quite difficult and dangerous, so many of his adventures are hair-raising as well as humorous.

Haremlik: Lives of Turkish Women   by Demetra Vaka   74 credits
Written by a Greek woman who grew up in Turkey, this book gives a first hand account of the lives of various women who live in polygamous marriages in Ottoman Turkey. The author, who was educated in Europe, spent months visiting her childhood friends and inquiring of them their opinions on marriage, love, slavery, men, women, motherhood, and life in the harem. Their responses illustrate the vast difference between western and eastern world-views.