During the long eighteenth century, Europe’s travelers, scholars, and intellectuals looked to Asia in a spirit of puzzlement, irony, and openness. In this panoramic and colorful book, Jürgen Osterhammel tells the story of the European Enlightenment’s nuanced encounter with the great civilizations of the East, from the Ottoman Empire and India to China and Japan.
Here is the acclaimed book that challenges the notion that Europe’s formative engagement with the non-European world was invariably marred by an imperial gaze and presumptions of Western superiority. Osterhammel shows how major figures such as Leibniz, Voltaire, Gibbon, and Hegel took a keen interest in Asian culture and history, and introduces lesser-known scientific travelers, colonial administrators, Jesuit missionaries, and adventurers who returned home from Asia bearing manuscripts in many exotic languages, huge collections of ethnographic data, and stories that sometimes defied belief. Osterhammel brings the sights and sounds of this tumultuous age vividly to life, from the salons of Paris and the lecture halls of Edinburgh to the deserts of Arabia, the steppes of Siberia, and the sumptuous courts of Asian princes. He demonstrates how Europe discovered its own identity anew by measuring itself against its more senior continent, and how it was only toward the end of this period that cruder forms of Eurocentrism — and condescension toward Asia—prevailed.
A momentous work by one of Europe’s most eminent historians, Unfabling the East takes readers on a thrilling voyage to the farthest shores, bringing back vital insights for our own multicultural age.
"Unfabling the East is a brilliant new book by Jürgen Osterhammel that goes back to the original sources, and carefully reconstructs the evolution of European views of Asia."—Michael Savage, Quillette
"It is impossible to imagine a reader who would not learn a great deal from Osterhammel’s book."—Robert Irwin, Literary Review
"Osterhammel’s nuanced position is sensible and intelligent."—Joan-Pau Rubiés, Times Higher Education
"A remarkable achievement. . . . In order to appreciate the broader context in which Reland and other sedentary orientalists were working, Jürgen Osterhammel’s book is an ideal companion."—Alastair Hamilton, Times Literary Supplement
"Unfabling the East is a valuable and timely work."—Edward Weech, Royal Asiatic Society
"A masterful survey of travel literature on and theoretical treatments of Asia by Europeans during the age of Enlightenment."—Simon Kow, European Legacy
"A most formidable work of history. Osterhammel’s linguistic and scholarly breadth allows him to examine an unusually wide range of writers, countries, and regions, thereby complicating ideas about what was ‘European’ and ‘Asian’ during the long eighteenth century. In addition, his expertise in global history enables him to situate these relationships between myriad cultures and individuals in still wider and longer contexts. The result is a triumph."—Linda Colley, author of Captives: Britain, Empire, and the World, 1600-1850
"Jürgen Osterhammel is perhaps the subtlest, most wide-ranging historian of Europe’s relationship with the rest of the world writing today. A brilliant and persuasive book that is also a pleasure to read, Unfabling the East will change forever our vision of Europe’s tangled, sometimes tragic, but inescapably formative relationships with its most significant other."—Anthony Pagden, author of Worlds at War: The 2,500-Year Struggle between East and West
"Europeans have observed Asia for many centuries, but in the course of the long eighteenth century, their perspective changed—away from the curiosity, careful depiction, and at times admiration embraced by Enlightenment thinkers to the unquestioning and facile dismissal of the continent. In this careful and erudite study, Osterhammel—one of today’s most important historians—shows impressively that dismissing these thinkers as ‘Orientalists’ fails to capture an often astonishingly modern strand of cosmopolitan thought. An eloquent and carefully researched book, essential reading for this new Asian age."—Sven Beckert, author of Empire of Cotton: A Global History
"Jürgen Osterhammel is perhaps the subtlest, most wide-ranging historian of Europe’s relationship with the rest of the world writing today. A brilliant and persuasive book that is also a pleasure to read, Unfabling the East will change forever our vision of Europe’s tangled, sometimes tragic, but inescapably formative relationships with its most significant other."—Anthony Pagden, author of The Enlightenment: And Why It Still Matters
"Erudite, original, and lively. Osterhammel defends the Enlightenment from the charge of Eurocentrism and portrays in sparkling detail its humane legacy of self-criticism and communication with other cultures."—Harry Liebersohn, author of The Travelers' World: Europe to the Pacific
"Osterhammel is truly a world historian—he can explain what the non-European side of the story looks like."—Suzanne L. Marchand, author of German Orientalism in the Age of Empire: Religion, Race, and Scholarship