Apt. 11D Gift Guide 2019 – Steve’s History Book Selection

by Steve, blog husband

For Father’s Day, Jonah got me a video game I’ve had my eye on for some time:  Total War – Three Kingdoms. I’ve been a fan of the Total War series for years.  This new game, however, was to be a departure from the rest of the other fightin’ and buildin’ games in the series.  This one was to focus on characters and their relationships with each other. Good friends help each other out. Two characters who hate each other, you can’t get them to cooperate.  How does a motley crew of random personalities turn into a harmonized team?

Which leads me to the only book I recommend this year.  It is the best I have read in a very long time. Romance of the Three Kingdoms, the Chinese classic.  And for good reason. Lots of action, heroes and villains, drama across generations.

Romance takes place at the end of the Han Dynasty.  China is disorganized, warlords run amok. The brute Dong Zhou.  The mighty Lü Bu. The crafty Cao Cao. The loyal Lord Guan. The virtuous Liu Bei.  The brilliant Zhuge Liang. And the victorious Sima Yi.

They all have their weird quirks.  Cao Cao would ask his advisors for ideas and advice, and when one of them suggests something particular insightful he would exclaim “Just what I was thinking!”  That cracked me up every time. Liu Bei’s strict morals drove me nuts; always falling short of greatness because he would not sacrifice his better nature. No Machiavelli he.  I was actually sad for half a day when Lord Guan was captured and executed. Xiahao Dun, shot in the eye, pulls out the arrow and swallows his eyeball. Yikes! I’m still thinking about that.

Is it history?  Sort of. It is somewhat historical, based upon annals written during the era, with a lot of literary license taken by author Luo Guanzhong.  And the end product is so much the better because of Luo’s artistry. Rather than a chronology of who did what to whom, here is a ripping good saga, complete with tales of honor and treachery, not to mention quite a few tips on how to best manage people.  How does one balance differing personalities? What motivates a team? There is a reason why people still read this book 700 years after it was written.

Romance offers the reader a lot to digest (including Xiahou Dun’s eyeball!  Sorry, couldn’t help it). Read the Moss Roberts translation, it flows naturally yet is still direct, plus it includes notes and commentary.  Other translations are stilted, too literal, out-of-date. I will continue to turn to this classic for years to come.