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The Great Wall [Paperback]

John Man
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
Price: 9.99 & FREE Delivery in the UK on orders over 10. Details
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Book Description

29 Jan 2009

China's Great Wall north of Beijing is one of the world's most famous sights. Millions every year climb the line of stone snaking over mountains. We all feel we know the Wall. But we are wrong. It is too big, too varied, too complex to be captured by a few images or a day-trip.

Myths surround it. Many believe that the stone barrier marches across all China, that it has been in existence for over 2,000 years, and that it is the only man-made structure visible from the Moon. In fact, most of it is made of earth, and much of it is not there at all. It cannot even be seen from earth orbit, let alone the Moon. Estimates of its length vary from 1,500 to 5,000 miles. Even its name is deceptive - it is not an it, a single entity, but many walls (hence the uncertain length), built at different times.

Yet behind the confusion are great simplicities. The many walls are united by two ideas - self-protection and unity - which go back to the First Emperor, who founded the nation in 221 BC. For 2,000 years, the Wall marked the border between China and nomadic peoples to the north and west. Mutual hostility inspired centuries of attacks, counter-attacks and Wall-building, until the northward spread of China in the 20th century made the Wall redundant.

For this riveting account, John Man travelled the Wall from the far western deserts to the Pacific, exploring the grandest sections and many 'wild' ones. He is the first writer to describe two unknown walls in Mongolia. He covers two millennia of history, from the country's first unification to the present day, when the Great Wall, built and rebuilt over centuries of war, has become a symbol of tranquillity.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam (29 Jan 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 055381768X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0553817683
  • Product Dimensions: 12.6 x 19.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 53,271 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author


"The Lion's Share", just published on Kindle, is a new edition of a thriller written years ago about the 'real' - in quotes, i.e. fictional - fate of Haile Selassie, Emperor of Ethiopia.

Since writing the original, I have focused mainly on non-fiction, exploring interests in Central Asia and turning-points in written communication. I like to mix history, narrative and personal experience, exploring the places I write about. It brings things to life, and it's also probably to do with escaping a secure, rural childhood in Kent. I did German and French at Oxford, and two postgraduate courses, History and Philosophy of Science at Oxford and Mongolian at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London (to join an expedition that never happened).

After working in journalism and publishing, I turned to writing, with occasional forays into film, TV and radio. A planned trilogy on three major revolutions in writing has resulted in two books, "Alpha Beta" (on the alphabet) and "The Gutenberg Revolution" (on printing), both republished in 2009. The third, on the origin of writing, is on hold, because it depends on access to Iraq. (There's a fourth revolution, the Internet, about which many others can write far better than me).

My interest in Mongolia revived in 1996 with a trip to the Gobi. "Gobi: Tracking the Desert" was the first book on the region since those by the American explorer Roy Chapman Andrew in the 1920's. As anyone quickly discovers in Mongolia, everything leads back to Genghis. The result was "Genghis Khan: Life, Death and Resurrection," now in 20 languages, and (from 2011) in a new, revised edition. Luckily, there's more to Mongol studies than Genghis. "Attila the Hun" and "Kublai Khan" followed.

Another main theme in Mongol history is the ancient and modern relationship between Mongolia and China. "The Terracotta Army" was followed by "The Great Wall". "The Leadership Secrets of Genghis Khan" (combining history and modern leadership theory) and "Xanadu: Marco Polo and Europe's Discovery of the East" pretty much exhausted Inner Asian themes for me.

So recently I have become interested in Japan. For "Samurai: The Last Warrior", I followed in the footsteps of Saigo Takamori, the real Last Samurai, published in February 2011. After that, more fiction, perhaps.

I live in north London, inspired by a multi-talented, strong and beautiful family - wife, children and grand-children.

Product Description


"Charleston Post & Courier", 10/5/08"Man does an exceptional job of seeing the philosophy behind the structure and in explaining its history." --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Book Description

The extraordinary story of China's wonder of the world

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars
4.1 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More than a simple history. 8 May 2009
By Mr X
Another great book by John Man.

This book's subject is the Great Wall of China. It is not only a history of the wall but also deals with its cultural and sociological effects and is all the better for that. Mr Man travels around China visiting the wall and visits communities nearby to it, academic who have studied it, photographers etc. It is an interesting study and one which is informative as well as entertaining. For example, I had always assumed that there was just one wall but in fact there are several and they are not joined up, indeed it was not even the intention to ever have one continuous wall that would cross the entirety of China. Did you know that one theory even says that Roman soldiers garrisoned a part of it at one time (although this theroy is rather discredited nowadays).

Definitely one to recommend.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Great Wall 5 Jan 2010
By Roger
Another great book from an excellent and very readable author. Once you have read one of his books you will want the rest.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Myth & History of the Great Wall 16 Nov 2011
The Great Wall of China is one of the most famous structures on Earth and as such as much myth has grown up around it as there is history. This book tells the story of the Wall (or more properly Walls as there are more than one) from the time of the First Emperor up to more modern times as the author travels from West to East along much of its length, with a few detours. The as well as the history of the Great Wall, this book also includes and analyses some of the myths such as the story of a Legion of Roman soldiers settling close to the wall and the story of Meng Jiangnu whose tears supposedly caused a section of the wall to collapse.

I do enjoy John Man's books as he is a very enjoyable and easy to read author who has an obvious interest in the subjects that he covers. This book is in his usual style mixing historic accounts and explanations with his own travels making for a very informative and interesting book.

This book is definitely a book that anyone who is interested in the history of China should be interested in reading.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Pleasant mix of travel and history 26 Oct 2011
Don't expect an in-depth academic tome; this is an easy read. As Man journeys along the Great Wall, generally from west to east, he discusses the creation of the vast barrier - killing off a few myths and introducing equally fascinating true stories in their place. He talks about the emperors who built the wall and the barbarians who it sought to keep out (not altogether successfully!) Personally, I would have liked to seen a little more on the wall in the 20th and 21st centuries - how the Communists viewed the structure, and how modern China is using it to pull in the tourists. However, those are small points, and this book achieves what Man set out to do - an easy and enjoyable account of the Great Wall.
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