Since The Magic of Concepts came out, I have found myself constantly recommending it to friends and colleagues, and in particular to friends and colleagues who are not scholars of modern China. And not just because I assume all modern China specialists already pay attention to Rebecca Karl's work; rather, it is because she achieves in this book what historians often strive and fail to do, or at least fail to do well—to truly engage the global and the present from the specific geographical and chronological perspective of our chosen historical subjects. In The Magic of Concepts, Karl produces a very clearly argued critique of recent scholarship on Chinese and world history, whose goal and focus seem to be limited to the inclusion of China's unique, culturally determined path within the universal history of economic development. She explains how that inclusion only reinforces the tendency to naturalize widespread ideological...

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