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Author William Lindesay has come up with a unique approach to tell the Wall's story. He integrates its history, strategy, construction, function etc. with the story of its photographic exploration, from c. 1870. The Wall comes over not just as a pile of mud, stone and brick, but a structure that's attracted a procession of explorers, adventurers, thieves, photographers and travellers. Through their photos and his, we see how it's changed over the last century. Vintage photographs are "updated" or "rephotographed".
At the core of the book are some 70 or so old and new photographs which starkly evidence how nature and man have done to the world's greatest defence work. How he managed to find scores of remote sites is testament to his field experience, and he gives us snippets along the way. The comparisons produced are grouped into seven regions, which is nice because you can see the diversity of the Wall's construction and its varied host landscapes, and start to appreciate that "The Great Wall" as a name is quite misleading, as it also includes watchtowers, fortresses, gates, engraved stones and even bales of reeds!!! that were readied to ignite when the enemy was sighted.
What are the stories behind the old pictures? Lindesay writes elegant essays on the Wall's early explorers. Especially gripping are the exploits of Aurel Stein, who photographed the Han Great Wall near Dunhuang in 1907, and William Geil who we learn was the first explorer of the entire Wall, in 1908. As an archive the collection is amazing. He is also quite a photographer himself.
This is not a coffee table book. It's more a well-illustrated book: it has around 50 thousand words. History lessons are delivered painlessly; scholarly findings presented with unpretentious vocabulary.
The book should appeal to China enthusiasts, students of the region's history and heritage conservation and, of course, travellers who've walked on the Wall themselves. Strangely enough, for the author is a geographer, the only downside of the book is its lack of detailed maps.The Great Wall Revisited: From the Jade Gate to Old Dragon's Head Overview
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