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I often say that the Comprehensive Mirror is a brilliant combination of painstaking scholarship and angry revenge. The tale of those fifteen years in the city of Luoyang would lead us far afield, but suffice it to say that Sima Guang sniffed the political winds even as he worked on his increasingly massive tome. And it was massive. One document notes that the draft version of just one-fifth of the book filled two rooms in his home. In a nutshell, Sima and his five assistants scoured over three hundred original historical sources, placed what they saw as the best elements into their new book, and then provided layers and layers of commentary from the time the events happened, from later pundits, and in their own words. It is these commentaries that constitute the managerial gold in the Comprehensive Mirror, because they create a series of linked case studies showing not only “what happened,” but how the various actors outlined, argued, and implemented the policies. It covers 1,362 years of policy-making, and hammers home several themes so powerfully that every careful reader has been influenced by them for almost a thousand years.
Let’s turn to those lessons now.
Click here for other sections of this introduction to The Art of Warning.