Perpetual Happiness: The Ming Emperor Yongle, Shih-Shan Henry Tsai

I found this fascinating (short, very readable) biography of the early 15th-century Chinese emperor, Zhu Di, who adopted the Imperial name of "Yongle," which means, "perpetual happiness." I got involved in researching the Yongle emperor while working on my new story, "Perpetual Happiness" about the Yongle Encyclopedia, or Yongle dadian, a truly massive collection of all the written works the scholars of the Hanlin Academy could assemble in 1408 C.E., which the emperor commissioned.

There are a lot of intriguing details in the book, particularly about the power struggle and civil war Zhu Di waged against his young nephew, and then the way the Yongle emperor tried to write him out of the official history. Overall, I came away with a new appreciation for the time period, which was both bloodier and more sophisticated than I had even imagined.