The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson (2002)If you're like me and constantly trying to make sense of history and human nature, here's a nifty allegorical (or perhaps literal) way to do that: karma and reincarnation in different times and cultures. I like Jo Walton's retrospective review quoted in Wikipedia: "It’s probably the book of his I’ve re-read most frequently, because I keep trying to decide what I think of it." I'm kind of the same way. It's a brain-full of book, but I basically loved it for its vast perspective and wisdom, and often over the years find myself reminded of it by this or that big issue or event. The following review is adapted from the short one I wrote for SLJ:
In this alternative version of the history of the modern world, the bubonic plague kills almost all of the Europeans in the fourteenth century, and the West never recovers. The major world powers thereafter are Islam and China, and the major religions are Islam (in various forms) and Buddhism. Many other peoples, including Hindus, Sikhs, Japanese, and Yingzhou (from the New World) also play significant parts.