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In 246 B.C., at age 13, Zheng, also known as Qin, ascended to his late father's throne. Proclaiming himself the first emperor, Qin ruled for 36 years, expanding his empire through military force and unifying China with a well-ordered set of legal codes. In this first-rate historical and biographical sketch, Wood, head of the British Library's Chinese Department, debunks some of the legends of megalomania and cruelty that have grown up around Qin (for instance, that he buried alive scholars who disagreed with him). Using the 1974 discovery of an army of more than 6,000 terra-cotta soldiers buried in Qin's tomb, Wood points out the emperor's obsession with immortality, his fear of death and his desire to maintain his rule in the afterlife. Wood admits there's little written evidence about Qin; yet her close reading of these sources offers fresh insight into a little-known figure and his kingdom, far outpacing John Man's The Terra Cotta Army(see below). 36 b&w illus., 1 map. (June)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.