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Shadow of the Silk Road

3.73 of 5 stars 3.73  ·  rating details  ·  2,006 ratings  ·  246 reviews

To travel the Silk Road, the greatest land route on earth, is to trace the passage not only of trade and armies but also of ideas, religions, and inventions. Making his way by local bus, truck, car, donkey cart, and camel, Colin Thubron covered some seven thousand miles in eight months—out of the heart of China into the mountains of Central Asia, across northern Afghanista

Hardcover, 320 pages
Published October 24th 2006 by Chatto & Windus (first published 1989)
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It would be a waste of time to recreate the reviews already posted here, all glowing and full of accolades, many deserved, though I was less enchanted with the book overall than some readers. I thought it was a solid and interesting piece, recounting some of his earlier travels, but I was not blown away. I enjoyed some of the historical information, especially tidbits such as that remnants of a Roman legion settled in China, but his focus seemed to consistently zero in on the crumbling world he ...more
Style detracted from content.
One of my favorite genres is the travel narrative--Paul Theroux, Tony Horwitz, Bill Bryson. And one of my favorite travel narrative locations is China--it’s vast, geographically, socially.. any way you look at it. I was looking forward to this book because it combined a couple of my favorite genres. But I’m under whelmed. It seems Thubron was on journey to work out some personal demons or issues. This would be fine, but combining it with a travel narrative is confusing--is it a travel book? A me ...more
Shadow of the Silk Road is a phenomenal book. The author, British travel writer Colin Thubron, traveled from Xian, an ancient capital of China, to Antioch in Turkey along the silk road, blending broad historical knowledge with acute observations of contemporary life.

Thubron speaks Mandarin and Russian, and was able therefore to speak directly with many of the people on his journey, at least until he arrived in Afghanistan. A theme throughout the book is the mix of peoples, with tribes and nation
there are parts of this book that are amazing (Xian comes to mind and several of the strangers he meets on his journey) but sadly the author's writing style is very much one that I don't like - overly descriptive almost as if he was being paid by the word. If you like old British travelogues - where the flowery prose is more important than the tale - this may be the book for you. On the other hand, if you are looking for something more - its still here - but its buried.

Tony Taylor
Shadow of the Silk Road records a journey along the greatest land route on earth. Out of the heart of China into the mountains of Central Asia, across northern Afghanistan and the plains of Iran and into Kurdish Turkey, Colin Thubron covers some seven thousand miles in eight months. Making his way by local bus, truck, car, donkey cart and camel, he travels from the tomb of the Yellow Emperor, the mythic progenitor of the Chinese people, to the ancient port of Antioch—in perhaps the most difficul ...more
Colin Thubron is not only "the pre-eminent travel writer of his generation" as The SUNDAY TELEGRAPH says about him...he is much, much more than that and his latest book is his legacy for this genre.
Delving into the milleniums of history while going along what used to be the Silk Road, from Xian to Antioch, he diggs out stories on people, temples,tombs,cities-that-have-been, abandoned citadels, forgotten villages, disappeared civilizations.... and tells them with such a melancholic, melodic thril
I totally loved this book, specially the travels through China! Perhaps I shouldn't say that - the travel through Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Afghanistan were also fascinating. The peoples, the faiths, the customs - both over centuries passed and now today - all were discussed. Little things like the facial characteristics and body forms and hats worn were so well described. Each cultural group became an identity. I have to visit China ..... I don't know if I would be brave enough for ...more
Colin Thubron's account of an epic journey along the Silk Road is an interesting mix of history and travelogue. He has a good eye and ear for detail and a knack for finding interesting people. His determination to find important historical sites that have been overlooked/sanitized is impressive. The pace, maybe like that of travelers on the Silk Road of old, is slow. I wish there were photos, but I don't think he'd have gotten access to some sites if he'd traveled with a camera.

His writing is oc
I read doggedly to make it to 118 pages, then skimmed the rest of the book, making sure to read the detailed description of his 4-hour-long root canal sans anesthesia. I read the part of the book detailing Mr. Thubron's travels in China and Tibet. I couldn't tell you what he described; I found that when I would be done reading a passage, I would be unable to picture what he was talking about. One of my friends put it best when she said, "He is not very painterly." I found the lofty vocabulary an ...more
Janet Eshenroder
The author wove stories of the Silk Road's history with memories from his own trips 10 or more years earlier and with minute details of what he found at sites just prior to 2008(the book's publish date). If I pulled out single sentences I could marvel at their descriptive qualities, yet(for me) the prose often got in the way of the story. I grew tired of so many nouns having adjectives, of landscape and buildings so often being anthropomorphized. I do give kudos for a very thorough picture of se ...more
Jun 26, 2011 Juha rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people interested in cultural history, especially along the Silk Road.
This book records the eight-month journey that the author took through what is probably the most fascinating part of the world, traveling west from China through Central Asia, Afghanistan, Iran, ending in Turkey. He writes amazingly beautiful prose and his observations are deep and heartfelt, often containing intricate details about the landscapes, cultures, people he encounters. He talks to a wide variety of people and, importantly, gets them to talk to him. A famous British travel writer, he h ...more
Thubron captures a panoply of voices from along the silk road, reflecting all the ethnicities that have intermixed through the last 3,000 years as traders and conquerors moved back and forth. He is an amazingly brave man to have moved through the deserts and battlegrounds of the Uigars, Iraquis and Iranians with nothing but a rucksack, some maps and whatever drivers and translators he could pick up along the way. But this made him approachable, and he had Russian and at least rudimentary other l ...more
in the shadow of (the scam from) "a million little pieces" i wondered about a third of the way into this book if it could be trusted: could this one man truly have traveled 7000 miles on his own? are the stories he relates so fantastic to be believed or has he invented them? how many languages DOES he know in order to successfully get through this journey?

half way through the book i decided to give mr. thubron the benefit of the doubt not least because i looked him up on the web and decided tha
Thubron's story, which essentially is his travels interspersed with digressions of rumour, history, memory and observations, was well written and mostly interesting. I enjoyed his route (starting in Xi'an) and his explanation for his path. All in all I was mildly interested but can see his forte lies in true historical analysis and I found my mind wandering during his seemingly self-indulgent rambles down various routes.

I was galvanised by his description of the importance of the Silk Road in hi
It took me a long time to work through this, as it often does with non-fiction. I liked the blend of history, description, and people's stories. I didn't know much about a lot of the areas Thurbon traveled. My only complaint was that, while Thurbon was upfront about a lot of the current realities, there were obvious places where he glossed over things. The amount of latitude given to him to just wander around China was a little hard to credit, for example, and at key moments, rides just amazingl ...more
Un gran bel libro, perfettamente nello stile di Thubron.
Grazie alla sua bravura nello scrivere mi permette di visitare paesi nei quali, onestamente, non credo di andare a breve e soprattutto fa spesso interessanti divagazioni storiche raccontando i luoghi che va vedere. I suoi incontri con le persone, poi sono sempre fonte di riflessione e conoscenza e da appassionata di antropologia non posso che apprezzarli moltissimo.
For Shadow of the Silk Road, Thubron traveled the entire length of the former Silk Road between China and the West, and as such, two-thirds of the book focus on locales outside of Central Asia. Nonetheless, it too was thoroughly engrossing, and I highly recommend it. However, since the space of time which Thubron spent in Central Asia in this book was much less than the time spent in this region for The Lost Heart of Asia, it isn’t as detailed or informative. If you can only read one of the two ...more
Mindy McAdams
I do not read a lot of travel narratives, but now and then I select one because each page I open while thumbing through (or previewing on Amazon) holds something interesting and makes me want to keep on reading. This book passed my small test, and I was not disappointed.

Many others have praised Thubron's way with words. I would join them but for a small caveat: sometimes he overdoes it. Sometimes the poetry overexerts itself and threatens to smother the prose. But not too often!

This was a long j
Scriitorul britanic Colin Thubron, călătorește de la Xian, o veche capitală chineză, la Antiohia în Turcia, de-a lungul drumului mătăsii, amestecând cunoștințe istorice cu observațiile despre viața contemporană. Thubron oferă, prin subiectul ales, atât de multe informații istorice și culturale încât poți spune la un moment dat că exagerează. Dar nu, aceasta e singura modalitate pentru a creiona cât mai bine lungul drum al mătăsii.

Drumul mătăsii nu a fost niciodată un simplu drum, ci un fel de si
Oh, dear. I did SO want to like this book! I certainly like the idea of it, and I enjoyed it on some level (I only abandoned it after reading 300 of 350 pages!). But I wasn't enthralled, and then it became a chore, and then I found myself skimming..... I wish he had had more of his interactions with locals, as I enjoyed all of those. It was his meanderings through and descriptions of ancient religious sites that eventually wore me down.
Max Carmichael
A stylistically murky journal of a frustrated search for old buildings.

I read travel literature to learn about the ways of life of people I'm not likely to visit myself. Thubron has little interest in living people and no interest in stable cultures; his interest is in the silk-robed elites of the past and their monumental architecture.

Those who like the misogynist Paul Theroux will probably like Thubron, although Thubron's style is more idiosyncratic and obscure. Unlike his "loved friend" Freya
An interesting tour of the ancient caravansary' s of the Silk Road. He traveled over 7,000 miles and endured bad food , bad weather and bad people. Only one thing irritated me, he tended to challenge officials. I really wonder if that was true. An American traveling alone in hostile territory, it was a little unbelievable. His description of the countries and the people were wonderful though and held my interest.
Pentru pasionaţii de istorie, geografie, călătorii, antropologie, istoria culturii şi a mentalităţilor sau istoria religiilor, Redescoperind Drumul Mătăsii. Din China şi munţii Asiei Centrale în Iran şi Turcia de Colin Thubron oferă o lectură densă, plină de cunoştinţe inedite din toate aceste domenii. Cartea se încadrează într-un gen literar pe cale de dispariţie sau care nici măcar nu a existat vreodată ca o categorie de sine stătătoare: o carte de călătorii care este şi ficţiune, poezie în ac ...more
I was excited to read this book, and while I enjoyed it, I can't say I remember the details of it too well, so I'm not sure if that's the author's writing or me (or it could be that reading 6-7 books at once isn't good or the e-reader thing made the experience different).

Thubron definitely went into a lot of detail and covered a lot of territory, yet as other readers have mentioned, I never felt sucked into the writing. There's something somewhat cold around the edges, with a lot of first-perso
An interesting look at current life along the silk road. I just couldn't connect, however, to the author's constant imagined conversations with an ancient traveler along the silk road. But I thought the stories of the people he met along the road were very interesting.
This was a fairly tough book to finish - yet I wanted to.
The subject matter was interesting but I wasn't always convinced that the author was doing it full justice. There seemed to be a very heavy amount of history which wasn't always related to any relevance today.
The scenes with human interaction with the locals he came across during his journey from China through the "stans", Iran and Turkey, were fascinating - not least due to their impressions of life in the west. Part of his journey had to
Stephen Marriott
If there was ever a book to inspire you to throw yourself into independent travel and let fate take its course in Asia this is the book. Thubron has the knowledge of a hungry historian but the sense of adventure and curiosity of a young back packer: open to all the people he encounters on the road. Somehow he manages to gel the ancient and modern worlds seamlessly, as he traverses across a world that you think you might know, now that we live in this world of global media, but each footstep he t ...more
09/12/09-Am finally enjoying this book. The first 60-70 pages are very slow (plodding! Maybe I have just gotten used to the writer's style. Thubron trys to hard to impress the reader with his Eton English vocabulary and made-up words.

I do like his place and people descriptions-I feel like I am traveling with him exploring long forgotten places, peoples and times. I was hooked after reading his "spot-on" description of Xian and the noodle restaurant by the Ming dynasty bell tower- and across fro
John Anderson
Sep 29, 2008 John Anderson rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone
Recommended to John by: Review in NY Review of Books
This is far from the first "travel book" that Thubron has written but it the first, and so far only, one that I have read. It is a remarkable book by someone who is clearly a remarkable man. He set out to travel the Silk Road which had such a huge impact in civilization, both East and West, yet the regions through which it passes, we in the West at least, now know nothing about. Well Thubron does. You or I could pass through this region and be impressed with its scenery or its people, but Thubro ...more
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From Wikipedia: Colin Gerald Dryden Thubron, CBE is a British travel writer and novelist.
More about Colin Thubron...
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“Sometimes a journey arises out of hope and instinct, the heady conviction, as your finger travels along the map: Yes, here and here ... and here. These are the nerve-ends of the world ...” 3 likes
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