Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “In Xanadu: A Quest” as Want to Read:
In Xanadu: A Quest
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

In Xanadu: A Quest

really liked it 4.00  ·  Rating details ·  3,571 ratings  ·  263 reviews
While waiting for the results of his college exams, William Dalrymple decides to fill in his summer break with a trip. But the vacation he plans is no light-hearted student jaunt - he decides to retrace the epic journey of Marco Polo from Jerusalem to Xanadu, the ruined palace of Kubla Khan, north of Peking. For the first half of the trip he is accompanied by Laura, whom h ...more
Paperback, 319 pages
Published April 1st 2000 by Lonely Planet Publications (first published 1989)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about In Xanadu, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about In Xanadu

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
really liked it Average rating 4.00  · 
Rating details
 ·  3,571 ratings  ·  263 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of In Xanadu: A Quest
Aug 08, 2011 rated it really liked it
I love William Dalrymple for the simple fact that he writes about his amazing travels through a seamless blend of fact and fiction. Having read and loved his City of Djinns (a must-read if you're a Dilliwala), Nine Lives and White Mughals, I have loved this first book of his as well. In this book, the author, a final year Cambridge student, tries to backpack his way through the route Marco Polo had taken - Turkey, Iran and finally China, in the Inner Mongols in Xanadu where Marco Polo ended his ...more
Feb 26, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
---SPOILERS AHEAD--- It was a pity I read this book. I used to like Dalrymple. But this book turned out to be yet another account of a White man on a daring trip across the world in dangerous lands from whence it is next to impossible to come out alive, all while writing encouragingly of every stereotype the Whites have ever come up with of every other race apart from themselves. Anyone who is not a British is either dangerous, "stupid", uncouth, imbecilic, unfriendly and hostile or subservient ...more
Chris Ziesler
A Thousand and One Tales from the Silk Road

This is quite simply an enchanting book and for two interconnected reasons. The first and most striking reason is that Dalrymple manages to capture and convey the shear sense of wonder and excitement that comes from traveling across the world when young. So young, in fact, that I kept having to remind myself that he was only 22 when he wrote it.

If that were its only noteworthy aspect the book would be just one of many other worthy works of travel and ex
Feb 01, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: journeys
This is an an-times entertaining account of a late 80's attempt to retrace the Voyages of Marco Polo (follow the author hitching a ride through the Chinese desert on the back of a coal truck while hiding from the police!) But disappointingly, the book is betrayed by frequent forays into casual racism. Dalrymple is impressively knowledgeable about ancient history, texts and architecture, but is uninformed about the people who actually live in the places he's visiting in the present day, frequentl ...more
The Tick
Feb 17, 2011 rated it did not like it
Oy. I've loved everything else by William Dalrymple so far, but I was really unhappy with this. It lacks a lot of the reflection that I've come to associate with him, and a lot of the humor was really unpleasant. It also skimmed over a lot of detail, and the bits of background history incorporated into the narrative often don't flow very well.

Skip this one and go straight to City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi.
Jan 20, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This has not aged well.

I've read and enjoyed William Dalrymple as an experienced historian. “The Last Mughal" was a wonderful account of India under colonialism, sensitive to the lost glories of Mughal culture, and subtly enraged by the British boorishness that saw other civilisation as intrinsically inferior. I hadn't realised how much Dalrymple was attacking his younger self.

In Xanadu is famous for being an erudite book by a surprisingly young man. Dalrymple was in his early 20's when he deci
A fun trek across the continent. Full of entertaining anecdotes, colorful characters and challenges. Well worth the read. Recommended to me by my daughter who was spot on once again.

Dalrymple entertains with his British wit, colorful portrayals, sense of adventure and caricatures of his fellow travels. Although a fun read, it gives the reader historical context as well as a look at the different cultures.

Recommend for Around the World readers.

Sonia Gomes
Sep 05, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: travel
Amazing to follow in the footsteps of the legendary Marco Polo.

For a twenty one year old to have accomplished it is stunning. The unbelievable part were the two girls who accompanied him.

Would I have been so brave at 21;

Doubt it!!
Richard Evert
Jul 28, 2015 rated it did not like it
Dalrymple is a gifted writer, but I soon tired of his acerbic takedowns of the locals.
Sandeep M.Ratkal
Feb 28, 2019 rated it did not like it
May be book had some relevance in 1986 . Today it's neither a historical narrative nor a travelogue . It's just a meandering classless essay. Having seen Marco Polo on Netflix , Genghis Khan and Mongol movies on YouTube I had high expectations from the book. I started reading hence wanted to finish . Otherwise it's not worth the time. Only saving grace is some humour here & there. ...more
Whilst I've set the dates to show just a few days for reading this book, it's actually about 6 months since I started it and abandoned it before picking it up again and being determined this time to force myself to get to the end.

William Dalrymple has written many books about India - and as an Indiaphile, I've bought them and failed to get stuck in, finding them for the most part incredibly boring. I cracked and bought 'In Xanadu' when I read that his travel companion was Laura Wade-Gery, a wom
Jul 14, 2011 rated it it was ok
In the 13th century, Marco Polo travelled from Europe to Xanadu through modern day Israel, Syria, Iran, Turkey, Afghanistan, Pakistan and China. As an emissary of the Pope, his aim mission was to convince Kublai Khan to embrace Christianity. In 1986, Dalrymple decided to trace a similair route which Polo charted and this book chronicles his experiences. Somehow, due to a lack of understanding of the various branches of Christianity and the complex Central Asian histories, this book didn't match ...more
Brian Wright
Feb 07, 2014 rated it it was ok
I will never understand the really ridiculous orientalist approach that never seems to die in the world. I have spent more than 6 years amongst Arabs and have never found the homosexual, sheesha smoking pedophile which Dalrymple keeps running into. Nevertheless, the book does improve after leaving the Arab world and it was only after passing over the first section that I was able to find the strength to complete the book and scrounge up a slightly better ranking
Rohit Walavalkar
Dec 15, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: incomplete
I didn't complete this book.

Partly because I didn't like the way Israeli Jews or the Israel Government in general was being described. I know that Israel is not an Innocent country per se, but the author just seems too prejudiced about it. I was not willing to take anymore of the author's jaundiced views.
Apr 09, 2011 rated it it was ok
Some good bits but overall not "as advertised," at least to me. I suspect the review that put me onto this hyped the book more than was justified. An undergraduate's effort to be Paul Theroux best describes it. ...more
Jonathan Haines
Apr 29, 2013 rated it it was ok
Liked it, but wish there was a bit more of Polo. The traveling part of it was monotonous and a little boring. He's a good writer, but after so many miles, I was ready for Xanadu already.
However, this book definitely did have some good historical tidbits in it.
Liked by Larissa & Cas but loathed by everyone else - so only 2 stars.....
Apr 22, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Not as good as his other two travel books (From The Holy Mountain, and City of Djinns), which were both amazing. This one comes across as childish and more than a bit bigoted at times
Aug 20, 2019 rated it it was ok
I liked it! I could relate to much of the writing angst and decisions about stepping away from the novel writing. Not sure I’d recommend it for non-writers though.
Aug 22, 2020 rated it did not like it
Why is this guy called a leading writer? How does this substandard writer get to control litfests?
Jan 30, 2020 rated it it was ok
In Xanadu, is funny in most parts, but also has loads of clumsy, non-sequitur and cultural misappropriation bits in significant measure. I had decided to pick up this book because, I wanted to read one of William Dalrymple's early works. Discovered, expectedly, that the writing was not as mature as, the otherwise brilliant author's recent works. Dalrymple calls people ugly, he ridicules local habits and cultures, he calls them idiotic and even questions the general level of intellect of some com ...more
Sarah Clay
Aug 01, 2020 rated it it was ok
Shelves: bookclub
I love reading real life accounts of travel and adventure so I was excited that this came up on our book club reading list. I've never read any William Dalrymple before and saw the relatively high number of positive reviews by those who rated the book really highly. However, I fear saying this about such an accomplished writer/traveller, but I was disappointed. The trip and the tales told are epic and he really brings to life the people and the places. There's a lot of history and information to ...more
Rasha Lala
Jun 17, 2020 rated it did not like it
This is probably his worst. Reading it felt like yet another narrative about a white man and his conquests. Demeaning and offensive stereotypes galore!
Prabhu Mazhavarayar
Aug 23, 2020 rated it did not like it
Pretty disappointing. Took the book with all the reviews about the author. After reading this book , feel he is over rated . Waste of time .
Aug 16, 2011 rated it liked it
In Xanadu- a Quest; by William Darlymple, 302pp, 1990
Seven centuries ago, the famous trader, explorer Marco Polo set off from Jerusalem on a mission to reach the court of the Mongol King Kubla Khan, who’s palace was in a place called Xanadu. He then immortalized his journey in The Travels, which later became one of the most detailed pieces of travel writing ever completed. In his first book, the (then) 21-year old Mr. Darlymple takes readers back on the same route, attempting at every page to co
Dec 18, 2017 rated it liked it
The year is 1987. A young William Dalrymple, not yet a travel writer of international renown, sets off on a journey to retrace the journey Marco Polo took in the 13th century, from Jerusalem to the fabled East Asian capital of Kublai Khan, over land.

In Xanadu is an account of his travels, a tumultuous series of events that see a young, privileged Westerner forced out of his comfort zone and thrown into the deep end.

Dalrymple's narration paints a colorful picture of the various regions he passes
Rafia Shaikh
May 19, 2021 rated it it was ok
Extremely racist and prejudiced.
Not what I expected of William Darlymple after reading the city of djinns.
May 11, 2013 added it
Because I am a fan of obscure literary travel memoirs, I picked up this book at a library book sale. It's an under-the-radar account of a Cambridge student's trip in the 1980's. William Dalrymple becomes obsessed with retracing the route of Marco Polo from Jerusalem to Xanadu, Kubla Khan's legendary palace. His mission is to take holy oil from the Church of the Holy Sepulcre, just as Marco Polo did, when he was deputized to deliver it to Kubla Khan. History claims that the Khan had contacts and ...more
Nov 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
In Xanadu is a superb first travelogue by William Dalrymple, which describes his 1986 retracing of Marco Polo's 15-year journey from Jerusalem to Inner Mongolia in present day China. Dalrymple's amazingly ambitious journey via the Silk Road is a sheer delight to read and provides a wealth of historical information and no small amount of humour for us to enjoy along the way.

Beginning in Jerusalem, Dalrymple gathers a phial of holy oil from the Holy Sepulchre as Marco Polo once did more than 700 y
Apr 16, 2013 rated it liked it
This is a fine book, very enjoyable at times. The history is incorporated very well, the journey documented is fascinating and the captured bits of dialogue are unbelievably great.

It’s far from flawless, however. To many times, Dalrymple relies on architectural details of sepulchers, arches, and tombs. There are very little of logistics here, which would be interesting: how big are their packs? What did they bring? How did they resupply? And almost nothing is said of the scenic Karakoram Highway
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • Empires of the Indus: The Story of a River
  • A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush
  • Eve in the Land of Kali
  • The Hunters' Trap
  • The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia
  • Eastern Horizons
  • Delhi
  • An Unusual Honeymoon
  • Rebel Sultans: The Deccan from Khilji to Shivaji
  • The Road to Oxiana
  • Video Night in Kathmandu and Other Reports from the Not-So-Far East
  • The Nine Lives of Pakistan: Dispatches from a Precarious State
  • In Other Rooms, Other Wonders
  • In Patagonia
  • Riding the Iron Rooster
  • From Heaven Lake: Travels Through Sinkiang and Tibet
  • Shaheen Bagh: From a Protest to a Movement
  • Imperial Twilight: The Opium War and the End of China's Last Golden Age
See similar books…
See top shelves…
William Dalrymple was born in Scotland and brought up on the shores of the Firth of Forth. He wrote the highly acclaimed bestseller In Xanadu when he was twenty-two. The book won the 1990 Yorkshire Post Best First Work Award and a Scottish Arts Council Spring Book Award; it was also shortlisted for the John Llewellyn Rhys Memorial Prize.

In 1989 Dalrymple moved to Delhi where he lived for six years

Related Articles

Juneteenth, observed on June 19th each year, is an American holiday commemorating the day in 1865 when the last enslaved people in Galveston,...
139 likes · 19 comments
“For two thousand years Jerusalem has brought out the least attractive qualities in every race that has lived there. The Holy City has had more atrocities committed in it, more consistently, than any other town in the world. Sacred to three religions, the city has witnessed the worst intolerance and self-righteousness of all of them.” 10 likes
“Mongols were uneducated tribesmen who believed in enjoying life’s simpler pleasures. Ghengis Khan expressed their philosophy most succinctly. ‘Happiness,’ he is recorded to have said, ‘lies in conquering one’s enemies, driving them in front of oneself, in taking their property, in savouring their despair, in outraging their wives and daughters.” 2 likes
More quotes…