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The Silk Road: A Very Short Introduction

3.82  ·  Rating details ·  191 ratings  ·  27 reviews
The phrase "silk road" evokes vivid scenes of merchants leading camel caravans across vast stretches to trade exotic goods in glittering Oriental bazaars, of pilgrims braving bandits and frozen mountain passes to spread their faith across Asia. Looking at the reality behind these images, this Very Short Introduction illuminates the historical background against which the s ...more
Paperback, 152 pages
Published April 12th 2013 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published March 15th 2013)
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David Nichols
Nov 26, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviewed
Most of the Oxford Very Short Introductions make good bathtub reading and serviceable reference books. THE SILK ROAD is something different: an engaging short history that also introduces a new analytical concept. James Millward proposes that we use “Silk Road” as a Eurasian analogue of “Columbian Exchange,” a shorthand term for the network of trade and cultural exchanges that linked Europe, the Middle East, India, and East Asia from 3000 BCE to the early modern era. This network distributed thr ...more
Mar 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
"Very short" hardly seems to cover it. This book is tiny, but it crams so much information in there. Yet despite the concepts, evidence and examples flying at you thick and fast, it never feels overwhelming; in fact, it's an inspiration to further knowledge acquisition. Part of that is the clear, careful, yet charming style, but also the structuring of the book by broad theme rather than geographically or chronologically assisted in cutting to the heart of those concepts.

A fantastic book to star
Really well done. First of all, Millward's writing is superb, and he has a genuine talent for summarizing vast epochs in a few telling lines. His method of deconstructing the Silk Road for modern readers is ingenious, the core of the book consisting of three chapters on exchanges biological, technological and artistic. These look in detail at a series of artefacts that evolved along the high road across Central Asia - the horse, grape wine, dumplings, silk, paper, fables, lutes, porcelain, etc. ...more
Bernie Gourley
Dec 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: those interested in a brief separation of fact and fiction of the silk road.
Millward’s emphasis is in pointing out that the Silk Road was neither predominantly about silk nor was it the single route that the word “road” implies. While silk was certainly a product that traded on this transportation network, it wasn’t necessarily the most important commodity by value-- and certainly wasn’t in terms of its effect on the world. More broadly, the author presents a Silk Road that defies neat delineations and definitions, a Silk Road that is often more of a conceptual bridge t ...more
Excellent short introduction to the history of a complex region.
May 24, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-2018
The author broadens the definition of the Silk Road to include the transmission of goods, ideas and people, during any time period, across the Eurasian continent(s). It began to sound like a description of Globalization. The author is extremely erudite and has a lot to teach me, but I'm not currently ready for those lessons. I was looking for the history of a specific time and place, and stories of those adventurers who followed the Silk Road. ...more
Eva B.
Jan 30, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2020, middle-ages
My summary of the book's theme would be "Everything came from somewhere else." Although this small book was replete with interesting tidbits of information about the transfer of stuff from one place to another, this was not what I was looking for. I was more interested in reading about a particular time and particular routes. But my library had this one available so I read it. ...more
Jefferson Fortner
Dec 29, 2020 rated it really liked it
I enjoy the “Very Short Introduction” series from Oxford University Press. Each one encapsulates a topic quite nicely. When I am already fairly familiar with a topic, they serve as a good review, and when I am a bit weaker on a topic, such as in this case, they serve as a starting point to learn about the subject and to then pursue it further if I wish. The Silk Road (or, rather, The Silk “Roads”) entails a much more complex set of dynamics that I thought. Interesting and worth perusing.
Feb 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Gives a very good overview of the concept of the Silk Road. The writing is engaging and the thematic structure connects history to the modern world. The bibliography and list of websites is also helpful for those who want to learn more about a fascinating and complex set of near-global connections.
Ray LaManna
Nov 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
With all the talk of a new Silk Road being developed by China I thought I might learn about the "old" Silk Road... and I learned a lot about the interplay of cultures, geography, and religions in this concise little book. The Very Short Introduction series is really good, written by experts for literate, engaged people who are not experts but want to learn more about the world. ...more
Nov 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I love this series!! I have had at least two of them for a college class and I would not choose another look! They are short and easy to understand!
Dedmanshootn dedmanshootn
Nov 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
very good introductory work and easy to read.
Alexander ter Hark
Oct 06, 2019 rated it liked it
Well written, provides a good platform from which further readings can spring.
Melissa Barbosa
Dec 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed this book. It's short but very informative. ...more
Oct 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: afghanistan
A great, easy to read overview of the idea of the Silk Road.
Apr 30, 2018 rated it liked it
Vince  Quackenbush
Dec 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: reading
Good short introduction to topic. Exactly as advertised.
Tso William
I remember an author writing on Tibet names his book as 天葬 (i.e. sky-burial), referring to the Tibetan burial practice of leaving dead bodies in the mountain to decompose. As the bodies become rotten, vultures come to fight and pick the juicy parts of the bodies. Tibet, the author says, is one of such dead bodies. because like them, she is powerless to prevent the Communist China, the Western countries and rest of the world to pick the parts of Tibet that suit their interests.

Silk Road is not u
Mar 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing
A history, written to counter the notion that the silk road ever stopped being an active thoroughfare by a historian who has fun with his subject. My only reservation is the paucity of maps---the historical overview would have been much easier to follow had there been some convenient way to keep track of all the place names and peoples he mentions. Here are a couple of highlight passages:

"Today, like much of Kashgar's old city, the bazaar has been sanitized, organized, modernized, and harmonized
Jul 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
A quote: (pp 22-23)

Darius the Great (r. 521 – 486 BCE), of the Achamenid dynasty, added both northwestern India and southeastern Europe to his Persian Empire. But Darius nearly foundered when he marched north against the Scythians, despite an army hundreds of thousands strong. To the Persians’ surprise, the nomads simply melted away before them. Darius called the Scythian ruler a coward; according to Herodotus his Scythian adversary replied that “In our country there are no towns and no cultivat
Jean Dory
Feb 17, 2016 rated it liked it
This IS a very short book--it is easily readable and can be consumed in just an afternoon. It is, however, a great intro to Silk Road history, touching on everything from the geography, environment, and ecology to the growth and decline of empires, to the spread of religions, to the trade routes, trading partners, and products which were traded, and much more. I would highly recommend this book to someone who just wanted a simple overview of this history.
Jan 15, 2014 rated it really liked it
As the title states, a very short introduction indeed. With easy-to-understand terminology, divided sections, and the occasional picture - the book sets the groundwork for readers to be able to (hopefully) glean some information about the Silk Road(s). A quick read that can be beneficial to anyone interested in the Silk Road, history, anthropology, linguistics, and/or distribution of material goods. Recommended for students high school age and older, scholarly readers, and leisurely readers.
Oct 22, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
I was disappointed by this work, clearly by a very knowledgeable author, who could not be bothered to use proper English, but instead writes in opaque academic prose. I did not finish, as it was just not enjoyable wading through this turgid account.
Jun 22, 2014 added it
I've read a shedload of books and papers on the topic for a little project of mine and they more or less repeat the same things. This one stands out. It covers many more angles and does that in much fewer pages. In the words of Yo-Yo Ma, 'a must read for any aspiring enlightened global citizen'. ...more
Steve Carroll
May 11, 2015 rated it really liked it
great intro to the silk road that connected the East and West in antiquity. covers the transmission of art, goods, technology and its affect on the people of the 'stans as well as the nomadic people of the region. surprisingly engaging. ...more
Tim Chamberlain
Sep 18, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
An excellent, informed, enjoyable, and, in parts even entertaining, overview of Silk Road Studies. This little book manages to cover and convey a lot of detailed information very lightly. Definitely one of the best in the 'Very Short Introduction ...' series. I highly recommend it. ...more
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Sukh Kak
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