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Marco Polo: From Venice to Xanadu

3.81  ·  Rating details ·  2,270 ratings  ·  249 reviews
As the most celebrated European to explore Asia, Marco Polo was the original global traveler and the earliest bridge between East and West. A universal icon of adventure and discovery, he has inspired six centuries of popular fascination and spurious mythology. Now, from the acclaimed author of "Over the Edge of the World: Magellan's Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Glob ...more
Hardcover, 415 pages
Published October 21st 2007 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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Average rating 3.81  · 
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 ·  2,270 ratings  ·  249 reviews

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Jim Fonseca
May 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, biography
Bergreen essentially gives us a biography of Marco with occasional passages of his original stilted language, so it’s not at all a translation of The Travels. The author provides commentary on the accuracy of Marco’s observations. It’s important to know that, for the most part, Marco made distinctions between what he “saw with his own eyes” and the fantastical stuff “he had heard people say” about distant lands and strange beings and animals.


Marco arrived at a time when the Mongols had taken ov
Clif Hostetler
Oct 19, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
I’ve read and heard many things about Marco Polo but I have never previously read a detailed narrative about his adventures. Several years ago I tried to read a version of The Travels of Marco Polo but found it not well written and I didn’t finish. When I learned about his book I decided it was time to give it a try.

I learned from this book why my first attempt at reading The Travels was unsuccessful. The original was written in colloquial French by an Italian who didn't understand Fren
Apr 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
5 Stars for Marco Polo: From Venice to Xanadu (audiobook) by Laurence Bergreen read by Paul Boehmer. This is a must read for history lovers. The author does a great job putting this journey into perspective. There is a reason why Polo didn’t write about the Great Wall. The Chinese hadn’t started building it yet. This wasn’t the first time Europeans traveled to Asia. And this was a journey of a family that took 20 years to complete. I could go on and on about all of the details I learned about th ...more
Daniel Chaikin
Mar 18, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

Bergreen follows Marco Polo's journal, working out the history he walked through, giving some critical analysis to what was valid and what was fiction, and, playfully tying it all into Coleridge's Xanadu.

There are almost endless fascinating details crying to be told here. Such as how Marco's father and uncle stumbled their way to China to meet Genghis Khan, then returned to Venice, then, bringing Marco along, returned a second time - making Marco merely passenger along the 3 year trail back. Or
Dec 06, 2007 rated it liked it
Shelves: china, italy, india, history, bio, travel, alt
This book follows Marco Polo’s life from birth to death. We all know of his famed opus Travels, recounting his travels to China, South East Asia and India. He left with his father and uncle at the age of 17 in 1271. They returned 24 years later. What is fact and what is fiction of his stories, written in a Genoese prison with the collaboration of the romance writer and notary Rustichello of Pisa? This book tells of the events told in those stories and is a careful study in an attempt to distingu ...more
Sep 27, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An engrossing piece of historical storytelling about the adventures of a famous traveler and storyteller.

This book fills in plenty of background so that we’re never lost as we wander across Asia with the Polo family. They weren’t the first Europeans to make that journey and they certainly weren’t the last. It could be argued that Marco’s father and uncle were greater travelers than he was because they made that journey twice. It’s the book that was created when he told his story to Rustichello,
Jessica Howard
Jan 29, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
An exhaustive, but fortunately not quite exhausting, look at the life of Marco Polo. This book is long, and dry in a couple of spots, but manages to depict the astonishing life of Marco Polo in magnificent detail. Some of it may be conjecture, yes, but most of it seems historical verifiable--making Polo's achievements all the more extraordinary. The story begins with Polo's father--follows his path to the court of Kublai Khan and back, and then the ensuing travels of Marco, who spent more than t ...more
Mikey B.
Jan 16, 2013 rated it really liked it
I would suspect that this is a rather difficult biography to write – Marco Polo would seem to be a rather enigmatic personality. Many of his observations and recordings are true, but others exaggerated and/or based on hearsay. Did Marco Polo really travel to Burma and Java? Although he traversed Eastern Europe and the vast Asian landmass with his uncle and father, he gives them very little credit (it was their second such expedition). Marco Polo’s travels extended over twenty years and the timel ...more
Sep 16, 2008 rated it liked it
I have always been curious about Marco Polo. Now I know what all the hype was about, the guy witnessed some pretty incredible things. No wonder after he died many believed he fabricated these stories in prison to pass time and entertain others. After Rustichello documented Marco's Travels it was re-written and re-translated many times. It wasn't until 1938 that all his stories were compiled into one text, this of course was after they had been varified years earlier. I feel fortunate to have rea ...more
"Marco Polo: From Venice to Xanadu" by Laurence Bergreen is an enjoyable account of the life and adventures of Marco Polo (1254-1324). Bergreen based this book on "The Travels of Marco Polo" which was dictated by Polo to the writer Rustichello da Pisa. This is an engaging narrative.

At various points throughout the book, Bergreen examines the authenticity of Polo's claims (true, exaggeration, or false) but he doesn't get bogged down so that it hurts the narrative. Bergreen also discusses Polo's
Sotiris Makrygiannis
Mar 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: internet, audio-book
A must read, changes a bit the perception of the world around you. Like that the Great Khan had an empire that we "stole" technology from, silk. Is a very nice book, describes the Greeks that are spread all the way to China. His meetings as tax collector for the Mongol Khan, ruler of China. The sexual habits of the people of the east, the customs, the "magic" reported and other spicy stories. But from a modern eye point of view and must more fair and objective. ...more
Sep 13, 2009 rated it really liked it
This is a very interesting annotation of the famous work "The Travels of Marco Polo". Laurence Bergreen brings to this book an enormous amount of research, summarizing the findings a large number of scholars. The book includes an excellent historical introduction that provides a cultural backdrop for the work. It follows Polo's "Travels" step by step through all of its color and accounts.

One reason that such a book is greatly needed is that the original "Travels" is hardly well written and autho
Feisty Harriet
3.5 stars. I knew a little bit about the Mongol empire and the reign of the Khans, a bit more about the Chinese Imperial dynasties, and I knew a little bit about medieval European economic history, but this book really spells out several hundred years of history and follows Marco Polo's adventures from Venice to almost every corner of the Mongol empire, the rise and fall of the Khans, and the exchange of information and civilization and economic principles. Dah, this was so interesting. The actu ...more
Aug 12, 2008 rated it liked it
I was rather unimpressed once I finished reading it. It came across as just another author attempting to offer analysis on Travels without giving that much analysis honestly. While the subject is quite interesting, I was left bored in several spots, and considered just putting it away before it was completed.

The author seems to waver on the actual point of why he's writing the book. Marco Polo offers many reasons to write and the author focuses on none, and instead just drifts around the his st
Jeffrey  Sylvester
Sep 29, 2012 rated it really liked it
I thought this was a great book. It is rare to read such a detailed historical account of the high middle ages corroborated with primary sources. Begreen does an excellent job of getting the reader into the mindset of 13th century Venetians as well as the other societies he came in contact with and the challenges this posed. It was also amazing to catch a glimpse of the breadth of diversity across Asia due to geography and the isolation of various societies. The challenges were also varied. At s ...more
Jan 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Excellent read. All right - the author had a great story to work with - 18 year old Italian gets on a boat and a horse, rides to Mongolia, meet the Emperor Kublai Khan, delivers message back to Pope and rides back to Mongolia, becomes a tax assessor and an advisor to the Khan and journeys through the Khan's massive Empire before going back to Venice decades later and retiring. With this impressive historical tale it’s hard to write a bad book. Still, the author does add to the basic history. I e ...more
May 27, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. Marco Polo brought the East back home to the West after being trapped in Kublai Khan's palace and kingdom for 17 years. The good news was that allowed him to get to know the Mongols pretty well, and the Chinese some. He learned about paper money, good sewage treatment, and the welfare state (who knew the Mongols 'invented' that!). In return, he brought those seige engines that can lob infected corpses over city walls, a European idea which fascinated and appalled the Mongols. ...more
Robert Melnyk
Apr 22, 2015 rated it liked it
Pretty interesting book about the life of Marco Polo, focusing mainly on his years of traveling to China and the far east, his relationship with Kublai Khan, and his interactions with various cultures of people he met along the way. We know about Marco Polo based on his own writing that he did while in a Genoese prison, written with the help of a romance writer from Pisa, and written first in broken French. Based on this, there is a lot of skepticism as to the validity of much of what we know ab ...more
Maryana Pinchuk
Aug 31, 2015 rated it liked it
Despite the title, Marco Polo is incidental to this book – what Bergreen really wants to do is take his readers on a journey through the ancient world that Polo inhabited, delighting and titillating them with juicy gossip about everything from bizarre Tatar sex customs to the gory details of Japanese warfare and Chinese silk production.

Given the sketchy historical records on many of these cultural details and events, the narrative frequently veers into the realm of speculation, which diminishes
Daniel Kukwa
Aug 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This is extraordinary -- one of the most amazing journeys in history, distilled into a magnificent account that never descends into vexing minutiae, dull gossip, or irritating technicalities. This is the ultimate snapshot of the 13th century world, as it existed between Venice & China. It digresses in all the right places to expand and enlighten on the people, places, and events that Marco Polo encountered & experienced on this much so that it puts more detailed accounts in the shad ...more
A very good introduction to Marco Polo and the societies he travelled through as well as an analysis of The Travels' accuracy.

Laurence Bergreen approaches his topic with sympathy and has widely researched the history not just of Polo but the Silk Road, China, and all the civilizations he travelled through.

Marco Polo: From Venice to Xanadu is both enlightening and informative.

Recommended for those interested in Polo and those interested in the civilizations of the Silk Road.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Text concludes on page 361 in my copy of this book; the remainder is notes and so on. I felt like this book was slow to get started, and perhaps the end dragged on a bit too long, but otherwise I found it quite engrossing. I do wish there had been a larger, more prominently featured map of Asia and of Polo's possible route throughout; there were only 2 maps in the whole book, and one of those was a reproduction of an antique map that was difficult to read. The other was better, but appeared 300 ...more
Jun 18, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: biography, history
I am not a fan of Bergreen's popularizations or his prose, and in any case there are better alternatives, including Larner and, not least by any means, the introduction and copious notes to the 1920 Yule-Cordier edition of Marco's book itself. Or if you like your history through purple lenses you could wait for the movie. ...more
Overall this seems to be a good account of Marco Polo's life and travels (I haven't actually read his Travels yet, so I can't really judge) with attempts to verify the truth of his accounts with comparison to other sources such as Chinese histories. But sometimes it feels like the author has pet theories that can only be supported with speculation and subjective opinions. ...more
Joe Falletti
Oct 16, 2016 rated it liked it
A really good readable book. Mr. Berggren does a commendable job of analyzing the verbal initially published odyssey for documented fact, probable exaggeration and fantasy. The intro is wonderful as is the summary. Details on the many travels gets a little tedious but the book is very readable.
Nov 16, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
If you are going to write a history of one of the most well-known explorers in European history and a journey that covers thousands of miles and seventeen years, would it kill you to include a few maps? For me, that was the greatest weakness of this book. Marco Polo's reputation went through some tough times and there are still those who doubt his report on his travel, dictated many years after the events, but Bergreen does a good job of digging into other historical sources to corroborate much ...more
Aug 02, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: reviewed, non-fiction
I read this book after having read Laurence Berggreens wonderful book Columbus: The Four Voyages, a book which I loved. I was hoping to feel the same about the Marco Polo book, but that turned out to not be the case. Where the Columbus book was gripping and a real page turner, I found myself unable to read more than a chapter at at time (more often less than that) in one sitting with the Marco Polo book before my eyelids began to slam shut.

The most vivid parts of the book are the beginning and
Carl R.
May 08, 2012 rated it really liked it
Knowing nothing more than common lore, I imagined Marco Polo as something like a Medieval travel writer/Scheherazade, globe trotting across Asia and spinning tales of the exotic East for a European audience hungry for novelty. I knew he’d brought back artifacts and curiosities—spices, gunpowder?, silk. I knew he was Venetian. I knew little--all right, nothing--else.
Laurence Bergreen’s admirable biography shines revealingly on the life and times of this important link between the amazingly sep
Derek Shouba
Dec 20, 2020 rated it really liked it
I was enthralled with the story but it’s hard to say how much credit I should give to the author, and how much credit I should give to the author’s amazing subject. I did love the fact that the author gives us so much insight to both Venetian and Mongol/Chinese history.
May 12, 2013 rated it really liked it
While this appears to be a biography of the history's most famous traveler, it is actually a guide to understanding Polo's adventures. While Bergreen gives us the portrait of the man, the exotic adventures and their time in history loom much larger.

Several times I have begun reading the "Adventures" but never got into them, getting lost in the stilted prose. Here, Bergreen has sifted through the "Adventures" and delivered their essence while enriching the reader by descriptions of the life and c
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Laurence Bergreen is an award-winning biographer, historian, and chronicler of exploration. His books have been translated into over 20 languages worldwide. In October 2007, Alfred A. Knopf published Marco Polo: From Venice to Xanadu, a groundbreaking biography of the iconic traveler. Warner Brothers is developing a feature film based on this book starring Matt Damon and written by William Monahan ...more

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  Kerine Wint is a software engineering graduate with more love for books than for computers. As an avid reader, writer, and fan of all things...
19 likes · 10 comments
“Depois de todos os hábitos de acasalamento e comportamentos que (Marco Polo) presenciara na Ásia, a ideia de monogamia conjugal talvez não fosse de todo bem-vinda.” 0 likes
“O mundo que Marco Polo explorou está perdido para a História de muitas maneiras, mas alguns aspectos importantes do retrato que ele traça são surpreendentemente contemporâneos. Como mercador, compreendeu que o comércio era a essência das relações internacionais e que ele se sobrepunha aos sistemas políticos e às crenças religiosas, que são autolimitadores” 0 likes
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