Siria's Reviews > The Silk Roads: A New History of the World

The Silk Roads by Peter Frankopan
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bookshelves: nonfiction, history, world-history

The Silk Roads is part of the genre of popular history books that purports to tell the history of the world through one particular theme or from one particular vantage point, and is better than most of them. Peter Frankopan is a trained historian, and so knows how to synthesise a great deal of information from cultures across Asia and Europe and the span of several centuries in a nuanced manner. As an example of a sweeping chronicle, there's much to admire here. The author knows how to keep a narrative moving at a brisk pace and when to throw in the occasional wry aside, which also helps the reader to move quickly through such a thick book. Frankopan's main point—that central Asia is far more central to world history than is popularly thought or than most Western textbooks teach—is well-made, if not exactly new. I found the early chapters of this book particularly engrossing, as Frankopan—a Byzantinist—is clearly most at home in those centuries.

Sadly, as the book progressed, I got a little more dissatisfied with it. Once the European Age of Exploration begins, the focus shifts so that we get more of a sense of how imperialist powers used Asia to fight their battles than anything else. This is, of course, an important story, and I learned some new things about British, French, and Russian involvement in Iran and Iraq to appal and depress me. But what I didn't get much of a sense of was the voices of those who lived in those regions and the reactions which they had to the forces swirling around their homes. Nor did I get a sense of the interactions between central Asia and the world to the south and east of it. There's little about China and nothing about, say, the Swahili coast. This serves to subtly, and I am sure unintentionally, reinforce the idea that the history of central Asia is important inasmuch as it helps to contextualise things that happened in the West. This may well be a function of the secondary scholarship on which Frankopan is drawing as he moves further and further from his areas of expertise, but it's a shame.
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Reading Progress

June 7, 2016 – Started Reading
June 7, 2016 – Shelved
June 7, 2016 –
page 10
June 16, 2016 –
page 100
July 23, 2016 –
page 150
July 31, 2016 –
page 220
August 5, 2016 –
page 250
August 6, 2016 –
page 300
August 21, 2016 –
page 400
August 31, 2016 –
page 450
August 31, 2016 –
page 450
September 10, 2016 – Shelved as: nonfiction
September 10, 2016 – Shelved as: history
September 10, 2016 – Shelved as: world-history
September 10, 2016 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-4 of 4 (4 new)

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message 1: by Douglas (new) - added it

Douglas Gorney I'm only on the second chapter, but am already getting a sense that is locus is really more west than east. His account of Roman ambitions in Asia and the birth of Byzantium, for instance, is populated by specific Emperors and generals, and alive with details of day-to-day life in a way his account of the Persian empire is not. I've never practiced Asian history, but I suspect--an entirely uninformed guess here--part of the problem may lie either in lack of access to primary accounts from the Middle East and Central Asia (possibly because they've not been as well preserved), or cultural differences in writing, i.e. journaling or correspondence.

message 2: by Douglas (new) - added it

Douglas Gorney His locus, not is locus.

And great review, by the way -- thanks.

BrokenTune Excellent review.

message 4: by Zoe (new)

Zoe Couldn't agree more!!

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