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text 2018-06-12 22:13
Reading progress update: Part 3 - Marvels of Science Around the House
The Science of Everyday Life - Marty Jopson

This Part included the following sections:

 

- Lighting up slowly (lightbulbs)*

- End over end down the stairs (slinkies)

- Machines that can see in the dark

- Making glass one-way

- Disappearing down the plughole left and right

- Einstein, relativity and your phone*

- Different flavours of smoke alarm*

- The vanishing transistor and Moore's law*

- Wobbly crystals in your clock

- When batteries die*

- Bursting your bubble

- Bottled clothing

- Non-shrinking sheep

- Fresh air really is good for you

 

I really liked this part of the book, especially the parts with a *. 

 

The non-shrinking sheep had me at the title of the section but it turned out to nothing new. Still credit to Jopson for including sheep. :D

 

As with the other chapters before, there is nothing really new in these parts but some of Jopson's explanations worked really well for me. 

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review 2018-06-10 13:06
The Silk Roads: A New History of the World
The Silk Roads: A New History of the World - Peter Frankopan

This book. It's been such a disappointment: Not only is the title an exercise in how to cram several misrepresentations in less than ten words, but the writing style left me rather unimpressed, too. 

 

There is little that is new about the history contained in the book. It certainly is not a history of the world (Europe, perhaps, but the focus on the power struggles between Christianity and Islam, and later on the West v. the East, and the US against Iraq/Iran/Afghanistan does not make this a book about the history of world). It is even less a book about the Silk Roads.

 

If you picked this up in the hope of learning about the trade routes and the people who live or travel along them, you've picked the wrong book. 

 

Sure there were a few interesting snippets of history in this, but the authors choice of not going into a lot of detail and preferring to follow up events with other events without providing a lot of deliberations about the possible connections or effects, does not make for inspiring reading. Unless, that is, we are talking about the inspiration to look for other books.

 

Maybe the premise of the book was a little too ambitious? Maybe some editor should have pointed out some of the gaps ... or at least that the title does not reflect the content of the book?

 

Whatever the cause of its failings, I was hoping for a thoughtful insight into the history of the Silk Roads, but all I got from the books was what read like the work of a self-congratulatory academic who couldn't make up his mind what to write about and looked at history mostly through Union-Jack-striped goggles.

 

Previous Reading Updates:

 

Reading progress update: I've read 201 out of 636 pages.

Reading progress update: I've read 159 out of 636 pages.

Reading progress update: I've read 136 out of 636 pages.

Reading progress update: I've read 90 out of 636 pages.

Reading progress update: I've read 62 out of 636 pages.

Reading progress update: I've read 26 out of 636 pages.

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text 2018-06-09 21:24
Reading progress update: I've read 201 out of 636 pages.
The Silk Roads: A New History of the World - Peter Frankopan

"Merchants could be found crossing the South China Sea in ever greater numbers, establishing trading posts in Sumatra, on the Malay peninsula and above all on the Malabar coast of southern India, home to the world's great supply of pepper - long established as a favoured commodity in China as well as in Europe and elsewhere in Asia. By the middle of the fourteenth century, so many ships were sailing to towns like Calicut that some observers commented that all maritime transport and travel in this part of the Indian subcontinent was being undertaken in Chinese boats. An example of their typical flat-bottomed design has been recently identified wrecked off the coast of Kerala.

The lubricant in this long-distance trade was silver, which took on the form of a single currency across Eurasia. One reason for this was the innovation of financial credit in China that had been introduced before Genghis Khan's time, including the introduction of bills of exchange and the use of paper money. Adopted and improved by the Mongols, the effect was the liberation of enormous amounts of silver into the monetary system as new forms of credit caught on. The availability of the precious metal suddenly soared - causing a major correction in its value against gold. In parts of Europe, the value of silver plunged, losing more than half its value between 1250 and 1338. In London alone, the surge in silver supply allowed the royal mint to more than quadruple output between 1278 and 1279 alone.

Production rose sharply in Asia too. In the steppes, too, coin production took off as rulers of the Golden Horde began to strike coins in large quantities. New regions were stimulated too. Japan, which had relied heavily on barter or on payments in products such as rice as an exchange mechanism, shifted to a monetary economy and became increasingly active in long-distance trade."

 

And this is all that Frankopan has to say about the revolutionary introduction of a monetary system. Seriously, those three paragraphs are all there is.

 

He spends the next five or so pages on the effects of the Black Death on Europe. While I agree that this was a huge event changing everything, the effects of the plague in Europe are not what I look for in a book supposedly about the Silk Roads.

 

But who am I kidding...this book is all over the place.

 

Btw, guess what the next chapter is about?

 

Yup, Columbus and the exploration of the Americas.

 

This is where I am going to abandon ship. I'll skim/skip-read to end but that is it.

 

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text 2018-06-09 19:31
Reading progress update: I've read 159 out of 636 pages.
The Silk Roads: A New History of the World - Peter Frankopan

The Crusades. Blah, blah, blah...

 

Why is this even in here? 

Oh, I see, that's right, the author previously wrote a book about the Crusades.

 

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text 2018-06-09 18:44
Reading progress update: I've read 136 out of 636 pages.
The Silk Roads: A New History of the World - Peter Frankopan

"The Rus' were ruthless when it came to enslaving local populations and transporting them south. Renowned for 'their size, their physique and their bravery', the Viking Rus' had 'no cultivated fields and they live by pillaging', according to one Arabic writer. It was the local population that bore the brunt. So many were captured that the very name of those taken captive - Slavs - became used for all those who had their freedom taken away: slaves."

Right, so now the book is becoming more interesting ... and it only took 100 pages to get there. *rolls eyes*

 

I'm still having problems with the writing. Frankopan throws in new names and references without any explanation whatsoever. So, I've spent a fair amount of time reading this with my search engine open. 

 

For example, the mention of the "Rus' " in the above paragraph is the first time that he mentions them. No background is given. I am either expected to know that they are a tribe of Vikings originally based in what is now Sweden and that they had turned landward (and over time end up - apparently - founding what we later call "Russia") or I am expected to look it up.

This same thing has happened all the way through the book.

I am by no means expecting to be spoon-fed background information on everything, but other than references to literature, there are literally no footnotes in this book. It really makes for frustrating reading - and I am guessing also that this book may have made the 

bestseller lists but it probably is one that a lot of people will not actually have read after buying it. 

 

The last section was in fact the first section that talked about the trade network and the establishment of trade posts and routes and the impact this had on the growth of towns and cities. 

As such it was quite interesting, even tho reading about the slave trade is never easy reading.

 

It seems, tho, that chronologically speaking slaves were the first, ... erm, commodity ... for which there was enough demand and that made enough profit to create a thriving industry of trade.  

"Eventually, the slave trade began to dwindle - at least from eastern and central Europe. One reason for this was that the Viking Rus' shifted their focus from long-distance trafficking to to the business of protection rackets. Attention focused on the benefits that the Khazars enjoyed from the trade that passed through towns like Atil, thanks to the levies raised on all merchandise transiting Khazar territory. The famous Persian geographical treatise Hudud al-Alam states that the very basis of the Khazar economy lay in its tax revenues: 'the well-being and wealth of the king of the Khazars are mostly from maritime duties'. Other Muslim commentators repeatedly note the substantial tax receipts collected by the Khazar authorities from commercial activities - which included levies charged on inhabitants of the capital.

Inevitably, this caught the attention of the Viking Rus', as did the tribute paid to the khagan [king of the Khazars] by the various subject tribes. One by one they were picked off and their loyalties (and payments) redirected to the aggressive new overlords. By the second half of the ninth century, the Slavic tribes of central and souther Russia were not only paying tribute to the Scandinavians, but were being forbidden to make any further payments 'to the Khazars, on the grounds that there was no reason for them to pay it'. Payment was to be made to the Rus' leader instead. This mirrored practices elsewhere - such as in Ireland, where protection money gradually replaced human trafficking after being attacked year after year, records the Annals of St Bertin, the Irish agreed to make annual contributions, in return for peace."

Btw, you may have noticed that the book is still mostly about Europe. Sure the trade routes affected the Middle East and Persia, but mostly this book is not about the Silk Roads any further beyond the the Caspian Sea. I have kind of given up on reading anything about the trade or history of central, east, or south Asia.

 

Oh, and the next section is about the Crusades arising out of Constantinople's and the Pope's envy of the flourishing wealth in the east.

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