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review SPOILER ALERT! 2016-07-31 18:17
The Silk Roads: A New History of the World - Peter Frankopan

Slight spoilers in this review, I know a few of you want to read it so I tried to keep it minimal. For a book that attempts to address thousands of years of human history in 521 pages, it does a solid job. I loved the first 400 pages or so, It is written in a gripping way that is often missing in non fiction. I learnt a lot about the world and I would have given it five stars had its sections on the holocaust, the nazis and American foreign policy in the middle east not been limited.

 

It descends towards the end into page upon page of America shaming, essentially blaming it entirely for taking on Britain's imperial mantle in the middle east and destabilizing it further during the cold war. I agree that the US is responsible in part for destabilizing some countries in the region and that this has led to a rise in ultra nationalism and Islamic fundamentalism, but the way this is written it is almost as though it's an opinion piece at times. It feels like Frankopan has decided the US is to blame entirely and looks for evidence to back up his claims, rather than going in with an objective outlook and trying to assess the evidence without bias.

 

But my criticisms of the later sections of the book are not to say it is also not largely interesting. I learnt things about weapon sales and oil that I previously had no knowledge of and my understanding of countries such as Iran and Iraq has improved as a result. Sections on Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden were equally enlightening. 

 

Where the book really shines is in its early history of the formation of the east, sections on the viking Rus, the Islamic golden age, the slave trade and the mongols are fascinating. I had no idea that the word slaves comes from the slavs as they were heavy victims of Viking enslavement. I had no idea the mongols spread further after the death of Genghis Khan and were largely responsible for rebuilding areas they had pillaged. I even had no idea that Islam was almost spread into Europe as a dominant religion at its height, only to be repelled in France and knocked back by Christendom.

 

I went for a drink with a friend yesterday and he said something along the lines of, "I don't understand anyone who doesn't find history interesting." I have to say when I read a book like this one filled from the start to the end with dramatic feats, brutal politics, vast empires and powerful individuals it is hard to see how people can so easily dismiss history. I have only ever learnt from my interest in history, it has only served to increase my knowledge of the world around me and to help me make sense of what is going on in the world and for that reason, books like this that are filled with so many insights should be a must read for everyone. 

 

I'll leave this with my favourite quote in the book. 'Britain's politicians and diplomats were not made of the same stuff as the Francis Drakes and the other magnificent adventurers who created the empire; in fact, they are the tired sons of a long line of rich men, and they will lose their empire.' - Mussolini to his foreign minister Count Ciano.

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text 2016-07-23 22:39
Reading progress update: I've read 270 out of 521 pages.
The Silk Roads: A New History of the World - Peter Frankopan

I'll keep it short because I'm hoping I can save it all for a review. Fantastic so far. 

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review 2016-03-06 22:56
Review: The Silk Roads by Peter Frankopan
The Silk Roads: A New History of the World - Peter Frankopan

Don't let the size of "The Silk Roads" daunt you. It's very readable. The scope is huge, geographically and over centuries, but Peter Frankopan keeps everything clear and moving along.

 

I lack familiarity with the history, so I can't say whether his arguments, his judgements on history, are true -- and what is truth? Probably if each of us studied the same scholarly texts we'd decide things a bit differently. But his arguments did hang together: the evidence he presents supports his insights.

 

Frankopan has a nice style for a popular history book. The scholarship is evident (and the referencing is great if you want to dig deeper with additional reading), but he wears it lightly and the wry sharpness of his judgement on the greed, violence, delusion and sheer stupidity of various individuals and nations/empires helps kick the book along.

 

The complexity and good governance of the empire Ghengis Khan founded made for fascinating reading. Skip through a few centuries and the Russian factor in the decision to start World War I is one I hadn't read before (confessing my ignorance). Even the twentieth and twenty first centuries, where I thought I knew more contained surprises. "The Great Game", as the British called it, was never a game. Resources, wealth and security, power, religion and identity, mix to create a volatile region that impacts the world.

 

I'm not sure I agree with Frankopan's conclusion that the world is turning back to centre on the old silk roads. That power shift to China, the belly of the old Soviet Union and the Middle East seems disputable from my corner of the world, Australia. And yet, there's now a train (or composed of several trains) that carries cargo from China across the old silk roads' spine. Maybe the upheaval in the Middle East, the terrible suffering of its people, is because of power shifting and players fighting to seize their opportunities, or to resist losing what they have.

 

"The Silk Roads" is an interesting and absorbing read that lingers in the mind.

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text 2016-02-26 23:33
Weekend reading!
The Silk Roads: A New History of the World - Peter Frankopan

My lovely local library organised an inter-library loan and now I have a gorgeous, fat book waiting for me to crack open. It's tempting me from the top of the bookcase, uncaring that I have work to do. The Silk Roads looks fascinating and had a great review in The Guardian. I'm an intrepid armchair traveller, and on this journey I'll also be travelling back in time. Can't wait!

 

Do you have your weekend reading sorted? Anything you've been waiting on?

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review 2015-12-17 00:00
The Silk Roads: A New History of the World
The Silk Roads: A New History of the World - Peter Frankopan A different view of the world, taking a more oriental view of what happens in the world. Instead of the usual history of the world where the centre of attention is to Europe, this looks at the Middle East and Asia and looks at how, often they were as much or more influential than we were taught and badly served by current received history. It complains about how lots of history of these players on the world stage were ignored but ripples happened from many parts of empires, It's a useful for a reminder to reframe history to include more places but also a reminder that no matter what we do, we will still fail to see all the wood for the trees.
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