REVIEW: The Silk Roads

I am ashamed to say The Silk Roads by Peter Frankopan sat on my bookshelf in the To Be Read section for about five years before I eventually got around to it.

And when I did finally read it earlier this year, it made me angry.

I have been obsessed with the Silk Roads for many years. I can think of no greater adventure than to travel the old routes, visiting exotic places like Bishkek, Tashkent, Samarkand or Nineveh to take in the art, architecture and culture.

This, however, as the subtitled A New History of the World suggests, is about a wider picture.

The Silk Roads is a great big tome, running to around 520 pages with an additional 100 pages of notes.

It begins more than 4,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent which runs from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea and travels through thousands of years of history to the Russian annexation of the Crimea in 2014 and countries like China and Iran changing rapidly.

And reading it, you get a sense of how many of the world’s problems have been caused by other nations – specifically nations like the UK, USA, Russia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain. And it all comes down to two things – power and greed. Everyone wants to be top dog and everyone seems to think they have a divine right to own things that don’t belong to them; oil, for example, gold, spices and also silk.

That’s the bit that made me angry. So many decisions made 100, 75, 50 years ago are returning to bite us on the arse now and, you know what, it probably serves us right because just maybe we should have kept our thieving hands to ourselves in the first place. They don’t teach you that in school do they?

Abandoning the rant and returning to the book, The Silk Roads is very accessible – you certainly don’t need to be a history professor to enjoy it. It is also authoritative. Frankopan is Senior Research Fellow at Worcester College, Oxford, and DIrector of the Centre for Byzantine Research at Oxford University.

If you have a general interest in history, politics, foreign affairs, economics, this is a book you might enjoy and may even open your eyes a bit. There are also some great maps and illustrations in it.

I now have this one sitting in the TBR section of my bookshelves. The New Silk Roads was published in paperback in 2019 and brings us as up to date as possible with Brexit and Donald Trump included – although since then we have had the Russians invading Ukraine again and the Covid pandemic, both of which have a bearing on our world.

This book is smaller; fewer than 300 pages and an additional 50 pages of notes.

On the back of the book, a quote from a review in the Times Literary Supplement says: “No reader will leave The New Silk Roads with her sense of the world unchanged.”

I look forward to reading it.

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