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The halfway point between east and west… While such countries may seem wild to us, these are no backwaters, no obscure wastelands. In fact the bridge between east and west is the very crossroads of civilisation. Far from being on the fringe of global affairs, these countries lie at its very centre – as they have done since the beginning of history.

How is it that the places that in the earliest cartography were placed at the centre of the world are now almost impossible to locate on modern maps?

Peter Frankopan considers how as western readers of history, our understanding of the world is shaped by the narrow focus on western Europe and the United States and accounts of history that preferences ‘the winners of recent history.’

Thoroughly researched and gracefully written, The Silk Roads is an antidote to these Eurocentric accounts, examining several continents and centuries and the factors that influenced the flow of ideas and goods.

In The Guardian William Dalrymple enthusiastically revealed: ‘He show[s] how the belt of territory between China and Constantinople was for much of history the centre of the world, and a place from which we drew so much of what has come to be regarded as “western civilisation”… I learned the Chinese were the first to use toilet paper; that the “exceedingly savage” Huns wore robes made of field mice… that the Roman emperor Diocletian’s proudest achievement was the size of his cabbages.’

Closing his Washington Post review of The Silk Roads, S. Frederick Starr, fellow author and chairman of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute of the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University concludes: ‘Its great strength is that is focuses squarely and consistently on trade as the great engine of integration across the region. One may bristle, or smile, at some of his biases and eccentricities, but in the end he does us all a great service.’

Frankopan is a multilingual Oxford Byzantist who with The Silk Roads epically adds to his crusades-heavy bibliography, writing a 650-page history of the world from the point of view of east-west interaction, the Middle East and Asia firmly at its centre.

‘This epic book traces the cycle of human creation and destruction along the Silk Roads, now rich in billions of dollars’ worth of oil, minerals and labour. We must learn to pass along them without glancing greedily from side to side to gauge what we can gain. One alternative is to travel in the privacy of our own minds – an opportunity this charismatic and essential book amply provides.’ – The Telegraph

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