The Silk Roads: A New History of the World

In This Review

The Silk Roads: A New History of the World
by Peter Frankopan
Knopf, 2016
672 pp.
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This new entry into the exclusive circle of big, brassy histories of the world focuses on inner Asia, from the Aegean Sea to the Himalayas. Frankopan makes the arresting and ultimately compelling argument that the interactions among peoples in this core of civilization were far more central to global affairs than the developments that Western-oriented histories typically feature in order to draw a line from ancient Greece and Rome to the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and the Industrial Revolution. He has a point. Christianity flourished earlier in the East than in the West. Before the ninth century, the north-south slave trade was dominated by Vikings who transited the rivers of contemporary Russia. And before the ascendance of Islam, Persian-based Zoroastrianism prevailed over Buddhism and Christianity in much of the Near East, the Caucasus, and Central Asia. Put simply, these regions generated an immense range of historic phenomena. Frankopan deems all that flows from them—whether religion, commerce, or politics—“silk roads,” because the trade in silk underpinned it all. One comes away from this book convinced that the multidimensional history of the silk roads deserves a central place in an understanding of the roots of the modern world.