Review: The Silk Roads: A New History of the World

The Silk Roads: A New History of the World
The Silk Roads: A New History of the World by Peter Frankopan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An interesting attempt to re-situate the centre point of world history to central Asia between the Mediterranean and the Himalayas. This is in general fairly successful, although better for some time periods than for others. During the Byzantine empire this focus makes a lot of sense, the Arabic caliphates and the routes across Asia justifying Frankopan’s claim that this is the centre of the world.

With the rise of Western Europe from the 16th century onwards this begins to feel a little forced. While Frankopan can still make the case for Asia’s place in world history it is clear that there is a lot going on elsewhere.

The thesis starts to make more sense again once the story reaches the twentieth century and the dominance of the pursuit of oil in global politics. Some of the best sections of the book are those covering the imperialism of the both Britain and America and their exploitation of Persia/Iran and the oil producing states.

Frankopan certainly challenges received orthodoxy – for example with the claim that it was late nineteenth century rivalry between Russia and Britain which lay behind the first world war – but also more generally. While I do feel that he sometimes tries a little too hard to relate his story to central Asia, this book is a good corrective for the Euro-centric position of most “world histories” written by European or American historians.

In short, an interesting change of perspective and well written. But dominated by “kings and things” with little thought to economic structure or social change.

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