Posts Tagged ‘Peter Frankopan’

Peter Frankopan: The Silk Roads – A New History of the World

March 26, 2016

616iX1X7ZaL._AA160_Peter Frankopan offers a new and different history of the world here, from the perspective of that key east-west artery of trade, civilisation, ideas and warfare over the last two and a half thousand years or so, the Silk Road.

In Ancient History at school, we never learned about the globalisation two millennia ago, when the Roman Empire looked eastwards; I didn’t know they traded with India. From William Dalrymple and others, I had been aware that Christianity in its early stages was an Asian rather than a European church, and ironically it was Constantine that endangered this; when I looked at maps, I was surprised I hadn’t realised how much nearer the Middle East and India were to Jerusalem, compared with us on the far-flung western extremities of Europe!

We learn about the close connections between the three peoples of the book with the rise of Islam in the seventh century; the internal wranglings of Islam were new to me, but obviously paralleled all those within the Christian church that I am familiar with. Some early Christians apparently thought Islam was another Christian heresy rather than a new religion…

The early Muslim empire became phenomenally wealthy; Byzantium’s weakness faced with the spread of Islam led to its calling on Western Christians for help and thus led to the Crusades, which stimulated both European and Muslim economic growth and trade immensely. Jews and Muslims co-existed peacefully especially after their expulsion from Spain after 1492; the Mongols, who ravaged Europe, eventually disappeared back to Asian, rating China as easier and better prey. The Black Death had even more devastating effects than I had known.

The centre of gravity of the world shifted to Europe with the discovery of the Americas…

As you can probably see, it’s a fascinating book filled with many new insights and perceptions into the growth and development of the world. Frankopan offers a careful and measured response to the information he assembles, and offers thoughtful and balanced analysis from a long-term perspective. At times, as the subject expands, the focus on the Silk Roads does seem to fade, particularly in the early modern period, though I finally saw how this couldn’t have been otherwise. Comparisons between different nations and parts of the world, and how and why they prospered or didn’t, are particularly enlightening.

However, for me, Frankopan is at his most interesting when he moves into more modern times. He makes clear the calamitous and thoroughly reprehensible behaviour of the British and the French in the Middle East at the time of the First World War; he is eye-opening on events, attitudes and decisions that created the problems and issues that still rage a century later. A very interesting idea is that the narrative of the First World War was rewritten after it was over, shifting the focus onto Germany as the enemy and threat to Britain, rather than Russia. The West, and latterly particularly the US comes across as even more crass, money-grubbing, racist and colonialist than I’d ever known (and I count myself pretty well-informed). Short-sightedness and short-termism have governed most of what the West has done through its interference.

It’s an eye-opener of a book. No doubt, professional historians will take issue with some of his analysis and conclusions. This amateur is still taking it all in…

Pleasures of reading…

March 26, 2016

I can’t really think of anything more enjoyable than reading. The other evening I was home alone and feeling a little under the weather. So I curled up on the sofa with my current book (Peter Frankopan’s The Silk Roads, since you ask, and I’ll review it when I’ve finished it), put some Bach on the hifi and spent a very enjoyable two or three hours.

I can read pretty much anywhere – on the sofa, in bed, in the smallest room, out in the garden on the bench in the sunshine. If you’re a regular reader of the blog, you’ll know my tastes are pretty catholic. Reading is often accompanied by music, sometimes by alcohol too – a session with a really good bottle of beer is hard to beat. Perhaps I’m too easily satisfied?

I’m also interested in the state of mind I gradually shift into; tranquil, restful, de-stressed but quite alert: I’m often deeply engaged with what I’m reading, thinking about ideas, sometimes pausing to reach for the iPad to look something up that is relevant at that moment, perhaps the book I’ll move on to next. Incidentally, I never thought I’d enjoy having a tablet that much, but it has displaced the need for dictionaries and encyclopaedias, and sits next to me on the sofa, replete with potential knowledge. Sadly, there’s still no replacement for the huge atlas. Don’t suggest Google Earth, it’s not the same. I often make notes on what I’m reading, sometimes for future reference, sometimes as preparation for my next blog post.

When you think about it, while reading, your mind is engaged, often with a kindred spirit, and sometimes with one of the better minds on the planet. And you can commune with someone who has long left it, too.

Sometimes I binge-read. This often happens when I’m ill and laid up in bed – I’ll work my way through several books in very short order, perhaps the same author or genre. It also happens in summer when it’s wonderful to be out in the garden, I’ve caught up with all the gardening jobs and it’s too hot to do anything else. And when I’m away on holiday.

Then there’s the physical pleasure of a new book: pristine cover, unopened pages, virgin territory. If you think about it, there’s something different about the newness of a new book, which you don’t get with other new things in quite the same way. Opening a new CD, DVD (if you still buy those) or a new gadget or garment doesn’t have quite the same thrill for me. A book becomes mine slowly and through quite a different process.

There’s a bit of me that’s uneasy at the thought of all this work and pleasure eventually going to waste, as it were: after I’m gone, all those thoughts, all that thinking and analysis, all those electrical synapse connections or whatever they are in my brain, will just vanish…

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