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Foreign Devils on the Silk Road: The Search for the Lost Treasures of Central Asia [Paperback]

Peter Hopkirk
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
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Book Description

27 Mar 2006

The Silk Road, which linked imperial Rome and distant China, was once the greatest thoroughfare on earth. Along it travelled precious cargoes of silk, gold and ivory, as well as revolutionary new ideas. Its oasis towns blossomed into thriving centres of Buddhist art and learning.

In time it began to decline. The traffic slowed, the merchants left and finally its towns vanished beneath the desert sands to be forgotten for a thousand years. But legends grew up of lost cities filled with treasures and guarded by demons. In the early years of the last century foreign explorers began to investigate these legends, and very soon an international race began for the art treasures of the Silk Road. Huge wall paintings, sculptures and priceless manuscripts were carried away, literally by the ton, and are today scattered through the museums of a dozen countries.

Peter Hopkirk tells the story of the intrepid men who, at great personal risk, led these long-range archaeological raids, incurring the undying wrath of the Chinese.

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Foreign Devils on the Silk Road: The Search for the Lost Treasures of Central Asia + The Great Game: On Secret Service in High Asia + Trespassers on the Roof of the World: The Race for Lhasa
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Product details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: John Murray (27 Mar 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0719564484
  • ISBN-13: 978-0719564482
  • Product Dimensions: 2 x 13.3 x 20.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 15,673 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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'Recounted with great skill . . . opens a window onto a fascinating world' (Financial Times)

'Highly readable and elegant' (Times Literary Supplement)

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'Difficult to put down . . . irresistible' Daily Telegraph

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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First Sentence
In Central Asia's back of beyond, where China tests her nuclear weapons and keeps a wary eye on her Russian neighbours, lies a vast ocean of sand in which entire caravans have been known to vanish without trace. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
37 of 37 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars This book is costing me money!! 7 May 2003
After reading each spell-binding chapter, I find I am noting down the name and details of the original works quoted by Hopkirk. First, Hedin's "Through Asia", then Stein's "Ruins of Desert Cathay", then von Le Coq's "Buried Treasures of Chinese Turkestan". These are not cheap books! My bank manager mutters about Mr Hopkirk's negligence in writing such a compellingly addictive book.
"Foreign Devils on the Silk Road" tells the stories of European explorers who searched for - and found - legendary lost cities in the sands of the Taklamakan Desert in what is now Xinjiang province in western China. Most of the treasures were removed and sent to museums in Europe, the US, Japan and Korea, and these explorers are increasingly seen as criminals (at least in China). Regardless of the politics or the benefit of hindsight, the adventures of these men makes Indiana Jones look tame.
My only complaint is that the need to cover the expeditions of all the main explorers means that each is told in a mere chapter. It just whets the appetite to know more. Hence the seemingly endless purchases of the original books.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The End of the Road 19 Nov 2009
By G. M. Sinstadt VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Peter Hopkirk's books on central Asia have two virtues that are not often found together: they are learned, thoroughly researched works that wrap their scholarship in anecdote and conflict. Foreign Devils takes the author in the steps of a handful of sturdy explorers and antiquarians who, between about 1890 and 1940, ventured into the Taklamakan, Lop Nor and Gobi deserts in search of evidence of the civilisations which once flourished there and are now buried beneath the sand.

Literally thousands of artefacts were discovered by these intrepid individuals and mostly removed to museums in the west, notably but not exclusively to London, St Petersburg and Berlin. The stories of the extreme hardships that accompanied these expeditions are gripping, often awe-inducing. But Hopkirk doesn't neglect the moral issues: the vast majority of the items removed belong - spiritually at least - to China. The question is: had China been left to its own devices would these items have been recovered for the pleasure and education of later generations, or were the explorers saving them from degenerating to dust, never to be seen? In short, were the Foreign Devils saviours or criminals? Even if the reader comes down, as Hopkirk seems to himself, on the side of the former, there remain other serious issues; the British Museum, which displays a mere fragment of its huge collection, comes in for particular opprobrium.

This is more than just a vicarious adventure story; with the romance of the Silk Road that drew Marco Polo and so many questing travellers at an end, the reader will be left with much food for thought.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
By John P. Jones III TOP 500 REVIEWER
... it all depends on your perspective. I first read Peter Hopkirk's The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia, which describes the collision of the British and Russian empires in Central Asia towards the end of the 19th century. The author focused on the efforts, dedication and yes, fool-heartiness of a coterie of adventurous men on both sides who believed it was their mission to "win" the area for their respective empires. "Foreign Devils on the Silk Road" was written a decade earlier; the region was similar: Central Asia, but the focus was a bit further east, in what was once called Chinese Turkmenistan, the Chinese "wild west." As Hopkirk says in his prologue, the book is primarily about six men, all, to one degree or another, adventurous, seeking fame, glory, wealth in varying proportions. The six were from six different countries: Sweden, Britain, Germany, France, United States and Japan.

The book commences with an excellent chapter on the "Silk Road" that once spanned Asia, from Sian, in China, all the way to Rome. Of course, there was more than one road through Central Asia. Legendary cities like Samarkand and Bokara were on it, as well as Balkh, in present day Afghanistan. The road went through Palmyra, in present day Syria, ending the overland portion at the Mediterranean ports of Antioch or Tyre. At the time it was utilized, it was not known by that name; rather it was a term coined in the 19th Century by the German scholar, Baron Ferdinand von Richthofen. The cities along the Silk Road, as well as China itself, achieved the apogee of glory and prosperity after Rome fell, during the Tang Dynasty (618-907).
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
By Mish
Format:Kindle Edition
A nice book from a nice author - i read The Great Game on paperback then bought Foreign Devils on the Silk Road on the kindle. Have to say this is not a book for the kindle - you cannot zoom in on the maps like you would if you had a pdf.And seeing the map, the region as it was is a part of the experience. Buy the paperback version,not the Kindle version.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating and highly interesting reading 27 Feb 2013
I have been fascinated by the cities along the Silk Road following a recent exhibition held in Brussels about the Chinese part and further to my trip through Uzbekistan where I inevitably winded up on its traces. Yet I didn't have an overall picture, especially since we generally talk about "The" Silk Road while in reality there are many - although all are intertwined to reach east or west one way or another.

"Foreign Devils on the Silk Road" is subtitled "The Search for the Lost Treasures of Central Asia" - how appropriate! In his book, Peter Hopkirk, collects and summarizes the handful of expeditions made over less than thirty years. Basically Central Asia was shared by Tsarist Russia and the British Empire because of their presence in India.

The very first westerner to set out in the inhospitable Desert of Taklamakan was the Swede Sven Hedin, a scientific explorer, fluent in seven languages who visited the area in 1895 and in1899. Although he was neither a historian nor an archeologist, but a trained geographer and cartographer, his meticulous studies turned out to be very useful for the brave explorers who followed.

Next arrived Aurel Stein, a Hungarian born orientalist who became British citizen. He hit a soft spot in my heart because he was fascinated by the campaigns and travels of Alexander the Great, spending much of his early years retracing Alexander's routes and battlefields, and eventually his legacy in Central Asia. Stein started his fruitful and daring explorations of the Taklamakan Desert in 1900. One his most exciting finds in my eyes is for instance the wooden tablets with clay seals with figures of Pallas Athena and other Greek deities, but this is only the tip of the iceberg of his fertile harvest, of course.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A boys' own adventure story of daring adventurers racing about ...
A boys' own adventure story of daring adventurers racing about in the remote deserts, outwitting authorties as well as each other, imperturbable and stiff upper-lipped when facing... Read more
Published 19 days ago by Ms Katalin M Svehla
4.0 out of 5 stars silk road
This is the story of a number of obsessive men,from various countrys, who between 1880-1930 scoured the Taklanmakan area of western China for mauscripts, frescoes,ceramics,statues... Read more
Published 1 month ago by G. I. Forbes
5.0 out of 5 stars History comes alive!
For those who suffered under boring teachers of history....Welcome to a writer who makes history come alive with superb writing, well crafted scenes filled with tension, suspense... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Elizabeth Averill
5.0 out of 5 stars gripping read
This was my first introduction to Peter Hopkirk, I realise that I have been missing out. He is a fabulous writer, bringing plenty of drama to this telling of the incredibly... Read more
Published 4 months ago by J O
5.0 out of 5 stars A Silk Road gem
Its not an easy to sit down and read book and nor should it be considering what a vastly rich history the area has. Read more
Published 6 months ago by DustBowl
5.0 out of 5 stars Hopkirk at his best.
Another excellent book by Hopkirk. Ties in superbly with his other publications on 'The Great Game'. Read more
Published 8 months ago by S. C. Liston
5.0 out of 5 stars Totally Absorbing!
Brilliantly written account of The Silk Road, the players, the intrigue, the history and exploits. It arrested attention from the beginning to the very end, and has awaken an... Read more
Published 12 months ago by Anon
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic
I bought this book after reading many cities on the Silk Road from various points in other history from as early as reading about Persia up until the modern day. Read more
Published 14 months ago by L Hazell
4.0 out of 5 stars Hopkirk does Indiana Jones....
This is classic Peter Hopkirk ground. Once again he has uncovered an interesting piece of lost History and shone a torch on this area to illustrate the lost age of gentlemen... Read more
Published 16 months ago by peter upton
4.0 out of 5 stars Very enjoyable read
Often history books are hard going, this wasn't one of those.....

Very informative though written in a style which told a story rather than just delivered facts and... Read more
Published 19 months ago by Amazon Customer
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