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on 13 August 2002
Bizarre reviews from the people who are down on this book - this is a wonderful read! Brilliant the way Milton has managed to get into places that others haven't, his description of his time at St Catherine's, Sinai, for example, is a revelation, and nobody reading this book could have doubts that Mandeville should be taken much more seriously than in the last hundred years. Milton appears to be able to get into places, and people's lives, in ways that others don't, and whilst this is a series of travellers tales, it very cleverly follows, and casts light on, Mandeville's life and travels. I found it particularly informative (and very moving) when describing the early church and it's numerous splits, schismatics and heresies, and their relationship with Islam; the way Milton sought out, and had conversations with, last survivors of these early times is just wonderful. At it's best, a really breathtaking book.
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on 12 November 2010
I have to admit that having seen the lower reviews and the higher reviews, I am fairly sure the former missed the point and the latter.........well, they evidently couldn't bring themselves to rate this book lower.

I have read a few of Giles Milton books and been very impressed with the effort he puts into each one. The others are carefully crafted accounts of points and people in history that have been ignored, and he injects some interest into each one. Big Chief Elizabeth, White Gold and Samurai William are unmissable.

This book concerns the travels of a Knight of the 1300s (Sir John Mandeville), but although the Knight wrote his own account of his 30+ years of travel at the time, it has widely been discounted as a tissue of lies since. So Milton sets out on a quest to prove or disprove the truth. Did the Knight actually go to the places he said.

And therein lies the problems - it's a travel book basically with accounts of his own travels woven in with the path of the knight. And some of the travel sections are well worthy of a five star rating, but that's not what the book is supposed to be about. Add to that that Milton appears grievously injured to admit Mandeville was a liar - it is possible he just crossed the channel in the 1300s, and sat in France reading books and accounts by others who HAD been there as some of his accounts are lifted from other tales.

You get the feeling Milton set out with a publisher's advance, travelled around and soon realised he hadn't got the book he expected, so he padded it out with his own travels, and the truth is that, yes, as one Five Star Reviewer stated, the section on his stay at the St Catherine's monastery in the Sinai IS worthy of Five Stars. In fact, you begin to wonder why at that point he just didn't toss Mandeville to one side and write about that. The accounts of them finding 4th to 9th century bibles is worthy of a book alone.

Instead you get many accounts of visits to places where Milton interviews locals (a surprising number who seem to either speak English or are English), where his sole objective seems to be tracking down someone who will finally say, "Sir John Mandeville? Oh yes. My great, great, great, great, great (etc) grandfather knew him well." Not gonna happen, is it?

He also tries to combine Sir John Mandeville's accounts with his own views, but seven hundred years of change and also the fact that Mandeville was more interested in the local wine...............

I think after almost 700 years his optimism was a little displaced. And so you get a book that is part travel journal (interesting) and part history (interesting) but the two never really gel. I can only give you the impression of someone walking the Battle of Bosworth field and talking to residents in the nearby village hoping for some insight into Richard III. The history has gone.

Worth buying? Yes, if you can get it well under a fiver. Otherwise unless you are a Milton fanatic this is NOT the definitive work on Sir John Mandeville. That will need someone who is maybe prepared to admit the guy NEVER went where he said.

Frankly this is one of the few books I have read where I have got to the end and strongly disagreed with the author - I don't think Sir John Mandeville went anywhere near where he said.
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VINE VOICEon 13 April 2002
John Mandeville's writing of 1370 proved pivotal in the flurry of exploration that followed in the wake of 1492. His assertion that the world was a globe (flying in the face of accepted dogma) and that it was possible to travel by sea to the Far East, was THE incentive that drove the expeditions of hundreds of explorers and merchants.
Later, the book was ridiculed as hokum, but Giles Milton felt there were enough grains of truth in the manuscript to warrant more research, which he does in his usual comprehensive manner.
The result is a very readable unravelling of the mystery, shrouded as it was by the interfering pens of earlier 'editors'. Given the extent of the tinkering, we may never know the truth behind the 'Travels', but Mr milton uncovers enough evidence to show that Mandeville almost certainly DID travel to the Levant, but casts doubt on the veracity of his claims to have travelled to the Far East. The latter is understandably not well-researched, given the ambiguity of the literary data and lack of physical evidence, so only 4 stars.
However, in South America 300 years later, Drake describes strange people with almost identical characteristics to Mandeville's 'imaginary' creatures - are we being swayed by modern interpretations of medieval descriptions? We may never know, but this uncertainty and the nuggets of truth unearthed by Mr Milton's research in the Middle-East prompted me to order a copy of the 'Travels', so I could judge for myself whether Mandeville was an early Munchausen or a true visionary.
A worthwhile read to stimulate your imagination.
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on 9 January 2007
Like many of you, my adoration of the novels of Giles Milton started with 'Big Chief Elizabeth' and then through his better known books, and you don't need me to describe their brilliance here. So it was a bought this book, and found it a world away from the others.

The problem is, you are expecting a ripping yarn, but all this book tells of is the authors own quest in search of John Mandeville, and his own researches into the subject. It is almost a diary of his own investigations into the subject. It would be a shame if readers stumbled upon this book first, and be put off Milton for life.

At least there is one good thing to come out of it, his subsequent writing was so much superior, as he learnt from his poor approach in this book. Don't be disheartened if this is the first Milton book you come across, I guarantee any of the others will be enjoyable.
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VINE VOICEon 1 October 2008
This book falls rather heavily between two stools, it isn't an incident packed travel book, a la Redmond O'Hanlon, where the author encounters memorable characters in a modern day recreation of Sir John's famous journey; Nor is it a straight history book, investigating Mandeville's life and works.

Either of these approaches would have been quite legitimate but Milton never seems to decide what kind of book he is writing.

For me, the parts of the book, mainly at its end, where Giles Milton discusses the literary and cultural influence of his subject are the most interesting. Perhaps more of this, and a more detailed study of Sir John's writings, could have replaced some of the rather aimless wanderings in Sir John's footsteps.

It is never made clear what "Riddle" is referred to in the title of the book, but it is safe to say it is not solved by the author.
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VINE VOICEon 23 January 2013
Legend has it that Sir John Mandeville was a medieval knight who travelled the world in the 14th century and wrote a book about his 34-year-long journey, called The Travels. Regarded as the father of English literature until the Victorian age and then labelled a fraud, journalist Giles Milton sets out to discover how much (or if any) of the historical accounts of towns, monasteries and people is actually true and verifiable.

First I have to say that the blurb is, in my opinion, slightly misleading: the claim that the book reveals The Travels to be built on "a series of riddles which have, until now, remained unsolved" makes it sound more sensationalist than it really is, probably in an attempt to attract more readers. The accurate description of the author's following in the footsteps of a forgotten medieval knight, pilgrim and traveller to separate truth from fiction doesn't sound quite so enticing. I have to admit that I probably had something like the riddles in Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code in mind when I bought it, but it's nothing like it. This is a traveller's guide to Constantinople, Cyprus, Syria, Jerusalem and the Sinai Desert in Egypt, both in the present and in Sir John's day. Giles Milton gives us an amusing and engaging tour of these holy sites, managing to bring the past back to life when comparing it with Mandeville's detailed written accounts. Impeccably researched, this reads like a literary detective story and has a few important points to make in calling for religious tolerance besides. The real eye-opener was contained within the epilogue, detailing what far-reaching consequences a slim volume of travel accounts by a long-forgotten knight has had on the entire world. Giles Milton has achieved to clear Sir John Mandeville's name, and it deserves to be more widely known. By publishing this book, the author has undertaken the first step towards achieving it.
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on 8 July 2005
I don't understand why some people rate this book a poor read compared to his other books, which are excellent. It is different, since much of it is written in the first person. However, this allows us to follow the writer during his research, which is all to the good. Don't be put off !
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on 24 January 2015
I have a bit of a like/dislike thing for this author in that some of his works I've really enjoyed (Samurai William), others (White Gold, Nathaniel's Nutmeg) not.

Falling into the latter category, for me the main problem with this book is it concentrates less on Sir Mandeville and more on Giles Milton as he follows in Mandeville's footsteps though stopping short of China and Indonesia. Then there is the matter of is it a travelogue OR is it a history book? A combination that can (and does) of course work well, just not in this instance.

Whilst the author's enthusiasm for his subject shines through I'm afraid in many ways I felt The Riddle And The Knight took a superficial glimpse into the life and travels of Mandeville, his seemingly finding a British monk to talk with on the matter wherever he found himself somewhat dubious. Still, on a positive note it did whet my appetite, leaving me wanting to find out more about the intrepid knight who may or may not have circumnavigated the globe.

Copyright: Tracy Terry @ Pen and Paper.
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on 3 March 2014
I found Giles Milton's travels in search of Mandeville woven between rare discoveries utterly fascinating (and very well written). I don't understand the low star reviewers - Milton HAS to travel to all these places to unravel Mandeville's book...(called The Travels). He has to relate meeting the people he meets. He has to have the experiences he has (and share them) because these aspects are all important parts of the story. By that I mean the WHOLE story...not just Milton's story, but Mandeville's story and the purpose of Mandeville's book (which has to do with perspective - how we see ourselves and how we see others - who's history is correct? What is truth? These are all woven into the background of Milton's journey). Without going to these places in person Milton might never have come to understand what the Victorians (who consigned Mandeville to the rubbish bin of history) couldn't see - the point of Mandeville's book. This book is about one man's hunt for treasure - the treasure of knowledge and understanding of being able to see the bigger picture.
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on 17 January 2002
In response to existing reviews, I found this book both interesting and amusing. I have not read John Mandevilles account of his travels, but having read Giles Miltons book, I will certainly look out for it. The book itself contains many interesting and informative sections - I found the one on Jerusalem particularly good, descriptive and thought-provoking. The author involves the reader both in his quest to retrace Sir Johns steps and in his motivation to do so. I was inspired to read this book by Giles Miltons Nathaniel's Nutmeg and Big Chief Elizabeth which I also enjoyed - it did not disappoint ! If you enjoyed these books, try the Riddle and the Knight also. Giles Milton has an easy to read style which interests and entertains.
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