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The Road to Oxiana (Penguin Classics) [Kindle Edition]

Robert Byron , Colin Thubron
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)

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Book Description

In 1933 Robert Byron began a journey through the Middle East via Beirut, Jerusalem, Baghdad, and Teheran to Oxiana--the country of the Oxus, the ancient name for the river Amu Darya which forms part of the border between Afghanistan and the Soviet Union. The Road to Oxiana offers not only a wonderful record of his adventures, but also a rare account of the architectural treasures of a region now inaccessible to most Western travelers.

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Product Description


"A brilliantly-wrought expression of a thoroughly modern sensibility, a portrait of an accidental man adrift between frontiers" (New York Review of Books)

"The Road to Oxiana is part travelogue, part aesthetic manifesto and part social observation; it remains the most thoroughly readable of all books. And Byron is the ideal companion, witty, charming, irascible, and content to leave and be left alone" (The Times)

"The Road to Oxiana is an informed, somewhat high-flown account of the early Islamic architecture of Persia and Afghanistan wrapped in a comic narrative that ensured a far wider readership... Funny, didactic and biting, Byron's masterpiece transports us across the world and, better still, across the decades to splendidly alien lands" (Independent)

"My favourite travel book is Robert Byron's The Road To Oxiana, which started a new wave of travel writing. I took it on my first trip to Iran. I always take books about the places I'm visiting: I sat in a ruined mosque now populated by sheep and read Byron's wonderful descriptions of it. I think that sowed a seed for the Travel Bookshop" (Sarah Anderson, founder of The Travel Bookshop)

"I love literary travel books and this is the best one in the English language. Scholarly, eccentric and wildly opinionated" (Tudor Parfitt Geographical)

Book Description

'What Ulysses is to the novel between the wars and what The Waste Land is to poetry, The Road to Oxiana is to the travel book.' Paul Fussell, Abroad

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1444 KB
  • Print Length: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (5 July 2007)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B002RI9AJA
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • : Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #128,159 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An eye opener in every way 15 Sept. 2010
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is a wonderful work, well worthy of the full five stars.

Byron's work concerns his travels around the near east and further afield into Persia (as was) and Afghanistan in search of the true origns of Islamic art and architecture. He is keen to seek out what he sees as the more tasteful genuine article, as opposed to the more overwrought, sentimental, Alhambra-like architecture so beloved of those he dismisses as the "Omar Khayam brigade".

In this respect, Byron's work is firmly in the tradition of other scholar-traveller-writers like John Ruskin. As with a book like the latter's "The Stones of Venice", you will find a lot of meticulous and learned descriptions of the buildings that Byron saw along the way. I found myself re-reading a lot of these descriptive passages, since Byron's descriptions are so careful and evocative that it really is possible to picture in your mind's eye what he saw. This is a very welcome feature of the book for me, since with a young family and the political situation being what it is, I am unlikely to be following Byron's footsteps into Iran or Afghanistan anytime soon!

However, it's not just a digest of architectural wonders. The journey through these lands is just as important to this book. Having now read "The Road to Oxiana" I can clearly see why so many respected writers (Chatwin, Leigh Fermor et al) swear by it and why, in its way, the book initiated a quiet revolution in travel writing. It is written in diary form, and his personalised account of his travels and travails is very entertaining. His description of the journey with its mixture of fun and mishaps along the way serve to keep the narrative moving and to frame his descriptions of the art and architecture he goes in search of.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A man that travelled for all the right reasons 21 Aug. 2011
The Road to Oxiana is a heady mix of travelogue, history and... a semi-academic discourse on architectural aesthetics.
OK, so I have to admit that, at very first, the passages on architecture are a very slight chore to read, but Byron's child-like enthusiasm for his subject swept me along until, quite soon, I found myself excited every time a new Kufic script appeared through the throng of the bazaar, or when the author discovers an early example of the squinch.


Before, I had no idea what a squinch even was... and now I notice them supporting London churches and art galleries. Byron artfully and poignantly indicates yet another aspect of the legacy that early Islam and the "Orient" have left for the world; a legacy that is perhaps overlooked.

More importantly, this ability to captivate the reader, irrespective of subject matter, is evidence of a great writer at work. Towards the final pages (tinged with irony and sadness) I felt an uneasy feeling that I was about to say goodbye to a good and interesting friend with whom I had shared an adventure. Byron is foremost an honest writer - there is no self-consciousness of technique here, or contrived attempts to excite. Subtlety most definitely wins the day.

And yes... perhaps he does complain at one point of not having a servant to brew his tea (although I don't remember that bit); and yes, he travels across Asia predominantly by car and truck, but - and you may differ here - I'm not automatically endeared to a travel book by an author having walked through a country (perhaps with an adorable, unexpected mascot thrown in for good measure). I'm not automatically endeared to a travel book by an author having kayaked along the Amazon with a toothpick.
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39 of 41 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A rakish classic 31 May 2008
Byron set out to investigate and explore Islamic architecture but he found himself doing far more. I don't doubt his interest and knowledge on the initial subject matter, but I feel it was mainly an excuse to express his unique perspective on all manner of things.
The narrative takes in the people and places surrounding his quest from Persia through to the Oxiana river in Turkestan (present day Afganistan I think). There is a vast cast of characters breezing in and out of the pages which gives it a real Jazz-age feel. This style is of its time and takes a while for the modern reader to be aquainted with the fractured descriptions. Once you get past this the book rewards you with intense dry humour and witty asides. Byron is at his best when recounting his rakish behaviour e.g - passing himself off as Muslim to enter a Mosque, he is also a master at recording and mocking numerous eccentric conversations.
This book is not really for a general readership, by this I mean if you enjoy those 'picking-olive-blossoms-in-the-Tuscan-breeze' type books you may not get into this. If you like well written classics from the Imperial past like Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene etc you will love this book.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Classic! 4 Jun. 2011
This is quite simply the greatest English travel book of the twentieth century! A beautiful catalogue of fragmented impressions, and a genuine work of art in its own right.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
It does not matter which book I pick for reading, Alexander is always in the back of my mind. This is also the case when I hold The Road to Oxiana by Robert Byron were it only because Alexander the Great spent nearly three years of his short life in Oxiana, corresponding more or less to today's Afghanistan.

Robert Byron travels from Venice, via Jerusalem, Damascus and Bagdad (Iraq) to Persia in 1933 and finally reaches Afghanistan in 1934, keeping a detailed diary of his journey. In those days the King of England, George V, was still emperor of India; Afghanistan was ruled by King Nadir Shah who was assassinated in November 1933 to be succeeded by his 19 years-old son Zahir Shah; the Imperial State of Persia was governed by Reza Shah Pahlavi; meaning that the reader gets a good picture of the peculiar background against which the story evolves.

What captivates me especially is the fact that part of the roads correspond exactly to those followed by Alexander some 2,000 years earlier. The landscape is a commanding factor in antiquity as well as today and the obvious itineraries always follow the same rivers, oasis and towns, skirting the same deserts and mountains, using the same passes and goat-tracks.

Byron is mostly interested in Islamic art and evidently he finds lots of examples along his journey, giving very detailed and lively descriptions, especially in Persia and later in Afghanistan. He often is not allowed to take pictures, so he makes drawings. The way he writes, however, corresponds in a way to drawing with words, stopping at the many discussions with officials as he moves from one stop to the next, generally by lorry but also by car or on horseback.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 1 day ago by Ben WK
4.0 out of 5 stars intersting
fascinating story of a trip from venice to afghanistan set in the thirties in part its fine dining with various govenors and english diplomats but also sleeping in flee infested... Read more
Published 1 month ago by m. dosa
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliantly written, observant of places and people and unexpectedly...
Brilliantly written, observant of places and people and unexpectedly funny. I drove through some the towns in northern Iran and across Afghanistan in 1966 but didn't see all the... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Iain
3.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating without the architectural bits
Very well written and with some very funny observations , but without illustrations or photos - at least in the kindle edition - of the buildings the author lovingly describes... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Mr. D. George
5.0 out of 5 stars Happy customer.
The book is as described. Happy customer.
Published 9 months ago by camila ruiz
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Prompt dispatch
Published 9 months ago by Janie Tate
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
This true story is to say the very least fascinating.
Still today, well worth reading.

Published 11 months ago by A. Thornewill-Traumann
2.0 out of 5 stars Flashman does Persia etc
I know this is a period piece and I know that one must make allowances for this but I just could not finish this book. Read more
Published 13 months ago by Matteo_B
4.0 out of 5 stars A true period piece
The extraordinarily laid back travel arrangements and the resulting fascinating - but often very problematic progress provides glimpses of an area which is highly topical today. Read more
Published 15 months ago by K. Catleugh
4.0 out of 5 stars A classic combining travel social comment and architecture
It's easy to see why this has endured as a remarkable record of a journey made at a time when road travel was far from easy, and the politics of the area - Persia/Afghanistan -... Read more
Published 16 months ago by MR D R GREEN
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