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The Road to Oxiana (Penguin Classics) [Paperback]

Robert Byron , Colin Thubron
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
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Book Description

5 July 2007 Penguin Classics

A real-life adventure that inspired countless travellers in fact and fiction, the Penguin Classics edition of Robert Byron's The Road to Oxiana includes an introduction by Colin Thubron.

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.

Robert Byron (1905-41) was born in 1905, and educated at Eton and Merton College, Oxford. He died during the Second World War, when the ship he was serving on was torpedoed by a U-Boat off Cape Wrath. Byron's The Road to Oxiana is considered by many modern travel writers to be the first example of great travel writing.

If you enjoyed The Road to Oxiana you might like Charles Darwin's The Voyage of the Beagle, also available in Penguin Classics.

'The greatest of all pre-war travel books'

William Dalrymple

'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

'In any list of the great travel books of the 20th century, Robert Byron's account of his travels in Persia and Afghanistan, The Road to Oxiana, must be put somewhere near the very top'


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Product details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics (5 July 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141442093
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141442099
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 12.7 x 2.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 37,752 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


related to Lord Byron. He attended Eton and Merton College, Oxford, and wrote several travel books before his untimely death in 1941, while serving as a correspondenBook Review

About the Author

Robert Byron was born in 1905, and educated at Eton and Merton College, Oxford. He died in 1941, during the Second World War, when the ship he was serving on was torpedoed by a U-Boat off Cape Wrath. Byron's The Road to Oxiana is considered by many modern travel writers to be the first example of great travel writing.

Award-winning travel writer and novelist Colin Thubron was born in London on 14 June 1939. Among his books are Mirror to Damascus (1967), The Hills of Adonis: A Quest in Lebanon (1968), Jerusalem (1969), The Lost Heart of Asia (1994) and In Siberia (1999). Colin Thubron is a regular contributor and reviewer for magazines and newspapers including The Times, The Times Literary Supplement and the Spectator. He lives in London.

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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An eye opener in every way 15 Sep 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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37 of 39 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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4 of 4 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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Afghanistan before it was destroyed 17 April 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book was written before WWII by a well-educated man who delighted in everything he saw. It should be essential reading for the younger generation, who have only been able to learn from the last thirty years of foreign invasion and destruction that the Afghans are fierce fighters who live in primitive circumstances. In fact, Afghan civilization is much older than ours in Europe. When Robert Byron travelled there, many ancient monuments could still be found and their age-old customs of civility and hospitality could still be enjoyed. Road to Oxiana may well be an instructive, eye-opening read. It is also totally delightful, beautifully written and often very funny.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
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 days 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 1 month ago by MR D R GREEN
5.0 out of 5 stars The Road to Oxiana
A classic of travel writing! Written in diary form, it takes you on a journey through 1930s Iran and Afghanistan with Byron and his companion, Sykes.
Published 2 months ago by Rob Jenkins
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant
A delightful 'history of travel writing' read as it's about an area that's now so changed it's unrecognisable. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Peter Fine
4.0 out of 5 stars Another way to walk in the footsteps of Alexander the Great
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... Read more
Published 8 months ago by Argyraspid
3.0 out of 5 stars A variation on "The Grand Tour"...
The term "The Grand Tour" is primarily associated with the British upper-class, from the 17th Century onward, members of which would take year-long tours, or more, on "The... Read more
Published on 21 April 2011 by John P. Jones III
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