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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The End of the Road
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...
Published on 19 Nov. 2009 by Gs-trentham

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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars You lose out on the maps when you purchase it in the Kindle format. Buy the paperback version!
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.
Published on 28 Sept. 2011 by Mish


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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The End of the Road, 19 Nov. 2009
By 
Gs-trentham - See all my reviews
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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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39 of 40 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars This book is costing me money!!, 7 May 2003
By 
Mark Eadie (Beijing, Beijing China) - See all my reviews
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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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Great Game...of "archeology"... or "banditry"..., 16 Mar. 2012
By 
John P. Jones III (Albuquerque, NM, USA) - See all my reviews
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... 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).

Hopkirk is a master of his material, and tells the story with verve. He starts with Sven Hedin, a Swede, who sided with Germany in both World Wars, despite his partial Jewish heritage. Even though most of the six had links to museums, most archeologists today would be unlikely to honor any with the expression: "founding fathers of archeology." Mainly they came for the treasures, extracted them as expeditiously as possible, with reckless disregard to their provenance. The focus was on manuscripts and paintings that were light enough to be carried in camel caravans back to their museums. Naturally there were serious rivalries between the groups of adventurers, which Hopkirk aptly sums up by quoting Sir Mortimer Wheeler: "Archaeology is not a science, it is a vendetta."

The author also covers the familiar arguments of the time, that still resonate today, in essence: Does the British Museum have a right to retain the Elgin Marble frescos because if they had been left in their native country, they would have been destroyed? More relevantly, since the publication of this book, there was the example of the Taliban iconoclasts destroying the ancient Buddhist statues at Bamiyan. Hopkirk discusses Taliban "ancestors" who would deface human images if they were unearthed in archeological digs. The author does attempt to fairly present the many contradictions involved in the endeavor, since so many museums simply lack the space to properly display the treasures. Hopkirk says: "...one cannot help feeling that he merely dug them up in China only to see them buried again in Bloomsbury. There is a strong case, it could be argued, for a museum returning to the country of origin all antiquities - like these- which it has no prospect of putting on display."

Central Asia was once the ultimate symbol for remoteness: Shangri-La. Due to the efforts of primarily one man, now departed, many Western countries have had an intense interest in the region for more than a decade. This book provides a vital perspective on the antecedents. 5-stars.
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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. By the time he returned to Britain, it became clear that an entirely new civilization had evolved in the very heart of Central Asia.

Soon it were the Germans who set out in an expedition in 1904 to be led by Albert Grünwelde. Unfortunately he fell ill and was replaced by Albert von Le Coq, a most capable man, much to Grünwelde's dismay as he wanted to reap all the honors. The French were late to show up in Central Asia (1906), simply because they had been busy in Indo-China's jungle where they discovered the unique site of Angkor. Paul Pelliot was a linguistic genius, speaking thirteen languages including Chinese (which none of his predecessors mastered). This knowledge was highly appreciated by the locals and opened many doors otherwise locked. The Japanese were among the strangest diggers, sending two scholar-monks in 1908 financed by a certain Count Otani in Kyoto. They were generally seen as spies although nothing could be proved. The Russians, in spite of their priority location only made occasional incursions of no consequence. The very last visitors were the Americans in 1923, with the orientalist Langdon Warren who discovered a lost part of the Chinese Wall. By 1925 the free-for-all to take in this meanwhile well mapped desert was all over, the first hostilities between China and Britain exploded. China closed all doors to foreign visitors.

To make this story complete, Peter Hopkirk has followed the road taken by the vast quantities of colorful wall-paintings, gorgeous sculptures, precious manuscripts and other artifacts from the Silk Road. In fact they are scattered among many different museums worldwide. Hedin's collection have found a place in the Ethnographical Museum of Stockholm, while Pelliot's artifacts are exhibited at the Guimet Museum in Paris. Stein's treasures were generally split between the National Museum in Delhi and the British Museum in London. The German collection gathered by von Le Coq got its own museum in Berlin, unfortunately heavily bombed by the allied during WW2 destroying the biggest fresco's that had been cemented in its walls. Smaller frescos, other artifacts and manuscripts could luckily be saved and are now part of the largest and most imaginative display at the Dahlem Museum in Berlin. On the third place comes the Japanese collection that originally was kept at Count Otani's villa, but was later partially sold. A selection of the treasure ended up in Seoul, packed in the storerooms of the National Museum. Another part travelled to Manchuria from where it was probably removed by the Russians in 1955 when they handed this land back to China. Some pieces however are on display at the Tokyo National Museum. Finally and as a matter of course, The Hermitage in St Petersburg has its own display of the Silk Road treasures spread over eight rooms.

It is amazing how much information has been gathered in this relatively small book, for the story is not complete yet. There is a special chapter dedicated to the early discoveries of manuscripts written in previously unknown languages and found accidentally by local treasure hunters. These documents among which fifty-one birch-bark leaves made their way to Calcutta and were found to be written in Sanskrit using the Brahmi alphabet in the 5th century. This made it one of the oldest written works to survive anywhere. A vivid interest from western scholars set a machinery in motion to find more of such manuscripts. There was money to be made and local forgers discovered that they could get away with their loads of faked manuscripts, even inventing unknown characters. To increase their production they didn't refrain from using block printing. Some orientalists accepted these documents as originals, but Stein was one of the skeptics and he got to the bottom of the story, exposing the mastermind. A good deed that was not fully accepted by those who strongly believed they would be the first to decipher this new "unknown" language. Yet, all the news was not bad, for eventually the long-lost language of Khotanese was discovered.

Today the manuscripts from the Silk Road are divided between the British Library (Chinese, Sogdian, Uighur and Tangut works) and the India Office in London (Tibetan, Sanskrit and Khotanese). The thirteen thousand Chinese manuscripts and books are now neatly stored on the shelves of the British Library, an honorary place I would say.

After reading about this history of the Silk Road, the Taklamakan Desert and Central Asia in general it is hard not to be interested to dig any further. It certainly has sharpened my interest!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Read, 26 Nov. 2012
By 
S. Smith "susanthims" (Scotland) - See all my reviews
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I'm particulary interested in this area (the Gobi and Taklamakan deserts and surrounding area) so I enjoyed this. The book deals with the various explorers who went to Central Asia to dig up and remove artifacts and objects to put into museums in Germany, the UK, France etc. These items did belong to the Chinese and also should remain in situ to preserve the past? But in such a turbulent area at war with itself, conflicting religions and neglect destroyed those pieces which were left there, so who is right? Its not really right to remove items such as these from cities buried in sand centuries ago, but if you don't retrieve them and put them in museums in controlled atmosphere where they can be seen, nothing is gained either, so its a conflict, but some of the tactics used by the explorers to gain access to manuscripts and then remove them to Europe are controvertial to say the least. That said, these intrepid early explorers went through great personal suffering in hostile areas not designed for human habitation in order to bring these pieces to where they can be seen and they deserve credit for that.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rivetting, 2 Dec. 2012
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This is the first of Peter Hopkirk's books that I read. I so enjoyed the reading style that I have since read all his books. Not only the style, but the content is of great interest. Having travelled on the edge of the area, I have developed and interest in central asian history. I knew of Sven Hedin and his travels, but I learnt of so many more characters that have played such an important part in the understanding of the ancient history and culture of the region. The fact that Aurel Stein and others could cart away tons and tons of ancient artifacts is extraordinary. How sad that when it was clear that there was a market for manuscripts and historic things that the sites should be plundered and pillaged, split up for quick money - but that's the way of the world, I suppose.

The book is well written, it flows through in a sequential manner and is easy and compulsive reading. What a great book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic, 27 Jun. 2013
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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. The book is very thorough in it detail and gives you a sense of the hardship and friendships built up over time. I was very sad to hear the story of Dash dying from a broken heart and later on how many of the heroes become relatively unknown and passing away in to obscurity along with the great bazaars and outpost of the glorious empires that once bordered each other in the region. I really couldn't put it down and read it very fast and would definitely recommend it to any one who is interested in Central Asia history from European Empires pioneers and real life Indiana Jones.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hopkirk at his best., 13 Dec. 2013
By 
S. C. Liston "scott" (UK) - See all my reviews
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Another excellent book by Hopkirk. Ties in superbly with his other publications on 'The Great Game'. He is definitely on the scholarly side of writing but still produces a good readable book. Well annotated with references etc. He opens up the world of Central Asia in a time now gone, much of what he has to say will take the new reader on this topic by surprise, it is a tale of great adventure and considerable danger. Such journeys must only be undertaken by thorough going upright gentlemen who understand the art of survival against all odds.
Not a classic thriller but worth the time and effort. It will even leave you with the feeling that you have learned something. I definitely enjoyed it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars History comes alive!, 15 May 2014
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This review is from: Foreign Devils on the Silk Road: The Search for the Lost Treasures of Central Asia (Kindle Edition)
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 and accuracy. If history was taught in the classroom like Hopkirk writes it, no one would dare to label history as boring again! Treat yourself to a SPLENDID read!
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4.0 out of 5 stars Hopkirk does Indiana Jones...., 5 May 2013
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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 adventurers, declining empires, the Great Game and heroes and villains. The book concerns itself with the Temples and lost cities of the Silk Road, the search for ancient statues, manuscripts and the men who sought them. From Auriel Stein to others there are tales of remarkable bravery and stoicism all layered with excellent description but he stays away from any real discussion on the morality. Did they save these treasures from being destroyed by the cultural revolution or the passage of time or were they basically rich looters...

The book is an easy and rewarding read
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