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3.7 out of 5 stars10
3.7 out of 5 stars
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on 24 October 2012
The Silk Road has always been surrounded by a lot of so called history that has made it into something legendary and fascinating but unfortunately far from true. Professor Valerie Hansen has in this book written a new and very captivating story that sets the record straight. After reading this book I have a view of the Silk Road that is very different that I had from just a few days ago.

Professor Hansen use a lot of original and archaeological material. She has also traveled a lot in the area and speaks Chinese. What she presents in this book and in a very logical and pedagogic way is the story of the Silk Road built up piece by piece until we have the full picture. Among the facts that she presents and that at least changes the picture for me is:
- There never was a Silk Road. The Name was invented by a German researcher in 1877. Before that no one used the name "Silk Road"
- There is not one but several "Silk Roads"
- Caravans traveling the The Silk Road were never large. Usually only a few people and a few horses
- Most of the business going on along the road was local and not regional or even international
- China never did trade with the Roman Empire. There has never been found a single Roman coin in China (but a few Byzantine)

There are many more interesting facts. The Book is also filled with interesting personal stories from people traveling the road and it is amazing to read about daily life that even that long ago had great similarities with today. Finally the book is supported by a large number of maps that are an essential tool in the process of understanding the Silk Road.

The only negative thing about the book, and through no fault of Professor Hansen, is that the publisher has made the binding of the book so hard that it is difficult to read the maps in the center of the book without breaking it. It is a minor thing and future releases could easily fix that.

Professor Hansen had produced a truly marvelous piece of work that will probably be the standard for understanding this part of the global history for a long time.
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on 18 October 2013
The Silk Road transformed cultures both east and west. In fact, it was one of the most transformative super highways in human history, one that transmitted ideas, technology and artistic motifs, not simply trade goods.

Unlike many books on the Silk Road, largely based upon art, this one is based upon documents - written records from 200-1000 CE discovered along the route, found on recycled scrap paper, wood, silk, leather and other materials. Paper was such a precious commodity that these pages were recycled as insoles of shoes and paper garments for the dead, among many uses. They were written in numerous languages, including classical Chinese, Sanskrit and other ancient tongues. The documents were recovered by archaeologists, translated and studied.

Given the impact of paper on Western civilization, the author calls this product the most important trade good on the Silk Road. She notes that spices, metal goods and glassware were at least as important as silk. The Silk Road (a term created by a scholar in 1877) was not a literal thoroughfare; it was a metaphor for the complex system of cultural contacts between China and the peoples to the west. The term covered an amorphous network of unmarked paths across vast expanses of desert, mountains, etc. It was not primarily a trade route, though trade was done locally along its paths. While trade was secondary, silk was an important commercial product, used by China as a medium of payment for its troops in frontier areas.

Of the traders who traveled between Central Asia and China, many spoke Sogdian, an Iranian tongue from around Samarkand, one of the major nodes of the network. The author studies the archaeological findings in seven of these nodes. The most compelling source, she finds, is Dunhuang, a cosmopolitan oasis city in Western China with an impressive library of multicultural documents, both religious and secular, secreted in a cave by Buddhist monks and revealed to the world in about 1900.

(A version of this review appeared in the Sep/Oct 2013 issue of Saudi Aramco World magazine.)
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on 26 March 2015
Brilliant. Being almost the most recent book covering this area she brings the subject up to date. At the same time she sticks rigidly to what the documents actually tell us.It doesn't do unsubstantiated flights of fancy!
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on 15 February 2016
This good background stuff but you need to read other volumes to get a better picture
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on 5 March 2016
An interesting new insight into the Silk Road
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on 17 March 2016
This book is small with a poor selection of pints describing the extensive routes of the Silk Road

There are better examples
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on 5 August 2013
Beware if you are ordering this book in August 2013 (or soon after)as Amazon appear to have a faulty batch. Both the original and replacement that I ordered had the same flaw - pages 208-240 are inserted upside down and back-to-front. This would be particularly annoying if you were intending this to be a gift or were simply intending to put it on the shelf to read at a later date. I was so disappointed, as I had been really looking forward to it, having recently been to a lecture on the subject. I have pointed out the error to Amazon, so hope that they will return this batch to the publisher.
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I found this book interesting and informative, very well researched. However, it is also slightly pedestrian and not as exciting as I had hoped.
I would recommend it to all who are genuinely interested in the Silk Road, but I don't think it would light any fires.
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on 2 October 2014
I like it a lot.
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on 1 May 2013
This is an extraordinary work, lavishly illustrated, supported by field research conducted by the author, multi faceted and covering all aspects of the history of life along the trading route including migrations, religious influences, the rise and decline of various tribes all underwritten by the power house of China. Linguists, social scientists, historians, businessmen and the simply curious (like me) will find much to relish between it's covers. So, why not five stars? Why does the author have to stick to the politically correct terms CE and BCE? Does it point to an underlying determination by her to steamroller change that many find reprehensible and does that point to a mindset that may have impacted her conclusions in this scholarly tour de force?
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