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Shadow of the Silk Road Paperback – 4 Oct 2007

4.2 out of 5 stars 51 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (4 Oct. 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099437228
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099437222
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 2.4 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 30,861 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


"It is hard to think of a better travel book written this century" (The Times)

"Shadow of the Silk Road is a work of boundless riches. Every paragraph carries a captivating phrase...offering up an understanding of our world today that is as immediate as tomorrow's news, yet infinitely profound" (Craig Brown Mail on Sunday)

"One of Thubron's great strengths is his compassion...his shimmering prose creates a wonderful book, so multilayered that, when I reached the end, I wanted to read it all over again" (Sunday Times)

"Rich in humour, compassion and history, another confirmation, if any more were needed, that Thubron is the pre-eminent travel writer of his generation" (Sunday Telegraph)

"A poetic volume - interesting, shocking and deeply engaging, the work of a mature writer at the top of his game" (Sara Wheeler Daily Telegraph)

Book Description

Colin Thubron has been described as 'one of the two or three best living travel writers, in some ways probably the best' - Independent

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
If your experience of travel writing is mainly the likes of Bill Bryson, Tony Hawks and Michael Palin, this is something totally different. Colin Thubron is almost intimidatingly intelligent and perceptive. He does not patronise the reader but assumes you are as intelligent as he is, and he wants to share what he is seeing and hearing. As he speaks many languages and seems to have the gift of picking up a little of each new language as he hears it, he has a lot to report, and he does so clearly and accurately (so far as I can tell). There are few, if any, of the "humourously colourful locals" found in other travel books, partly because I think Thubron respects people's dignity too much to laugh at them in this way. He is, perhaps, part of a previous generation of travel writers, which I do not consider a bad thing.

Like the best travel books you will learn about the geography and topography of the areas Thubron travels through, you will learn something about the locals he meets on his travels, and about the history of each place he visits as he passes through. One revelation for me (perhaps others were already aware) was that the silk route was seldom travelled from end to end; most merchants traded with the next towns in each direction. It was through a relay that goods passed from merchant to merchant, from Antioch to Beijing, and beyond in each case. Thus the Romans in the West had no idea of China, while the Chinese had no idea of the Roman empire. By the end of the book the reader will have some idea of both cultures, and those between. You will also have some idea of the people on the silk road today; they may not be what you expect from those countries.

A journey with Thubron through the medium of this book is a delight, but you will need to think at times. A journey at his side in reality might be stressfull because I would worry about falling short of his expectations of me. I would still sign up tomorrow.
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Format: Hardcover
For those who like in-depth accounts of epic journeys, this book is perfect. No Bryson of Palin-style humour here, rather a serious traveller of the old-school, who does it the hard way, pushing into remote, forbidding regions, taking risks in a way which suggests he has given up on life itself, Colin Thubron provides us with adventure by proxy, and draws us into his travels, making us feel we are catching glimpses of places no Westerner has visited before. It goes without saying that Thurbron writes well. This is literate travel writing which does not attempt to woo the reader with humour or pointless anecdotes. Every word is there for a purpose, and this is a book to be read slowly and savoured.

The journey is fascinating. Through northern China, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, then through Iran and into Turkey, we visit places which are definitely off the tourist trail. Thubron had to work hard to get past border posts and pushed his luck with renegade officials to a startling degree, in order to get into the heart of tribal lands, where the reader feels he will find it hard to leave in one piece. His descriptions of landscape are magnificent - we can feel the desolation of the Gobi desert, and he uses more adjectives to describe mountain ranges than I would have thought possible. We read of the time of change which has come to these lands, but frankly, this is nothing new for them, for Thubron tells us of their troubled pasts, with marauding armies constantly laying waste and altering boundaries until the rise of the next dispensation. The people he describes seem to have survived constant massacre and genocide, and yet retained their culture, their language and their physical characteristics.
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Format: Hardcover
Esoteric history and contemporary hardship merge as the grandmaster of travel literature mesmerises with this wondrous account of his 7,000 mile journey along the route of the 'Silk Road', through China, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan, Iran and Turkey.

With the likes of affable everyman Michael Palin, undemanding bestseller Bill Bryson and promising first-time writers such as Daniel Kalder adding these days to the swelling ranks of travel literature, it is always a joy to be reminded of the unrivalled proficiency demonstrated by the old-school masters of the genre. Wilfred Thesiger and Bruce Chatwin are no longer with us, Paul Theroux seems now to have turned his hand to novels; the aging Eric Newby, I daresay, has had his day. But there remains an author who is still very much at the top of his game yet avoids the mediocrity of the mainstream.

In alternating every few years between a travel book and a novel, Colin Thubron, in his relative longevity, riveting choice of destination and theme, has proven himself to be not merely a superior travel writer, but perhaps the very best still left. Using the established device of fact-based present to frame and extrapolate historical and scholarly past, in Shadow of the Silk Road, his first travel book since 1999's In Siberia, Thubron has produced a magnificently multilayered and consistently fascinating piece of work.

History, archaeology and mythology are interspersed with accounts of encounter, simple meals, poverty and peasant life; off-the-cuff, revelatory chats with old friends, farmers and daydreamers, as Thubron wends his way from China to Turkey, posing as journalist, then historian, in explaining his presence to suspicious bureaucrats and wary locals.
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