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Mapping the Silk Road and Beyond

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Richard Pflederer reviews a visual chronicle charting the history of Europe’s discovery of lands to the east.

Mapping the Silk Road and Beyond
Kenneth Nebenzahl
Phaidon Press  176 pp  £29.95  
ISBN 0 7148 4409 8
 
In the early geographical awakening of the Classical Mediterranean period, the mysterious East was mostly a concept, a faraway paradise, an ideal. Nonetheless, from that time forward and for at least two millennia, Asia has held a fascination for Europe. This book by Kenneth Nebenzahl helps us understand why. Asia, source for precious and rare commodities, birthplace of major religions and home to strange civilisations on the other side of the world, became the subject of fantastic myth and, for an intrepid few, the destination of a lifetime.
 
Nebenzahl has chosen historical maps to tell his story, and an appropriate choice this was. A map is probably the most dense medium for conveying geographic, political, religious and economic information; and the author is a specialist in the field of ancient maps.
 
The book is roughly organised chronologically, starting with a description of classical and medieval concepts, then covering the European explorations of the East, the imperial phases of the major European powers, the Asian kingdoms which successfully avoided colonisation, and finally the exploration of the northernmost edges of East Asia.
 

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