Book reviews / History

Book review: The Silk Roads

The Silk Roads by Peter Frankopan was a really fascinating read and I enjoyed so many aspects of the book.

The thesis of the book is to re-centre history in Central Asia, away from the dominance of Europe in world history. It’s covers a huge swathe of history, from ancient times right up to modern day. The most momentous aspects of history are turned on their head and shown from the perspective of Central Asia.

I enjoyed the first three quarters of the book the most, if only because they were less known and all less full of modern wars and colonialism. It was an absolutely fascinating examination of empires that have only appeared in the periphery of my education and reading habits. There were hints though that I’d find slightly more troubling the more I knew about a particular era though. Many of the connections felt a bit too convenient, in a way that you know someone is using the best examples to construct an argument, without wider contextualisation that might make it appear less convincing, which makes you question the whole thesis a bit.

The last chapter was also somewhat unconvincing, if only because of my slowly accumulating knowledge about economic development and growth. He makes the argument that the importance of the silk roads are returning and cites lots of despotic growth in Central Asian countries. But this isn’t normal growth, big fancy building built by oligarch’s oil money doesn’t mean these countries are somehow going to eclipse the wealth of Europe and other democratic countries.

As he points out in earlier chapters, these unequal arrangements tend not to last long and usually end with the fall of the leaders and some turbulence. If inequalities are too huge, things change, and right now there’s a lot of inequalities in these regions. Also it just seemed a bit to roseate without a critique of the inherent undemocratic nature of some of these places.

But I’d still recommend reading it, but with the thought in the back of your mind going “wow interesting fact, but maybe there’s something else that might explain something of this…”

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