Peter Frankopan—The Silk Roads: A New History of the World
A pan-Eurasian history. The first half is especially strong, ranging from ancient times through the fall of Rome and Byzantium, through the Renaissance. Instead of focusing just on Europe, Frankopan gives proper attention to central Asian nomads, the pre- and post-Mohammed Arab world, Russia, and India and China. Moreover, he emphasizes their interconnectedness. Each was influenced by all the others, and they all acted to enrich and impoverish each other.
The book falls apart in the second half, focusing almost exclusively on colonialism and energy geopolitics. Frankopan’s sudden switch from a pluralistic to a hyper-materialistic focus excludes the more interesting, and ultimately more important forces of culture, interconnectedness, openness versus nationalism, and peace and trade versus war and protectionism. These forces, not newspaper summaries and phone call transcripts from the Iran-Contra scandal, are what will guide Eurasia’s fortunes in the centuries to come.
The first half of this book alone is worth the price of admission, but readers are best served by putting the book down when it reaches the 19th century or so.