Felipe Fernández-Armesto

From the Black Sea to Xinjiang

The Silk Roads: A New History of the World

By

Bloomsbury 614pp £25 order from our bookshop
 

In everything except husbands, and especially in literature, my wife’s tastes are exacting. I have devoted years to the effort of crafting an opening sentence good enough to get her to read on.

‘May I,’ I asked experimentally, ‘read you the opening of Peter Frankopan’s new book, to see what you think of it?’ My audience disposed herself attentively. ‘From the beginning of time,’ I started (at this point my wife fled from the vacuous cliché, while I read on, calling after her in crescendo), ‘the centre of Asia was where empires were made.’

Few opening sentences are so slack and unreflective. Even on the shaky assumptions that time had a beginning and that the centre of Asia is an identifiable location, no empires were made there, or anywhere else, for the first thirteen billion years

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