Report on the Silk Roads

by Peter Frankopan

Thanks again to Brian for sharing his thoughts in advance. A fine review covering in fine detail aspects which certainly helped stimulate our discussion.

There were mixed, but I think generally favourable reactions to the book as a whole – noting that some were reading it and others having it read to them by a rather poor narrator.

There was a nearly universal sense that expectations going in may have been slightly elevated beyond what could possibly be achieved in such an all encompassing ‘new’ global history. There was a sense that Frankopan was able to illuminate and bring wider awareness to various aspects (quite different for each individual) of broad brush history, there may not have been an overall treatment that was alternative or necessarily innovative.

All I hope did though feel it was worth reading and appreciated having done so … although the test of that remains in seeing whether those who have not yet completed decide to so do.

I return to the side discussion that we raised about listening to rather than reading (the inner voice) the book. Having now heard the narration I cannot but help feel that the choice of a rather flat narrator does the work a disservice – and is particularly questionable given that the author is actually a rather fine orator himself.
There’s no doubt that attempting to craft a new global history is no small undertaking and I think that the marks assigned reflect credit for having successfully undertaken this.

However, despite Frankopan being a good raconteur and spinning a quite readable tale, there is some unevenness in the decisions he took around detail associated with period, events and geography. I thought is seemed more selective than nuanced.
There was a further suggestion that episodically some chapters read almost as separate and isolated treatise in their own right – the post-WW2 discussion as example.

For one I did quite enjoy the book, despite the choices made that led to dragging out some detail and at other times being frustratingly superficial and fleeting in treatment of others.

One final point of criticism centred on the perceived promise of a global history from an Eastern perspective in a world seemingly dominated by the western european. I perceive that our conclusion that this remained an attempt to do so but remained rooted in western european assumptions or frame of reference despite the author’s best intentions. Not failure, but a challenge not quite realised.

So, the marks tallied out as:
Joe: 7.5
Mike: 5
Jim: 6
Fergal: 7
Shawn: 8
Brian M: 8

Thanks to Joe for the fine suggestion – safely avoiding being tapped for a round.

The read chosen for August is the Miniaturist by Jessie Burton.

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