The Silk Roads Book Summary - The Silk Roads Book explained in key points
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The Silk Roads summary

Peter Frankopan

A New History of the World

4.6 (219 ratings)
28 mins

Brief summary

The Silk Roads by Peter Frankopan is a history book that charts the role of trade and culture in shaping civilizations and the world, revealing the true interconnectedness of the past, present and future.

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    The Silk Roads
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    In antiquity, goods and ideas flowed between East and West, creating the Silk Roads in the process.

    Thousands of years ago, the expanse of land bracketed by the Euphrates and Tigris rivers was called Mesopotamia. This area, which covered most of what is now Iraq and parts of the surrounding countries, is the cradle of Western civilization. It was here that the first towns, cities, kingdoms and empires emerged.

    Of these empires, the greatest was the Persian. By the sixth century BCE, it stretched from Egypt and Greece in the West to the Himalayas in the East. It was an empire built on trade between its cities – trade that was made possible by a network of roads that connected the Mediterranean to the heart of Asia.

    These roads were a mighty achievement, but their destiny was to become a constituent part of the Silk Roads, the famous network of routes that eventually linked China with the West.

    Under the Han dynasty, between 206 BCE and 220 CE, China began to expand its horizons. It pushed its borders northward and westward as far as the Eurasian steppes, the sweeping grasslands that cover much of modern-day Russia’s southern regions. This expansion linked Persia’s trade routes with China’s own network of roads.

    The steppes were a wild place. The Chinese sought to maintain peace in the region by trading with the nomads. Rice, wine and textiles were all favored commodities, but silk was by far the most coveted.

    Silk became a symbol of wealth, luxury and power. It was even occasionally used as currency. As trade expanded, it attained a reputation as a luxury good in the West, too. In fact, by the time Rome came to dominate the Mediterranean, in the middle of the first century BCE, silk’s reputation there was secure.

    But it wasn’t just goods that flowed between East and West. The routes facilitated the exchange and dissemination of ideas, too.

    The most powerful of these were religious. Local cults became increasingly mixed with established belief systems, a process that created a rich melting pot of ideas concerning the divine. For instance, the Greek pantheon of gods headed east, while Buddhist ideas circulated from northern India into China and the rest of Asia.

    In fact, these networks partly explain why Christianity was later able to spread so quickly from its humble origins in Palestine through the Mediterranean and across Asia.

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    What is The Silk Roads about?

    The Silk Roads (2015) is a comprehensive history of the world, written with an eye to the networks of trade that shaped it. The networks of trade first established in ancient Persia and later linked with Chinese trade routes created a great network between the East and the West. But these Silk Roads are not relics of the past. They have morphed and changed, and their impact can be felt today, right down to America’s fateful engagement in the region where it all began.

    The Silk Roads Review

    The Silk Roads (2015) is a captivating exploration of the history of the world through the lens of the Silk Roads. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • Offers fresh and unconventional perspectives, challenging conventional narratives and shedding new light on historical events.
    • Provides a global perspective, connecting civilizations and highlighting the interconnectedness of cultures across time and space.
    • Explores lesser-known regions and their historical significance, uncovering hidden stories and expanding our understanding of world history.

    Best quote from The Silk Roads

    The world of antiquity was very much a precursor of the world as we see it today – vibrant, competitive, efficient and energetic.

    —Peter Frankopan
    example alt text

    Who should read The Silk Roads?

    • Economists looking for historical parallels
    • Intrigued followers of world events who want to learn about trade
    • Historians of all stripes

    About the Author

    Peter Frankopan is director of the Oxford Centre for Byzantine Research. He has lectured at Cambridge, Yale, Harvard, Princeton, NYU and other Universities. His other books include The First Crusade: The Call from the East (2012).

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    The Silk Roads FAQs 

    What is the main message of The Silk Roads?

    The main message of The Silk Roads is that the history of the world is interconnected and shaped by the exchange of goods, ideas, and cultures along the historic Silk Roads.

    How long does it take to read The Silk Roads?

    The reading time for The Silk Roads varies depending on the reader's speed, but it typically takes several hours. However, the Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is The Silk Roads a good book? Is it worth reading?

    The Silk Roads is a fascinating read that provides a fresh perspective on world history. It's definitely worth exploring if you're interested in the interconnectedness of civilizations.

    Who is the author of The Silk Roads?

    The author of The Silk Roads is Peter Frankopan.

    What to read after The Silk Roads?

    If you're wondering what to read next after The Silk Roads, here are some recommendations we suggest:
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