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Marco Polo: From Venice to Xanadu Paperback – October 21, 2008


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (October 21, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400078806
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400078806
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (93 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #120,359 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Drawing on original writings and walking in the footsteps of Marco Polo himself, Laurence Bergreen's Marco Polo: From Venice to Xanadu is the most definitive biography of the legendary traveler to date, separating the man from his considerable myth.

Look inside Marco Polo (Click on thumbnails to see a larger image):

Marco Polo: a traditional portrait; Granger
Frontispiece of an early published edition of Marco Polo’s Travels, Nuremberg, Germany, 1477; Granger
Kublai Khan, emperor of the world’s largest land-based empire; Granger
Marco Polo commanded a Venetian galley similar to this in the Battle of Curzola; Granger
Stone carving on the Marco Polo bridge; Laurence Bergreen
Marco Polo’s vivid and occasionally misinterpreted descriptions of his travels inspired this medieval artist to depict dragons in China; Granger


Marco Polo timeline (All dates given in the Julian calendar):

1215 - Kublai Khan, the grandson of Genghis Khan and Marco Polo's mentor, is born.

1254 - Marco Polo born in Venice, although one tradition locates his birthplace in the Venetian colony of Dalmatia.

1260 - Kublai Khan becomes leader of the Mongols and in 1271 founds the Yuan ("Origin") Dynasty.

1271 - Young Marco Polo leaves Venice with his father Niccolo and uncle Maffeo, bound for the court of Kublai Khan.

1274 - Kublai Khan oversees a failed Mongol invasion of Japan, as the Mongols, masters of the Steppe, meet their match at sea.

1275 - The three Polos arrive in Shang-du, Kublai Khan's summer palace immortalized by Samuel Taylor Coleridge as Xanadu; Marco begins his years in the service of the Khan.

1276 - 1293 - Marco travels throughout Asia, reaching the coast of India, and possibly Zanzibar, gathering intelligence for Kublai Khan and serving as a tax collector for the Yuan (Mongol) dynasty.

1281 - Kublai Khan's second failed invasion of Japan, a serious blow to his prestige.

1292 - The Polos escort Princess Kokachin to Persia to marry, their last formal service to Kublai Khan before departing.

1294 - Kublai Khan dies, freeing the Polo family, who undertake a dangerous return voyage by sea.

1295 - Marco, his father, and uncle, arrive in Venice after their 24-year absence. They have been away for so long that their fellow Venetians do not recognize them.

1298 - Marco is captured by the Genoese in the Battle of Curzola, according to some accounts, and confined to a cell in Genoa with a romance writer, Rustichello of Pisa, to whom he dictates his adventures in China, his reminiscences of Kublai Khan, his life among the Mongols.

1300 - Safely back in Venice, Marco Polo marries Donata Badoer; the couple has three daughters.

1324 - As manuscript versions of his exploits spread throughout Europe, Marco Polo dies in Venice, claiming that he did not reveal the half of his experiences in his remarkable Travels.


--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Even in his own day, the famed 13th-century travel writer Marco Polo was mocked as a purveyor of tall tales—gem-encrusted clothes, nude temple dancing girls, screaming tarantulas—in his narrative of his journey to the Chinese court of the Mongol emperor Kublai Khan. In this engrossing biography, Bergreen (James Agee: A Life), while allowing that mere facts... were never enough for Marco, finds him a roughly accurate and perceptive witness (aside from the romantic embellishments and outright fabrications concocted with his collaborator Rustichello of Pisa) who painted an influential and unusually sympathetic portrait of the much-feared Mongols. Bergreen follows Polo's disjointed commentary on everything from Chinese tax policy to asbestos manufacturing, crocodile hunting and Asian sexual mores—Polo was especially taken with the practice of sharing one's wife with passing travelers—while deftly glossing it with scholarship. Less convincing is Bergreen's attempt to add depth to Polo's lurid taste and over-heated imagination by portraying him as both a prophet of globalization and a pilgrim and explorer of the spirit. Polo's spiritual trek didn't take him very far, since he ended his days back in Venice as a greedy, litigious merchant. Still, the result is a long, strange, illuminating trip. 16 pages of photos, 3 maps. (Oct. 25)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

The book is very interesting.
Ruy Souza Silva
All in all, I learned much from this book, enjoyed reading it and feel richer for having done so.
D. Blankenship
I have read Columbus, Over the Edge and Marco Polo,all by Bergreen.
R. Rodriguez

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

142 of 148 people found the following review helpful By Stephen Balbach on November 11, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Marco Polo (1254-1324) was not the first European to make it to China, but he was the first to bring the news back to a wider European public. As famous as he is, Marco Polo remains a mysterious and controversial figure. The author of this biography Laurence Bergreen is probably best known for his wonderful account of Magellan's circumnavigation of the globe and there is a connection - it was on that journey beginning in 1519 that one of the 18 survivors named Antonio Pigafetta, the official chronicler, had read and was inspired by Marco Polo's "Travels".

Marco Polo's "Travels" (ca. 1298) is not a single account but about 119 surviving manuscripts, each one different and none authoritative. Scholars have tried to patch the various versions together over the centuries, but in the age before the printing press, Marco kept handing out new hand-written copies with additions and subtractions, and others would make more copies adding their own embelishments or mistakes: chronology would change, ordering of events would change as if the pages were dropped on the floor and re-assembled incorrectly, specifics of events would change, places and people changed, etc.. there is no "correct" version. Bergenger bases his account on the longest version available and usually does not question its accuracy, rather, often pointing out why it must be so (except for a few well known problems).

The "Great Question" that has haunted "Travels" since it first appeared is its veracity; children are said to have followed Marco Polo chanting, "Messer Marco, tell us another lie!".
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58 of 59 people found the following review helpful By D. Blankenship HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWER on January 13, 2008
Format: Hardcover
For the most part, this was a pleasing book and a very interesting read. We have plenty of blow by blow reviews already posted here, most of them quite well done, so I won't go into the page by page details with this review which has already been done. Simply stated, the author, Laurence Bergreen, has taken many of the surviving manuscripts (there are, I understand, well over 100 variations at this time, but I suspect there have been many, many more over the years) and attempted to tell the story of the adventures of Marco Polo and his travels from Europe to China, and beyond, during the 13th century. The author has done a very nice job of this.

Polo's journey, by ship and by land, lasted well over twenty years. He became quite involved with the court of the almost mystical Kublai Khan. Now the author is quick to point out that there are many discrepancies in the Polo papers but is also quick to point out that much of what was written has since proven to be true. I am one of those that feel that Marco Polo did actually make the journey he wrote about, but also feel that there was a tremendous amount of exaggeration on Polo's part and I feel the reader must remember that the world was being viewed through the eyes of a man of the 13th century. I think the author has made a good case for Polo and has done a very good job of pointing these facts out. This was a world so different than ours, that I personally, find it a bit difficult to comprehend, at times. What is fact and logical for us, was simply not so during the time of Polo's travels. The reader must remember this.

Overall the book was quite well written and certainly held my interest, for the most part. His observations and explanations as to what Polo wrote are quite logical and well stated.
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43 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Wayne Price on November 8, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Prof. Bergreen has written an excellent book about Marco's travels, with references collected not only from MP's journal, but also details about the history of the Mongols. Most of us western readers don't know much about the varied history of Western China and Mongolia, especially the fear these folk engendered in Europe during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Bergreen fills in many gaps in our knowledge, and does so in a readable manner. One helpful characteristic of the book is that the chapters are divided up into short sections, marked only by the several spaces between each one. As the subjects are so mixed, this is a helpful arrangement. TWO criticisms. One, there is a good bit of repetition in the book. How often do we need to be told that MP was challenging common European knowledge of the East? Second, why aren't there more maps in the book? There is only one very small map (p. 265) that shows the route of the travels, and this one page map includes everything from Venice to China's eastern coast. A number of small maps along the way would have been very helpful to the reader. Some of the illustrations, though, are well done and interesting.
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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Bobby D. on December 18, 2007
Format: Hardcover
On page 350 Bergreen mentions that Antonio Pigafetta, who served as chronicler of Magellan's voyage around the world was inspired by his hero and fellow Venetian, Marco Polo. No doubt this is one reason Bergreen's latest project is this biography of Marco Polo. In Bergreen's wildly popular and outstanding "Over the edge of the world". he created a page turning popular history based on Pigafetta's writings. Unfortunately, with Marco Polo Bergreen had to rely on relatively little, being as there are numerous different versions of Polo's book "Travels" and for the most part it was dictated in jail to Rustichello who embellished the text with fiction and exaggeration. Bergreen's "Marco Polo" is an interesting read but no where near as compelling and interesting as his earlier Magellan book. Much of this volume I am afraid to report is a boring read. One other thing that is missing is a good map which would allow the reader to follow along with the narrative of Marco's Journey. You don't find a map until page 267 as the title page for Part three. I stuck with the text and did finish but would have a hard time recommending the book to anyone, especially if they had not yet read "edge of the world". Now that is a book not to be missed.
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