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The Road to Oxiana Paperback – May 18, 2007

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Editorial Reviews


"A brilliantly-wrought expression of a thoroughly modern sensibility, a portrait of an accidental man adrift between frontiers" New York Review of Books "The Road to Oxiana is part travelogue, part aesthetic manifesto and part social observation; it remains the most thoroughly readable of all books. And Byron is the ideal companion, witty, charming, irascible, and content to leave and be left alone" The Times "The Road to Oxiana is an informed, somewhat high-flown account of the early Islamic architecture of Persia and Afghanistan wrapped in a comic narrative that ensured a far wider readership... Funny, didactic and biting, Byron's masterpiece transports us across the world and, better still, across the decades to splendidly alien lands" Independent "My favourite travel book is Robert Byron's The Road To Oxiana, which started a new wave of travel writing. I took it on my first trip to Iran. I always take books about the places I'm visiting: I sat in a ruined mosque now populated by sheep and read Byron's wonderful descriptions of it. I think that sowed a seed for the Travel Bookshop" -- Sarah Anderson, founder of The Travel Bookshop "I love literary travel books and this is the best one in the English language. Scholarly, eccentric and wildly opinionated" -- Tudor Parfitt Geographical --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Robert Byron was born in England in 1905 into a family distantly related to Lord Byron. He attended Eton and Merton College, Oxford, and wrote several travel books before his untimely death in 1941, while serving as a correspondent for a London newspaper during World War II.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; Reissue edition (May 18, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195325605
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195325607
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 0.5 x 5.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #311,002 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

45 of 45 people found the following review helpful By David A. Kaempf on January 24, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Please look past the one-star review of the previous reviewer...check out other editions of the book and you'll get a truer picture. Byron was notoriously opinionated but that is what makes the book. If you have delicate sensibilities, you may want to skip this. Byron wasn't comprehensive so you are reading literature here, not a complete guidebook. His strengths were a love of architecture and hatred of hypocrisy.

This edition has the added bonus of a Preface by Rory Stewart, recent author of THE PLACES IN BETWEEN and THE PRINCE OF THE MARSHES, about Afghanistan and Iraq respectively.

My only quibble with this edition is with the photographs. They are printed on the same paper stock as the text. The publisher can do better than this with a classic.
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28 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on August 15, 2008
Format: Paperback
Byron had an hysterical knack for seeing right into the souls of the various persons he met on his didn't matter who the person was or of what ethnic group or nationality - none were spared the naked opinions of Mr. Byron, and the result is perhaps one of the best books I have read in the last decade. The serious looks at the peoples and places of a part of the world that remains today mysterious and troubled are enlightening when seen in the historical flow. Byron was interested in a type of Islamic architecture that through his writing became known to the West and I hope more appreciated in the lands he traveled.

I urge you to read this book. My copy is a small edition brought out by a now defunct publisher back in the 90s, and I waited about ten years before I got around to reading it. DO NOT take this long! If you are a reader who wants more than just the latest best seller, and you don't shy away from learning - this book is for you!
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37 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Scott C. Locklin VINE VOICE on August 5, 2008
Format: Paperback
To dispose with one of the criticisms leveled at this book below: it was in fact written by a highly cultured man who went to Eton and Oxford during a time when those institutions were at their peaks. If you don't know what "elegiac" means, or have the energy to look it up in a dictionary, you won't like this book. If you're looking for funny stories about how the Yak ate somebody's hat, you will be disappointed. Go read something by a Lonely Planet cretin and be happy. This is a serious work of literature, which is why a man like Paul Fussel wrote the introduction.

For those interested in reading high travel literature, or about the history of Jerusalem, Baghdad, Syria, Afghanistan and Persia, this book is wonderful. Because Byron was a highly cultured man, he doesn't merely relate a catalogue of sights he's seen, people he has met, and things he's done. His memoir is as much a survey of the history and anthropology of the places he visited as it is "travel book." Many of the monuments he visited are victims of savagery, and the lead Afghanistan had over Persia in those days in terms of modernization has been lost, perhaps forever.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Rodney J. Moss on February 11, 2010
Format: Paperback
If you harbour any thoughts of venturing via Iran into Afghanistan you might want this glimpse into former times. The writing never fails to excite, the humour is exquisite; some of the author's recounting of people and social interraction will have you falling about, though I suspect you'll have had to have had some actual cross cultural experiences to fully appreciate his position. Most poignant, his descriptions of architectural edifaces, of interior decoration, of bridges etc. is enthralling. Many of these places either no longer exist, or exist is a much reduced state. Clearly, he is enthralled by Persepolis and Isfahan and the glories of kufic script. Pp 188-189 elicit his responses to the former, and his reveries about the friday Mosque and the Royal Mosque in the latter, form some of his most sublime utterances(pp195-200). He makes no effort to conceal his disdain for Indians and India, for fellow travellers, be they Russian, American, or German; though his judgements are gently humorous. Given the journal entry mode of the book, there's a wonderful immediacy about this read. Why he records the elevations of his many stop-overs, I have no idea.This is a great read, conveys the rigours of travel back in the 30s, and is a sweet glove fit with contemporary travellers like Thubron.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By John Stewart on March 4, 2008
Format: Paperback
I have read about how great "Oxiana" is for a long time, so finally reading it is like arriving at a new place after a long journey. The author, who spends most of the book trying to cross Iran in order to get to Afghanistan, makes that country very interesting, especially now 70 years later it is back in the headlines. He intermixes his story with what he has read about "Oxiana." In particular, the ancient civilization in Afghanistan is represented by tombs that are built like towers with a crypt at the top. It is like nothing else I have ever heard of, and I've been reading about Afghanistan for about six years now. Obviously, the trip was very difficult, but the author lets the facts speak for themselves, and always keeps in front of himself and us the glories of a lost world. One of his most interesting stories is of a queen, who seems to have been the Elinor of Aquitaine for the Afghans.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By John P. Jones III TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 27, 2010
Format: Paperback
The term "The Grand Tour" is primarily associated with the British upper-class, from the 17th Century onward, members of which would take year-long tours, or more, on "The Continent," with intellectual improvement, via exposure to other cultures and the antiquities, being the purported motive force. In the 1930's, Robert Bryon, of that class, undertook a tour with much the same purpose, but took it a step further, and would eventually reach Central Asia. It was an impressive and fascinating trip, and the relevance certainly extends to the West's involvement in that area today. The "Great Depression" was truly depressing life in England, and he had the means to get away. He started in Venice, in August 1933, stopped in Cyprus, before entering what was then called The Levant; that is Palestine, Lebanon, and Syria. From there, he continued overland to Iraq, and then on to Persia (modern-day Iran), Afghanistan, and finally on to Peshawar, when, in those "pre-partition days" was part of India. He returned home in July, 1934, 11 months in total. Bryon died young, drowning when his ship was torpedoed in the Mediterranean in 1941.

So, the book is to be savored, since Bryon writes well, and is a perceptive observer, particularly of the status of the antiquities in the region, much of which cannot be really visited today by Westerners. In one case, the Buddhist statues at Bamian, which were viewed as "idols" by the Taliban, and destroyed; they will never be viewed by anyone again. Of course, in reading the book, part of the irony is that Bryon didn't think much of the Buddhist statues either! Specifically: "Neither has any artistic value. But one could bear that; it is their negation of sense, the lack of any pride in their monstrous flaccid bulk, that sickens.
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