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Xanadu: Marco Polo and Europe's Discovery of the East Paperback – October 4, 2010

3.3 out of 5 stars 27 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Ever since he related the exploits of his journey to the empire of the great khan in the late thirteenth century, Marco Polo and his stories have been the subjects of speculation, fascination, and skepticism. Then and now, a few scholars even doubt he ever reached China. Readers will find no such doubts in Man�s breathlessly admiring account of Polo�s travels and their significance. Man himself actually followed much of Polo�s route to the Chinese summer capital, Shangdu (Xanadu in Coleridge�s famous poem), accompanied by a Chinese guide and archaeologist. Of course, many of the sites witnessed by Polo are now in ruins, but Man uses reasonable speculations to attempt to re-create them as Polo would have seen them. Man�s boundless enthusiasm for his subject is infectious, and he effectively conveys the sense of novelty and wonder that Polo experienced. Perhaps this account could have benefited from a touch of skeptical questioning, but this is still a fine retelling of a great and vital adventure in human history. --Jay Freeman

Review

"John Man's engaging and diverting study of the historical Xanadu renders the truths as beguiling as the mythology . . . with a combination of travel writing, historical analysis and anecdote, Man uses Xanadu almost as a keyhole through which to describe larger events."  —Scotland on Sunday


"Deploying the same lively style that attracted readers to his Genghis Kahn, Man transforms a forbidding barrier into an inviting passageway into Asian culture."  —Booklist on The Great Wall


“Brilliant and utterly readable . . . Reads much like an adventure story that offers fine access to this highly detailed subject.”  —Library Journal on The Terra Cotta Army


"Both an erudite and lively piece of travel writing, and an excellent read."  —Sunday Telegraph


"An engaging piece of storytelling and a very companionable journey of exploration."  —Guardian
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Transworld Publishers (November 1, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0553820028
  • ISBN-13: 978-0553820027
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,111,204 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

JOHN MAN

I usually write non-fiction, mainly exploring interests in Asia and the history of written communication. So 'The Lion's Share', available only on Kindle, is something different - a new edition of a thriller written some 25 years ago when I wasn't sure what I wanted to focus on. It's about the 'real' - in quotes, i.e. fictional - fate of Haile Selassie, Emperor of Ethiopia.

Most of the time, I like to mix history, narrative and personal experience, exploring the places I write about. It brings things to life, and it's a reaction against an enclosed, secure, rural childhood in Kent. I did German and French at Oxford, and two postgraduate courses, History and Philosophy of Science at Oxford and Mongolian at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London (to join an expedition that never happened).

After working in journalism and publishing, I turned to writing, with occasional forays into film, TV and radio. A planned trilogy on three major revolutions in writing has resulted in two books, 'Alpha Beta' (on the alphabet) and 'The Gutenberg Revolution', both republished in 2009. The third, on the origin of writing, is on hold, because it depends on researching in Iraq. (On the fourth revolution, the Internet, many others can write far better than me).

My interest in Mongolia revived in 1996 when I spent a couple of months in the Gobi. 'Gobi: Tracking the Desert' was the first book on the region since the 1920's (those by the American explorer Roy Chapman Andrews). In Mongolia, everything leads back to Genghis. I followed. The result was 'Genghis Khan: Life, Death and Resurrection', now appearing in 20 languages. Luckily, there's more to Mongol studies than Genghis. 'Attila the Hun' and 'Kublai Khan' came next.

Another main theme in Asian history is the ancient and modern relationship between Mongolia and China. 'The Terracotta Army', published to in 2007, was followed by 'The Great Wall', which took me from Xinjiang to the Pacific. 'The Leadership Secrets of Genghis Khan' (combining history, character analysis and modern leadership theory) and 'Xanadu: Marco Polo and Europe's Discovery of the East' pretty much exhausted Inner Asian themes for me.

So recently I have become interested in Japan. For 'Samurai: The Last Warrior', I followed in the footsteps of Saigo Takamori, the real 'Last Samurai', published in February 2011. After that, more fiction, perhaps.

I live in north London, inspired by a strong and beautiful family - wife, children and grand-children.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
After watching Netflix's new series "Marco Polo" I was inspired to learn more about this incredible story and man. The book doesn't disappoint. I found it completely engrossing, especially the way the author inserts his own personal travels to Asia into the narrative. It's sort of a historical travelogue, recounting Polo's travels. According to the book cover, this book was the main source for the TV show, and it shows. If you like the show, you'll love the book.
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Format: Paperback
At least five recent & well-regarded translations of that traveller's tale by Messer Marco Polo & ghost writer Rusticello are now available, making accessible what the imprisoned older man remembered of his youthful adventures in the lands of Kublai Khan. Even before these tales were written down, however, their veracity was questioned, their honesty derided, and the sanity of the narrator suspected. On one point only was agreement strong: the rubies, diamonds, pearls, sapphires and emeralds sewn in the shabby cloaks Marco, his father Niccolo,and his uncle wore on their return to Venice in 1296.

So, asked John Man, what does current scholarship say about these questions? "Marco Polo: The Journey that Changed the World" gives Man's answers in 15 chapters. The chapters are organized somewhat linearly in that they include Kublai's empire from Polo's arrival to the Khan's death and organized somewhat opportunistically in chapters such as Xanadu and Marco's relationships with women.

The overall conclusions are that some of Polo's narrative is consistent with what evidence is available, such as the likelihood Marco actually did spend many years in Kublai's China, the existence of a huge ruc-like bird, and that Xanadu probably was shaped like a stately pleasure dome. along the lines of the Mongolian ger. Some is also certainly not true and a lot is indeterminable. What to me makes this book worthy reading is the sorting out of the details and specifics like the number of bridges in Kublai's capitol city and claims Marco made of Kublai's innovations in legal, social, and governmental areas, including that wonder, printed money.

Man's modus operandi makes this a traveller's tale about a traveller's tale.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Great read .....definitely for book lovers !!!!!!!!!!!
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This was an excellent review of what's currently known about Marco Polo and his journey. The author has a direct writing style with sense of humor that I appreciated. Some nonfiction can be very dry and hard to follow, but not so with this book; I found myself devouring this book, as curious to know what would happen next as if I was reading fiction! The author clearly describes Marco Polo's journey and some of the conflicts in the research with his analysis - all in perfectly understandable language. I didn't know much at all about Marco Polo before I read this (only the game and that he went to China!) but I feel I have a pretty comprehensive knowledge about his journey now. I would highly recommend this book to anybody who has the least curiosity about history. I am not a history buff, by any means, but I found this book extremely interesting and informative.
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Wonderful. So enjoyed the series. Please keep the series coming!
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Format: Kindle Edition
After I finished Ian James' The Hotel Of Insanity: Teaching English In Korea (The Korea Trilogy Book 1) (great book, highly recommend it), I started getting more interested in the history of Asia, which led me to this book. While I found the beginning to be somewhat dry, the book rewards readers who continue onward through Marco Polo's incredible trip across Eurasia. I recommend this for anyone who, like me, is interested in the history of the east.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Few journies are more polemic yet beguiling as Marco Polo's and few poems evoke the rapture of Colerdige's first lines. Here is a scrupulous documentation of people and places and their relevant historical context. Superb.
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Not what I expected; I was looking for more of the Marco Polo biographic point of view instead of a movie industry look at the region today. My bad for not understanding the author and his story before I purchased.
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