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Marco Polo: From Venice to Xanadu February 7, 2014

Posted by stuffilikenet in Books.
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Marco Polo: From Venice to Xanadu , by Laurence Bergreen, is a nice little dissection of Marco Polo’s Travels (1, 2) with a lot of historical verification added (to sort out the frequent prevarications).  Polo was the son and nephew of Venetian traders who had visited the court of Kublai Khan and were the only Europeans who spoke Mongol.  The Khan deputized them to have the Pope send him a hundred holy men to teach Catholicism in his empire, but due to, well, let’s see a war, bandits, the death of a Pope and the longest (thirty-eight months) wait to elect a new one, appointment of TWO holy men to accompany them (who chickened out early on in the game), Niccolo Polo presented to the Khan instead only Marco.

Lucky boy; the Khan made him a tax collector and had him running around the Mongol empire at its absolute zenith.

Laurence Bergreen tells the story with a fondness for Marco and understanding of the natural tendency towards self-aggrandizement he must have had after living as a noble for most of his life, despite ordinary birth.  And Bergreen sorts out a lot of the thornier questions about what is fact and what is fancy that have been much debated over the years in Marco’s accounts, using contemporary Chinese sources, tales of traveling monks and various other good guesses based on historical context.

I cannot recommend this book too much; it’s one of the best history books I have come across recently, and each CD is nearly the length of my commute, which is nice.

Available at Amazon.com and sfpl.org.

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