The Silk Roads – a new history of the world, by Peter Frankopan. 636pp
This is a history of the ‘Silk Road’ region of central Asia and the Middle East from ancient times to the present day. Successive chapters concentrate on different topics such as faiths, particular commodities whether furs or slaves or silver, while filling in the history of the region as the centuries pass. It is not a history of the ‘Silk Road’ as such, but a history of a region.
The second part of the book deals with recent history, and deals with the misdeeds of the British and the Americans in these countries as they competed with Russia in the region, putting their own national interests above the interests of the local peoples.
The critical tone may surprise Western readers, but after reading this you will understand why the inhabitants of Iran, Iraq and other places dislike and distrust the British and Americans so much.
Much space is also devoted to the rivalry between Britain and Russia for control of the region.
Frankopan also has an unusual take on the origin of the First World War, claiming that close to the start of the conflict it was still unclear which country would ally with which, in contrast to the way the war is usually depicted as a result of British-German rivalry. He suggests, controversially, that fear of Russia sparked the conflict, with Germany preparing war with Russia and France aligning with Russia, and that even in 1914, a realignment of Britain with Germany had been discussed in the Foreign Office. Before WWI, There had been tensions between Britain and France, a traditional enemy, and friendly relations between Britain and Germany, who shared an extended royal family.
Overall, this book is a fascinating read. Recomended.