The New Silk Roads by Peter Frankopan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I am a definite fan of Peter Frankopan. His original book ‘The Silk Roads’ I consider one of the best books I’ve ever read, of any kind. Certainly the best introduction to history in terms of readability and brilliant insight.
‘The New Silk Roads’ is a presented as a form of sequel to this; a ‘bringing up to date’ of the former book. I’m not convinced it works as a sequel – the two books are really rather different.
The original is 519 pages of quite dense text covering thousands of years of global history and, as such, is a snapshot of events and trends. It will not age – though the last pages of most recent history may, or may not, prove to be irrelevant, the majority of the book covers history long since gone and Frankopan’s observations are unlikely to be demolished by uncovering of new evidence. Although some may disagree with his ‘Silk Road’ viewpoint or take issue with parts of history they feel are inexcusably missed (a criticism I feel is ridiculous), his scholarship is rigorous and certain. I would hope that A level and university History students will read it in years to come as ‘required reading’.
By contrast, with 253 pages of quite large font text, ‘The New Silk Roads’ is considerably shorter and feels more like a series of extended articles which wouldn’t be out of place in a publication like The Economist, rather than a book. The subject matter is far more specialised – the economic rise of China – and far more likely to date. Indeed, in the time I’ve taken to read the book, several new events have taken place in the trade war between America and China to which Frankopan makes copious reference.
There is something of a short shelf-life to this second work then. Sooner or later we will be post-Brexit (probably), the trade war with China will either resolve or escalate into something else, Trump himself has only a maximum of a second term in office (if he makes it that far) and then will be gone. In five, ten or maybe twenty years from now we’ll look back and either say how right the author was or, more likely given the unpredictable nature of history-in-the-making, we’ll say ‘well, Frankopan didn’t see that coming, did he?’. Either way, the book is largely predictive and that means its use will wane whether or not predictions come true.
But these criticisms aside, Peter Frankopan has again written with a clarity and articulation which makes him one of the best writers of non-fiction around. He makes you excited about whatever he writes about. I’ve read pages of information about countless numbers of economic deals involving China, Russia, America, India, Pakistan and many others and I would not normally have that much of an interest in such things; the author convinces me to feel otherwise.
Furthermore, Frankopan’s not wrong in his assertion that ‘all roads are leading back to Beijing’. I’ve known this for close to 40 years. Even back in the 80s when we all shared the paranoia of the Cold War, I knew economists, historians and experts in political science who all more or less said ‘forget Russia – it is China we need to be watching out for’. Such is the egocentric nature of Western media and cultural thinking that we still think of Asia as this little backwater area of no real significance to world events. Too few are realising both the benefits and dangers coming from an efficient and ambitious country with the single largest population in the world in a rapidly developing area which covers 60% of the world’s population. This book arms you with knowledge which is essential. Far from being a general introduction, as was the original ‘The Silk Roads’ book, ‘The New Silk Roads’ is so in-depth that to go further you would really need to study degree-level academic works.
In short, this is not a book which will remain on the shelf for decades to come. But is certainly a book which needs reading right now. Eyes and ears need to turn to the East, and quickly, because we’re missing much that is going on. Our world is changing fast and we’d better be prepared.
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Social Entrepreneur, educationalist, bestselling author and journalist, D K Powell is the author of the bestselling collection of literary short stories “The Old Man on the Beach“. His first book, ‘Sonali’ is a photo-memoir journal of life in Bangladesh and has been highly praised by the Bangladeshi diaspora worldwide. Students learning the Bengali language have also valued the English/Bengali translations on every page. Listen to his life story in interview with the BBC here.
D K Powell is available to speak at events (see his TEDx talk here) and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Alternatively, he is available for one-to-one mentoring and runs a course on the psychology of writing.
Ken writes for a number of publications around the world. Past reviewer for Paste magazine, The Doughnut, E2D and United Airways, and currently reviews for Lancashire Life magazine and Northern Arts Review.