The Silk Roads
A New History of the World
by Peter Frankopan
The title and the book’s intention, to offer a global perspective, were intriguing to me. Though not a history fan, it is increasingly clear that it is no help to see history from your own perspective because it is blinkered, full of self-serving interpretation and fails to expose the reality of the past. This book offers a big picture perspective.
But before I get in to it, let me qualify language. History is not a “subject”. When we say “history” we mean “political history”, we do not mean the history of art, science, economics, religion, carpentry, cooking etc. By referring to politics, even though events may have passed, as “history” instead of “political history”, we obscure what we are seeing and thereby begin to assume it is about dates and battles. It is not.
Dr Frankopan helps remove the blindness by showing that “history” is about the political power dynamics of humanity and how a few people have led a greedy acquisition of natural resources and slave labour at the cost of most of humanity. So, while the book recounts the ebb and flow of human initiative that has given us the world we have today, and while it references religion, economics and science, it offers a big picture perspective on politics which informs the dynamics underlying current events.
The story begins long ago, over two and a half thousand years ago, in the crucible of civilisation, Persia, an area now often referred to as the Middle East. We are taken on a journey following the rise and fall of empires from Rome to China to Mongol … to modern times.
Seeing the world from above as the reader is drawn through time, the reality of primitive values influencing the acquisition of power and wealth, at the expense of nearly everyone else becomes more obvious. By the time we enter the modern era, the expiration of the British Empire, the rise of the American Empire, the Second World War, the Cold War and the Middle East crises, our blinkers are off, yet the journey remains fascinating. In fact the journey becomes almost frightening as the vile values that forged previous empires, such as expropriation, slavery and servitude, murder, deception, decadence, are seen to be repeating themselves in events you have lived through, often without realising the extent of their immorality and viciousness. Perhaps we thought we were on the side of “right”, but now realising that we never had the full story, that people suffered brutally and that “ends do NOT justify means”, we might realise that political action we endorsed was reprehensible. And still is.
The conclusion is not surprising in light of the journey you will have taken after travelling through 2,600 years of the pain induced by greed and fear, but it is unexpected. And sadly we can reflect that little has changed about the feudal pyramids of power that we call politics and pretend are “democratic”. Humanity is blind to the danger of its primitive dynamic and the consequences for the planet, let alone everyone not at the top of the pyramid (which today is pretty much everyone). The inevitable expiration of resources (oil, minerals) will force the decimation of communities and “civilisation” if we do not all choose differently now.
Read The Silk Roads. And make it required for any “history” or politics course.
Thank you Peter Frankopan.