When Asia Was the World: Traveling Merchants, Scholars, Warriors, and Monks Who Created the ‘Riches of the East
© 2009 Stewart Gordon
When Asia was the World revisits, through the lives of traveling monks, traders, and warriors, the extraordinary vistas and cultures of greater Asia from 500 to 1500 A.D. It is not a conventional history of Asia before the ascendancy of Europe, but allows the reader to play the part of historical tourist, tagging along with various men traveling circuitous routes from Iran to China. Some are traders, bringing to life a robust economy that nearly covered a hemisphere, Others are pilgrims — Buddhist monks, traveling from China to India and back, visiting every monastery they can and soaking in wisdom — Muslims, too, made treks to learn from courts afar. These men circulated not only spiritual insight, but secular knowledge, connecting courts across the continent. Others are Mongolian raiders,who don’t bask in civilization so much as incinerate it. This is ideal reading for someone who has a vague interest in Asia, or in global history in general, but who doesn’t want to deal with an actual history book. Here, the history is absorbed through men of zeal and ambition, willing to transverse epic mountains, forbidding deserts, lush forests, and pirate-filled sea planes to see what’s beyond the horizon.