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As the first European to travel extensively throughout Asia, Marco Polo was the earliest bridge between East and West. His famous journeys took him across the boundaries of the known world, along the dangerous Silk Road, and into the court of Kublai Kahn, where he won the trust of the most feared and reviled leader of his day. Polo introduced the cultural riches of China tAs the first European to travel extensively throughout Asia, Marco Polo was the earliest bridge between East and West. His famous journeys took him across the boundaries of the known world, along the dangerous Silk Road, and into the court of Kublai Kahn, where he won the trust of the most feared and reviled leader of his day. Polo introduced the cultural riches of China to Europe, spawning centuries of Western fascination with Asia.In this lively blend of history, biography, and travelogue, acclaimed author Laurence Bergreen separates myth from history, creating the most authoritative account yet of Polo's remarkable adventures. Exceptionally narrated and written with a discerning eye for detail, Marco Polo is as riveting as the life it describes....

Title : Marco Polo: From Venice to Xanadu
Author :
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ISBN : 9781400078806
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 432 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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Marco Polo: From Venice to Xanadu Reviews

  • Clif Hostetler
    2019-01-17 18:16

    I’ve read and heard many things about Marco Polo but I have never previously read a detailed narrative about his adventures. Several years ago I tried to read a version of The Travels of Marco Polo but found it not well written and I didn’t finish. When I learned about his book I decided it was time to give it a try. I learned from this book why my first attempt at reading The Travels was unsuccessful. The original was written in colloquial French by an Italian who didn't understand French grammar. Subsequent translations and translations of translations resulted in no two ancient manuscripts being identical. Furthermore, there are portions of his story that appear to be missing. It wasn't written by Polo, but rather by a writer of romance tales who transcribed the stories told by Polo. There are indications that this author arbitrarily embellished and/or inserted portions to make it more interesting. Furthermore, Polo himself retold myths and hearsay as if they were fact. Thus it's difficult to determine what’s fact and what’s fiction.The author of this book attempts to bring order out of this chaos by providing commentary that compares Polo's stories with other historical records. He also comments on the internal evidence within the narrative that give some indication whether Polo experienced the various events first hand or is retelling stories told to him.It's humorous to notice the detail provided by Polo when describing sexual practices and the value to various commodities, while at the same time completely overlooking the technology of moveable type which later revolutionized European culture. He discussed paper money and other examples of printed material, but made no effort to understand how it was done.In the end, Polo's book did much to inform Europe about Chinese culture. It's hard to imagine the Renaissance without Polo's adventures being widely reported throughout Europe. The stories of Polo provided the motivation to Europeans to develop the necessary means to trade with the rich eastern lands. Driven by this motivation, Europeans developed sailing technology to the point where they could sail around the world. This together with the subsequent discovery of the Americas had much to do with the ascendancy of the West over the East in the 19th and 20th Centuries.One of the things that this book points out is that Marco Polo was not the person who introduced pasta to Italy, contrary to popular wisdom. "Marco would not have been surprised to encounter noodles in Mongolia; long before his journey, this type of food had spread from turkey along the Silk Road in both directions. Contrary to myth, Marco Polo did not introduce noodles to Italy; his anonymous predecessors had."Wikipedia says that it was introduced by Arabs, specifically in Libya, during their conquest of Sicily in the late 7th century, according to the newsletter of the National Macaroni Manufacturers Association, thus predating Marco Polo's travels to China by about six centuries."I was impressed by the lack of detail—at least in comparison to the detail regarding their life in China—provided by Polo about the return trip. It was mostly by sea around the south of India. Perhaps that that can be explained by the briefness of encounters in the ports-of-call. However, the portion of his overland travels from Ormuz to Terbil was fought with peril and being held hostage. I got the impression that things happened during that part of the trip about which he was embarrassed to recount. Of course maybe that can be explained as not of interest to the author, Rustichello da Pisa, because it wasn't about China. The only surviving copies of the original text are scattered and partial handwritten copies, so maybe later copiers skipped these parts as being of less interest.I learned about this book from the following review from my PageADay Book Lover's Calendar: WHERE’S THE PASTA?Marco Polo was not the first European to travel over the Silk Road to the mysterious East. Nor was he the first to write about it. But thanks in part to the writer Rustichello of Pisa, coauthor of Polo’s Travels, he is the man remembered today as the one to first connect East and West. Laurence Bergreen has captured this tale and so much more in what is probably the definitive biography of the amazing trader and explorer. His vibrant account of Kublai Khan and his magnificent empire is not to be missed.MARCO POLO: FROM VENICE TO XANADU, by Laurence Bergreen (Knopf, 2007)

  • Chrissie
    2019-02-06 17:41

    This book follows Marco Polo’s life from birth to death. We all know of his famed opus Travels, recounting his travels to China, South East Asia and India. He left with his father and uncle at the age of 17 in 1271. They returned 24 years later. What is fact and what is fiction of his stories, written in a Genoese prison with the collaboration of the romance writer and notary Rustichello of Pisa? This book tells of the events told in those stories and is a careful study in an attempt to distinguish between fact and fiction. For centuries that related seemed all too fanciful to be true, but has been proven to be true. The original manuscript, which was written in bad French and of which there are numerous variants and missing sections, is another impediment in discovering what is true and what is imaginary. The Mongol Empire and Kublai Khan and its demise are all covered in this book in minute detail. How did they get home, and what happened afterwards? Why was Marco imprisoned? Had Marco never been imprisoned it is doubtful that his tales would remain today. This is all interestingly covered, except that sometimes there are really too many details. There are many, many quotes from the original manuscripts that make the reading disjointed and dry. There are pretty pictures, notes and an index. To appreciate this book you must be interested in learning not only about Marco Polo but also the Mongol Empire.

  • Jessica Howard
    2019-01-22 14:26

    An exhaustive, but fortunately not quite exhausting, look at the life of Marco Polo. This book is long, and dry in a couple of spots, but manages to depict the astonishing life of Marco Polo in magnificent detail. Some of it may be conjecture, yes, but most of it seems historical verifiable--making Polo's achievements all the more extraordinary. The story begins with Polo's father--follows his path to the court of Kublai Khan and back, and then the ensuing travels of Marco, who spent more than two decades wandering through Asia and the Middle East. Some of the descriptions of the sexual habits of other cultures were downright funny, and the references to bizarre animals, easily recognizable to the modern watcher of Animal Planet, are also amusing. The speculation that Polo's histrionic flights of fancy may have been fueled by hashish or opium is intriguing, as is the whole book really. If you're a history buff interested in 13 century culture in Europe or Asia, this is a great read.

  • George
    2019-01-30 17:34

    "Marco Polo: From Venice to Xanadu" by Laurence Bergreen is an enjoyable account of the life and adventures of Marco Polo (1254-1324). Bergreen based this book on "The Travels of Marco Polo" which was dictated by Polo to the writer Rustichello da Pisa. This is an engaging narrative. At various points throughout the book, Bergreen examines the authenticity of Polo's claims (true, exaggeration, or false) but he doesn't get bogged down so that it hurts the narrative. Bergreen also discusses Polo's character flaws - especially later in life. Marco Polo's famous account provided Europeans with knowledge of Asia and inspired the European explorers of the following centuries. Overall, I found this to be an enjoyable book which inspired me to have zeal to explore the world. I recommend this book to anyone interested in European History, World History, or exploration.Rating 4 out of 5 stars Notes: Audiobook: Written by: Laurence Bergreen Narrated by: Paul Boehmer Length: 16 hours and 29 minutes Unabridged Audiobook Release Date: 2007-09-26 Publisher: Books on Tape

  • kyersten
    2019-01-29 12:25

    I have always been curious about Marco Polo. Now I know what all the hype was about, the guy witnessed some pretty incredible things. No wonder after he died many believed he fabricated these stories in prison to pass time and entertain others. After Rustichello documented Marco's Travels it was re-written and re-translated many times. It wasn't until 1938 that all his stories were compiled into one text, this of course was after they had been varified years earlier. I feel fortunate to have read this book when there are so many others out there. The author did a wonderful job of adding information that others have aquired, up to present day, of Marco's account. Without these insights it would have been easy to get lost.I feel I should leave a disclaimer, young Marco was 17 when he left Venice with his father and uncle he was quite the observer and a curious fellow. Especially when it came to women. He diligently recorded mating and marital customs of the various regions he visited. 'nough said.

  • David
    2019-01-28 15:30

    This is a very interesting annotation of the famous work "The Travels of Marco Polo". Laurence Bergreen brings to this book an enormous amount of research, summarizing the findings a large number of scholars. The book includes an excellent historical introduction that provides a cultural backdrop for the work. It follows Polo's "Travels" step by step through all of its color and accounts.One reason that such a book is greatly needed is that the original "Travels" is hardly well written and authoritative. In many places, Polo did NOT personally witness the sights or accounts mentioned, but instead relied on reports he had heard from others. In some instances, the reports are entirely fictitious. For that matter, Polo did not write the book himself -- instead, scholars recorded his words and tried to piece it together into a coherent narrative (and sometimes failed!).For a while some scholars thought that the book was entirely fictitious, and that Polo never made the fabled journey. One reason cited, for instance, is that Polo made no mention of the Great Wall. Only later did scholars realize why -- the Wall had not yet been built! Nowadays scholars are in general agreement that Polo actually did make the trip, and that most of his account is accurate, although there are continuing debates as to which parts are accurate and which parts are not.It is precisely for these reasons that Bergreen's book is so valuable -- sorting out fact from fiction, personally witnessed accounts from hearsay, and to provide a rich background of history and culture to place Polo's wanderings in context.Bergreen's style is very readable. It is definitely a must-read for those of us interested in world history in general, and in Chinese history and/or European history in particular.

  • Gustavo Nascimento
    2019-02-10 15:18

    Há muito tempo eu tinha curiosidade de saber como foi a história de Marco Pólo o homem que teria ido onde nenhum europeu jamais foi (ou pelo menos relatou ter ido), pois justamente tentava imaginar a sensação de conhecer lugares e povos totalmente desconhecidos, quase como se encontrássemos vida alienígena nos dias atuais. Tal viagem não poderia ser fácil portanto esperava que muitas as dificuldades desta longa viagem de mais de vinte anos, num tom narrativo, estivessem presentes no relato de Marco Pólo. Daí veio a primeira das minhas decepções pois o tom é predominantemente descritivo, o que em alguns momentos é interessante mas fica maçante pelo excesso. Quanto a isso creio que o problema seja eu, afinal a obra original foi escrita para o leitor do final do século XIII que estava muito mais interessado no lendário Kublai Khan, nos ambientes e povos fantásticos que não poderiam vislumbrar com os próprios olhos, a trajetória pessoal dos Pólo não interessava tanto à este público.Quando o autor ama o seu objeto de estudo em geral é algo positivo, pois ele se dedica ao máximo a sua obra, porém creio que o senhor Laurence Bergreen foi um pouco longe demais. Desde o começo sabemos que quem escreveu o livro ditado por Marco Pólo foi Rustichello de Pisa, ao longo do livro Bergreen tenta argumentar a favor de vários relatos fantásticos de Marco Pólo usando relatos de outros viajantes ou caracteristicas geográficas da região provando que o relato é verdadeiro, dando grandes indícios que boa parte do que está nos relatos é real. Porém Bergreen não quer de maneira nenhuma manchar a imagem de seu "herói": tudo que é irreal demais pra ser verdade ele conclui que foi acrescentado por Rustichello. O mesmo vale para todas as opiniões eurocêntricas e preconceituosas, comuns a todo mundo ocidental na Idade Média. Além disso, Bergreen tenta ler a mente de Marco Polo em diversos momentos, vendo amadurecimento, busca espiritual e quase conversão ao budismo que pelos trechos que ele transcreve não ficam claros em nenhum momento.No final das contas acho que vale a leitura principalmente pelo trabalho do autor de compilar e tentar organizar cronologicamente as mais de 100 versões (todas diferentes) das "Viagens".

  • JeffreySylvester
    2019-01-16 17:35

    I thought this was a great book. It is rare to read such a detailed historical account of the high middle ages corroborated with primary sources. Begreen does an excellent job of getting the reader into the mindset of 13th century Venetians as well as the other societies he came in contact with and the challenges this posed. It was also amazing to catch a glimpse of the breadth of diversity across Asia due to geography and the isolation of various societies. The challenges were also varied. At some points the Polo crew would have to forego food or engage in neolithic practices to obtain it and eat it. At other points they were given the town's women to enhance the honor of the men to which they belonged. And then there were the natural risks like the constant threat of Lions and the insight to medieval solutions to deal with these problems. I was fond of this adventure for personal reasons as well. In first year university I wrote an essay on the poem "Kubla Khan" by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Bergeen draws parallels between the society Marco observed the references in the poem and uses the poem as an example of the lasting influence of 'Travels'. Marco also explained how Travels helped fuel the renaissance and acted as a foundational travel guide for later explorers attempting to avoid the arduous, time consuming and dangerous overland passage of the Silk Road to trade in the Orient. I have also been to what is now known as 'Marco Polo's Bridge' in China; a bridge completed in 1192 that Marco would have visited that looks the same today as it had then. And then there was Marco's rise in the Mongolian bureaucracy, the decline of the empire, Kubla's failed siege of Japan, Marco's narrow escape and his descriptions of the immense biodiversity of Indonesia. And as far as explorers go, Marco wasn't commissioned. He was just a curious trader who knew no bounds and by fortunate accident survived and became imprisoned with a writer long enough to tell his tale and cement his legacy and the beginning of a new globalization. Overall, I think I may have enjoyed Bergreen's book on Columbus a bit more but I would recommend this book to anyone without reservation.

  • Mark
    2019-02-04 11:23

    Excellent read. All right - the author had a great story to work with - 18 year old Italian gets on a boat and a horse, rides to Mongolia, meet the Emperor Kublai Khan, delivers message back to Pope and rides back to Mongolia, becomes a tax assessor and an advisor to the Khan and journeys through the Khan's massive Empire before going back to Venice decades later and retiring. With this impressive historical tale it’s hard to write a bad book. Still, the author does add to the basic history. I enjoyed reading the author's comments on the context and possible accuracy of Marco Polo's own descriptions of his journey. The fact that the author also wrote in a modern language set makes for an easier read. It was great to read about Xanadu, the ways of the ancient Mongol Empire and how the Asian cultures which had no contact with Europe before Marco Polo's trips lived. It was interesting to read how advanced the Mongol empire was in the 1200’s. They had paper money, a well developed government system and culture and even managed to conquer China which was a country several times the Mongols’ size (the Khan did fail to conquer Japan despite some efforts…). There are also some very interesting descriptions of basic daily lives in the Khan’s empire here including Marco's insightful comments on the different sexual practices of the different Asian peoples he met... All in all a great tale told and helped by the author.

  • Mikey B.
    2019-02-06 14:38

    I would suspect that this is a rather difficult biography to write – Marco Polo would seem to be a rather enigmatic personality. Many of his observations and recordings are true, but others exaggerated and/or based on hearsay. Did Marco Polo really travel to Burma and Java? Although he traversed Eastern Europe and the vast Asian landmass with his uncle and father, he gives them very little credit (it was their second such expedition). Marco Polo’s travels extended over twenty years and the timelines are confusing. How did Marco Polo manage to return to Kublai Khan after journeying to Southeast Asia?Nevertheless we must remember that this history was written in the 12th century – when the printed word was only starting to be inscribed mechanically and when there was no academic or scientific approach to chronicling observations.Laurence Bergreen does give us a feel for the amazing life and the explorations of Marco Polo. He was probably one of the first great travellers and, aside from commerce and trading, he had no other objectives like religious conversion or settlement. He was one of the first Europeans to travel and write about lands beyond his homeland.

  • Nick
    2019-01-19 16:20

    I loved this book. Marco Polo brought the East back home to the West after being trapped in Kublai Khan's palace and kingdom for 17 years. The good news was that allowed him to get to know the Mongols pretty well, and the Chinese some. He learned about paper money, good sewage treatment, and the welfare state (who knew the Mongols 'invented' that!). In return, he brought those seige engines that can lob infected corpses over city walls, a European idea which fascinated and appalled the Mongols. The Great Khan's kingdom was polyglot, tolerant, and about 200 years ahead of Europe at the time. I've read Polo's own travel book before. What I liked about this was that Bergreen summarized and explained Polo's account, which can get a bit long and tiresome in places. It's also helpful because you never know (reading Polo straight) whether he's accurate or just making it up. Bergreen has done that work so you don't have to. Good reading for anyone interested in the clash between East and West.

  • Robert Melnyk
    2019-02-15 17:28

    Pretty interesting book about the life of Marco Polo, focusing mainly on his years of traveling to China and the far east, his relationship with Kublai Khan, and his interactions with various cultures of people he met along the way. We know about Marco Polo based on his own writing that he did while in a Genoese prison, written with the help of a romance writer from Pisa, and written first in broken French. Based on this, there is a lot of skepticism as to the validity of much of what we know about Marco Polo, but it seems that most scholars think that most of what we know about him is true. And I learned that one thing I had always thought was true about Marco Polo is not true. He did not introduce pasta to Italy from China. They had pasta in Italy before Marco Polo ever went to China :-). I probably would have given this 4 stars, but I thought at times it was a bit too detailed and dry, but overall it was interesting and a worthwhile read.

  • Maryana Pinchuk
    2019-01-26 16:27

    Despite the title, Marco Polo is incidental to this book – what Bergreen really wants to do is take his readers on a journey through the ancient world that Polo inhabited, delighting and titillating them with juicy gossip about everything from bizarre Tatar sex customs to the gory details of Japanese warfare and Chinese silk production. Given the sketchy historical records on many of these cultural details and events, the narrative frequently veers into the realm of speculation, which diminishes some of the enjoyment (and, ironically, this appears to have plagued Polo himself when he returned to Europe and tried to popularize the account of his travels). But overall, for anyone who shares Polo's spirit of wonder and adventure, it's definitely a fun, wild ride.

  • Wolfgang
    2019-01-22 10:27

    I was rather unimpressed once I finished reading it. It came across as just another author attempting to offer analysis on Travels without giving that much analysis honestly. While the subject is quite interesting, I was left bored in several spots, and considered just putting it away before it was completed. The author seems to waver on the actual point of why he's writing the book. Marco Polo offers many reasons to write and the author focuses on none, and instead just drifts around the his story. With just a bit of story before and after Travels the meat is basically just Bergreen's rather boring retelling of Travels.

  • David
    2019-02-11 17:16

    A very good introduction to Marco Polo and the societies he travelled through as well as an analysis of The Travels' accuracy. Laurence Bergreen approaches his topic with sympathy and has widely researched the history not just of Polo but the Silk Road, China, and all the civilizations he travelled through. Marco Polo: From Venice to Xanadu is both enlightening and informative. Recommended for those interested in Polo and those interested in the civilizations of the Silk Road. Rating: 4 out of 5

  • Janta
    2019-01-28 15:20

    Text concludes on page 361 in my copy of this book; the remainder is notes and so on. I felt like this book was slow to get started, and perhaps the end dragged on a bit too long, but otherwise I found it quite engrossing. I do wish there had been a larger, more prominently featured map of Asia and of Polo's possible route throughout; there were only 2 maps in the whole book, and one of those was a reproduction of an antique map that was difficult to read. The other was better, but appeared 300 pages into the book, and was less than half a page in size.

  • Suzanne
    2019-01-21 16:21

    Overall this seems to be a good account of Marco Polo's life and travels (I haven't actually read his Travels yet, so I can't really judge) with attempts to verify the truth of his accounts with comparison to other sources such as Chinese histories. But sometimes it feels like the author has pet theories that can only be supported with speculation and subjective opinions.

  • David
    2019-02-14 13:24

    I am not a fan of Bergreen's popularizations or his prose, and in any case there are better alternatives, including Larner and, not least by any means, the introduction and copious notes to the 1920 Yule-Cordier edition of Marco's book itself. Or if you like your history through purple lenses you could wait for the movie.

  • Joe Falletti
    2019-01-31 11:16

    A really good readable book. Mr. Berggren does a commendable job of analyzing the verbal initially published odyssey for documented fact, probable exaggeration and fantasy. The intro is wonderful as is the summary. Details on the many travels gets a little tedious but the book is very readable.

  • Cindy
    2019-01-20 17:33

    This book really held my attention. Although existence was violent and brutal, there were a lot of great ideas and discoveries that proved to advance civilization in Mongolia under the rule of Kublai Khan in the 1200's. Marco Polo spent many years as a merchant and tax collector under Kublai Khan. He kept a journal of all the experiences he had with cultures that were unknown to the civilizations in the west. He wrote a book but many people thought most of it was made up or exaggerated and they refused to believe it. Marco Polo and his family were amazing and brave to adventure in such dangerous times but they were able to give is an insight to the advancements and lifestyles of the eastern civilizations.

  • Carl R.
    2019-02-11 11:30

    Knowing nothing more than common lore, I imagined Marco Polo as something like a Medieval travel writer/Scheherazade, globe trotting across Asia and spinning tales of the exotic East for a European audience hungry for novelty. I knew he’d brought back artifacts and curiosities—spices, gunpowder?, silk. I knew he was Venetian. I knew little--all right, nothing--else.Laurence Bergreen’s admirable biography shines revealingly on the life and times of this important link between the amazingly separate worlds of the Middle Ages (not the Medieval. My ignorance.). Bergreen opens his book at a point where Marco, in his forties early in the fourteenth century, is sailing a warship in a Venetian attack on the Genoese fleet. He is captured and tossed in prison. He lives in comparative luxury for a prisoner, and it is here that he is able to consolidate his notes and dictate what would become the opus of his travels to a contemporary professional author. Without this jail time, we would likely have only fragments of the chronicles that have become known as The Travels. The document, completed before Europe knew of moveable type (but one of the inventions the Asians had already mastered), has been worked over and distorted through multiple handwritten copies and commentaries through the ages. But Bergreen’s version seems about as accurate and compelling as we’re liable to get. And it’s more than good enough for me.It turns out that Polo was not a solo act, nor was he an entirely willing voyager. His father and his uncle preceded him to the court of Kublai Kahn, Venetian merchants looking to make a buck along what later became known as the Silk Road. The story of their first journey, the one without Marco, which involved the Pope and wise men and a vessel of holy oil from the temple in Jerusalem is in many ways as fascinating as that of later one when they returned from Venice with the seventeen-year-old Marco in tow.The Polos were feted and favored in the Mongolian Court, and they served as officers and messengers throughout the great Kahn’s kingdom, which included most of Asia. Gengis Kahn--Kublai’s predecessor, but not his father. Can’t recall exactly his relationship. Great Uncle or something. The Kahn’s were both polygamous and prolific--conquered much of the Asian mainland. His troops--hundreds of thousands strong and possessed of amazing skills in arms, horsemanship, discipline, and organization--literally erased whole cities and countries. Kublai built a polyglot, heterogeneous empire out of countless conquered peoples. He did so, as the Romans later learned to do, by inclusion. By honoring and often adopting local gods and customs, he encouraged people to accept rather than resist his rule. Of course, the iron hand was always waiting in the shadows in the form of troops and spies to discourage the discontented, but he ran a by and large peaceful and prosperous and happy empire as empires go. Kublai gave Marco a gold seal that ensured him safe passage throughout the kingdom, and he ran both commercial and political errands at the behest of his emperor--from collecting taxes to delivering damsels to their betrothed. In his travels he observed and commented on the dress, habits--eating, sexual, matrimonial, political, etc.--appearance, flora and fauna, and behavior of a huge number of tribes and countries that fell under the thrall of the great Kahn. His observations are as trenchant as De Toqueville’s about America, and have proved remarkably accurate despite the scoffing ridicule they received from many audiences on his own continent. He had his prejudices, of course, and since he came of age during his travels, his opinions and focused changed as he matured. So what has come down to us is a record not only of a time and place in history, but of a man and his changing eyes ant attitudes.Delightful though this opportunity was, and willing though Marco was to take full advantage of it, his golden ticket was good only within the Kahn’s realm. Attempts to go beyond the borders would carry dire consequences not only for Marco himself, but for the family he left behind. They needed to all go or none. Thus, they lived as pampered and favored lap dogs for over twenty years before they were able to contrive safe passage away from a Kahn whose power and powers were waning back to Venice, where their family had pretty much given up on them and moved on in terms of relationships and property. How they dealt with all that is a story in itself. My only reservation about From Venice to Xanadu is that Bergreen spends too much time filling in gaps, correcting inaccuracies, and speculating about whether Marco’s version of events is fact or fiction, that I never got the sense of the inner life of Marco Polo. Something I expect from a biography. So, fascinating and instructive as the story is, it remains a story about externals rather than about the soul and heart of an individual. Still and all, that could be just me. According to one on-line bio of the author, Marco Polo is slated to become, as they say, a major motion picture with Matt Damon in the lead. Maybe Holllywood will correct any gaps in Bergreen’s scholarship. And maybe Osama Bin Laden will become a Franciscan monk.Whatever expectations of mine Bergreen failed to fulfill, he more than made up for with the full story of a remarkable time and man whose contribution to western civilization is little known and even less appreciated.

  • Alcibiades
    2019-01-17 12:19

    The most fascinating thing about Marco Polo's travels is not how much he saw, but about how much he thought, felt and who he became. I didn't know it's possible, but reading this book did changed my view about culture exchange in the ancient times, and made me much more optimistic about my own travel and the possibilities of the future.

  • Berit Lundqvist
    2019-01-19 16:14

    Indeed an interesting subject, but I had trouble getting through this book since it was not focussed enough. Too many words about too many subjects. However, the lesson learned from the book is quite clear: When cultures cross and your mind is open, great evolution will happen.

  • Lawrence Snouffer
    2019-01-16 10:18

    Superb. Stupendous. Encyclopedic in scope. A wealth of detail. A masterpiece of scholarship but not one dull moment anywhere. Excellently well written. Amazing. I could not put it down.

  • Pat
    2019-01-17 17:20

    Amazing story and mostly true adventure.

  • Dan
    2019-02-02 18:28

    Prior to reading this I was almost completely unfamiliar with Marco Polo. Upon completion of the book, my first thought was that he was somehow a companion. I've traveled the Silk Road as part of the Polo Company, sharing adventures and observations and writing them down. (Indeed I took prodigious notes throughout the reading, jotting down particularly interesting facts that I wanted to retain or research further.)The book opens with a vivid portrait of Venice in the High Middle Ages, an advanced society for its time. Fascinating are the mundane details of daily life, the class system and the Venetian business model; a crude form of Capitalism 300 years before Mercantilism took hold as an economic model during the Age of Discovery. The opening is swift and enveloping. Bergreen's writing sucked me into the 13th century and the adventure began.A parallel to Marco Polo's story is that of Kublai Kahn and the Mongol Empire. As he was to Marco Polo, The Great Kahn is a larger than life figure and a specter over the entire work. Polo's observations throughout China are particularly fascinating; Tibetan marriage (and sexual) customs, the efficiency of the Mongol postal system, the Song Dynasty's adoption program for abandoned children, environmental awareness, silk as a currency standard. These are just a few examples. Comparisons are drawn between Venice - advanced by European standards - and China, advanced beyond Western Civilization's comprehension at the time. Marco Polo discovered these advances, and I was there to bear witness. (Much of my other reading on China has illustrated a polar opposite. Following the decline of the Mongol Empire, China closed itself off and fell into a technological decline. Bergreen briefly touches on this.)The true strength of the book is its presentation of Polo's own written work in Travels. Frequent quotations from Polo surrounded by contextual explanatory passages make navigating the often quirky Travels much easier. Regarding the quirkiness, much time is devoted to explaining how Polo and Rustichello created the work, and how it evolved into what we know today from various incomplete and modified translations. Bergreen also offers examples of how Polo's accounts compare to historical record. The author acts as navigator through Polo's work - distinguishing fact from legend and embellishment.One very minor weakness - I would have liked a more in-depth perspective on the Battle of Curzola and the events leading up to Marco Polo's capture and imprisonment. That period is summarized but in a manner lending it a sense of being overlooked. However as the subtitle of the book - From Venice to Xanadu - suggests, the book's central focus is on Marco Polo's travels through Asia. Read this book. Join Marco Polo's inner circle and take him into yours.

  • Tony Zale
    2019-01-25 12:22

    “Marco Polo: From Venice to Xanadu” kicks off with a bang, describing a naval battle financed and fought by Polo after returning from his famous journey. His capture and subsequent imprisonment turned out to be a fortuitous occurrence -- he was treated as an honored house guest and met Rustichello, a popular writer of the time and eventual coauthor on the story of Marco’s travels. From here we are transported back twenty years, to the start of the journey with his father and uncle to China and the royal court of Kublai Khan.The narrative velocity keeps up for much of the early journey. We quickly move to the middle east and learn of the charge Khan has given Marco’s father: to return to the Mongol court with Christian scholars ready to teach their beliefs. This illustrates one of the books themes: the Mongols were early globalists, interested in absorbing and assimilating knowledge from all parts of the world. Kublai Khan appointed Mongols, Chinese, Muslims, and Christians to key advisory roles in an effort to build an empire that could credibly govern the known world.As the Polos progress closer to their destination, the weaknesses of the book become more obvious. It’s often unclear whether the author is conveying fact or conjecture. The Polos were waylaid for a year in Afghanistan; the author speculates without evidence that this resulted from an opium addiction. Marco’s thinner descriptions of regions and people are similarly embellished. This embellishment isn’t consistent; much is made of the Polo family’s interest in trade (the main inspiration for their journey), but we hear disappointingly little about how their business actually operated.After their arrival in China, the book’s pace slows. We tour the Mongol empire as Polo is pressed into service as a tax collector. This yields several interesting “slice of life” descriptions of his encounters, but they feel aimless. There isn’t a story here; it reads more like a travel guide. As a traveller accustomed to modern transportation it’s hard to believe that these journeys spread over many years.Ultimately, it’s clear the author had a difficult task and I think he mostly succeeds. Ambiguities mean he often needs to choose between speculation or silence. The original material written by Rustichello and Polo no longer survives; instead scholars work to smooth discrepancies between hand-copied translations of translations. The writing doesn’t torture you with examining every possible angle on a topic, it picks a reasonable explanation and sticks to it. The supporting context from Chinese sources provides key background information that you wouldn’t get by reading the Polo material alone. Ideally the book would have a little more flair in the middle, but that would probably betray reality.

  • Keith
    2019-01-27 10:33

    This book was interesting. As I got into this audiobook, I began to want to read the original - the one "written" by Marco Polo and Rustichello of Pisa. That urge didn't last too long. The epilog section of this make it clear to me that this book is a much better choice. The original was written in bad French, no original manuscript survives, and the order of events is sometimes confused. There are 150 manuscripts that survive - no two are alike. Therefore, I am pleased to have "read" this one. Marco Polo describes many unusual sexual practices. One that amazed me was that the people didn't resent the huge numbers of young ladies being shuttled off to the capital for the pleasure of Kublai Kahn. As I recall, it was 100 per day that were gathered in from the empire to the capital. The ones that didn't make it through the selection process were parceled out to his minions. He describes the practice of marrying dead children. That implies that they believed in life after death, and that they believed that ordinances need to be done here on Earth for the marriage to be valid in the heavens. The marriage of dead children included all the rites, formality, and expense of a usual marriage, even including they paying of a dowery.This book gave me a much greater appreciation for several things:- The great diversity of various cultures. Some cultures were exceedingly hospitably, and others quite predatory.- The great danger of travel during most of the world's history. (That persists in some parts of the world even today).- The appetites of human nature for things such as sexual gratification, power, and money are 'never satisfied.' They were just as avaricious in the 13th century as any century before or since. Kublai Kahn was at least twice duped by conniving ministers. The first time lasted for 30 years. After that, he caught on much quicker. In his later years, Kublai Kahn had the largest empire on earth, but still tried to extend it to places so remote that they had never heard of him.- Marco Polo's tales were not accecpted as true in his hometown of Venice. ("And they were offended in him. But Jesus said unto them, A prophet is not without honour, save in his own country, and in his own house." Matthew 13:57)- In the 20th century comparisons were (finally) done to check the validity of Marco Polo's reports and found them to be largely accurate. Why did it take so long to get around to it?- The author of this book, Laurence Bergreen, often attributed the fictional parts to Rustichello's literary style.I was surprised that in his old age, Marco Polo became litigious. Delightful, and it made me want to learn more. I recommend this edition as one that weaves a coherent narrative with additional material beyond that found in Travels.

  • Jean Bonilla
    2019-01-26 10:30

    To start let me say, you should at least skim this book; don't be too put off by the bad reviews. I'm glad I stuck it out until the end because the author suddenly found his voice. All the strange asides, odd snippets of commentary, and racy sexual descriptions better suited to a modern romance novel than serious history that distracted and annoyed me during the tale itself came together in a stirring - even graceful - conclusion. Clearly the author did a massive amount of research into sources. He's read everything he could find and visited all the original sites. The "Sources" section was in some ways more informative than the book itself! I certainly am better informed about the visit of the three Polo family members to China and Asia and about Marco's side trips in South and Southeast Asia as a collector of tax on salt and other products. Partly, though, that's because I was working from a very, very low base = virtually total ignorance. More than additional information, what I have is an appetite for more real content. I've added another Polo book to my list - an older one that I hope will avoid the lure of the smutty side of his travels. We will see what I end up with. It may be that a series of puzzle pieces is the best I can find, given that paucity of 13th Century material. One of the more compelling vignettes appears in that final section. In describing Polo, he says, "Throughout Marco's world, people lived according to absolutes, both political and spiritual, but he recognized that in a tumultuous, ever-changing time, the only absolute was the power of belief itself." Manifestly a true description of the broadminded Khan with whom Marco Polo was so intimately acquainted. Then the author goes on to conclude with a fitting epitaph for the man who wanted to rule the entire world. "One of the few surviving objects from the height of the Mongol Empire is a large granite tortoise, for which a distant mountain range is named...Of Kublai Khan's magnificent Xanadu, little survives beyond a few evocative mounds rising from a grassy plain, and whispers of lost grandeur carried on the wind." Only Marco Polo's book, the "Travels" still marks the spectacle and wonder that it was.

  • Alex Telander
    2019-01-27 10:29

    MARCO POLO: FROM VENICE TO XANADU BY LAURENCE BERGREEN: Laurence Bergreen, whose last book, Over the Edge of the World, charted Magellan’s circumnavigation of the world, returns with a fresh and thorough biography on the remarkable and renowned thirteenth century traveler, Marco Polo. Marco Polo begins in a style that is becoming modern with biographies such as Caroline Alexander’s Bounty, near the end of Marco Polo’s life when he is a renowned traveler of noble stature and wealth; this makes the return to Polo’s younger life as an inexperienced person all the more poignant.Marco Polo was not the first to feel the urge and thrill to travel the world; it was an experience and almost expectation instilled within his family for some time. At the age of seventeen, barely a man, Marco Polo began his first journey with his father Niccolo and uncle Maffeo bound for the court of Kublai Khan in 1271. While the focus of the book is on Polo’s time spent with the Great Khan, Bergreen spends time details sights and experiences on the Polos’ travels across the known world to China where Marco became a personal advisor to Kublai Khan in 1275. Marco then spent almost twenty years in service to the Khan, traveling the many surrounding countries and gathering intelligence and acting as a tax collector for the Yuan (Mongol) dynasty. It is here that we see through Marco’s eyes and how he views this world that is greatly different to the one he was used to in Venice: from Asbestos manufacture, to crocodile hunting, to the sexual habits of the different peoples; the practice of offering up one’s wife to passing travelers was one that greatly perplexed and put Marco ill at ease.While the book does cover Marco Polo’s life, Bergreen seems almost hesitant to offer commentary of opinion on the Polo’s habits, ideas, and reactions. Nevertheless, Marco Polo is a fascinating read into the life of the often misunderstood Venetian.For more book reviews and exclusive author interviews, go to BookBanter.