Marco Polo From Venice to Xanadu

Laurence Bergreen

Book - 2007

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2nd Floor 951.025/Bergreen Due Sep 8, 2022
Subjects
Published
New York : A.A. Knopf 2007.
Edition
1st ed
Language
English
Physical Description
415 p., [24] p. of plates : ill. (chiefly col.)
Bibliography
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN
9781400078806
9781400043453
140004345X
Main Author
Laurence Bergreen (-)
Review by Booklist Reviews

*Starred Review* The very name Marco Polo conjures an atmosphere of great adventures in distant locales. Writing a responsible, even definitive biography of the thirteenth-century Italian merchant-cum-adventurer is a tricky proposition. He is known for his two-decades-long journey along the Silk Road to China and residence at the court of the Mongol ruler Kublai Khan, but the question has always remained: How much of Polo's written account of his journey is real and how much is made up? Well-established biographer Bergreen begins his exciting reconstruction of the extraordinary life of Marco Polo in the rich context of Venetian life at the time. Marco was born into Venice's all-important "merchant aristocracy," and trade is what prompted the Polo brothers (Marco's father and uncle) to venture eastward to Asia, with young Marco, only a teenager at the time, in tow. As Bergreen reminds us, the Mongol Empire, especially its paramount leader, the great Kublai Khan, was violent and lawless in Western eyes. Marco came to appreciate the wonders of Mongolian culture and the learned, compassionate side of his host, the emperor. Addressing the issue of how much of what Marco related in his Travels is true, Bergreen finds that although the majority of his accounts were based on firsthand experience, "mere facts, however compelling, were never enough for Marco Polo, whose experiences and imagination took him beyond the limits of history." For more information on the writing of this impressively researched and deftly composed biography, see the Story behind the Story. Copyright 2007 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Choice Reviews

Biographer Bergreen undertakes an immense task in writing about Marco Polo. Moving from Venice to Xanadu, he must explain the Venetian constitution, Central Asian topography, the way of life among the Mongol tribes, and, of course, the wonders of China. The author follows Marco to Xanadu, but despite Coleridge's poem, where Xanadu symbolizes earthly bliss, the true climax of Marco's travels was the Chinese city Quinsai (modern Hangzhou). Acting as an official of Kublai Khan, the city's recent conqueror, Marco observed society from within, although he never spoke Chinese. He described the city's extravagant wealth, beautiful women, elaborate firefighting methods, and dependence on astrology. Bergreen portrays Western Christian culture as backward and closed, a culture that Marco's liberated spirit had to overcome. Europe, however, had sent out many missionaries, merchants, and explorers, some of whom Bergreen mentions. What Bergreen and others have not addressed is why medieval Christians were fascinated by the East, while so few Asians had any interest in the West. Which civilization was closed? Summing Up: Recommended. General, public, and lower-level undergraduate collections. Copyright 2008 American Library Association.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Your one and only chance to travel with Marco Polo; from a biographer who's favored everyone from Louis Armstrong to Al Capone. With a four-city tour. Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

In 1271, 17-year-old Marco Polo set off from Venice with his father and uncle on an expedition to the court of Kublai Khan, where Marco remained a trusted servant of the Mongol emperor for 17 years. When he returned to Venice, contemporaries didn't believe him: they found his tales fantastic. Years later, languishing in a prison in Genoa, Marco had a writer named Rustichello write down his story. Thus was born his Travels of Marco Polo , the richest and best of medieval travel books and one of the great adventure stories of all time. Fellow Venetians found it difficult to accept Marco's boasts, but most of what he related was true. Once or twice in this biography, Bergreen (Over the Edge of the World: Magellan's Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe ) hypothesizes beyond the evidence, e.g., that Marco "employed drugs," which imparted "unnatural vividness" to his narrative, but in general Bergreen is scrupulous in his use of sources; the story he tells is fascinating, even if there is no new analysis. Recommended for general collections.—David Keymer, Modesto, CA [Page 67]. Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

Even in his own day, the famed 13th-century travel writer Marco Polo was mocked as a purveyor of tall tales—gem-encrusted clothes, nude temple dancing girls, screaming tarantulas—in his narrative of his journey to the Chinese court of the Mongol emperor Kublai Khan. In this engrossing biography, Bergreen (James Agee: A Life ), while allowing that "mere facts... were never enough for Marco," finds him a roughly accurate and perceptive witness (aside from the romantic embellishments and outright fabrications concocted with his collaborator Rustichello of Pisa) who painted an influential and unusually sympathetic portrait of the much-feared Mongols. Bergreen follows Polo's disjointed commentary on everything from Chinese tax policy to asbestos manufacturing, crocodile hunting and Asian sexual mores—Polo was especially taken with the practice of sharing one's wife with passing travelers—while deftly glossing it with scholarship. Less convincing is Bergreen's attempt to add depth to Polo's "lurid taste and over-heated imagination" by portraying him as both a prophet of globalization and a "pilgrim and explorer of the spirit." Polo's spiritual trek didn't take him very far, since he ended his days back in Venice as a greedy, litigious merchant. Still, the result is a long, strange, illuminating trip. 16 pages of photos, 3 maps. (Oct. 25) [Page 67]. Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

A portrait of the thirteenth-century explorer, adventurer, and global traveler follows Marco Polo from his youth in Venice to his journey to Asia and role in the court of Kublai Khan, to his return to Europe, and discusses his influence on the history ofhis era.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

An insightful portrait of the thirteenth-century explorer, adventurer, and global traveler follows Marco Polo from his youth in Venice as the scion of a wealthy merchant family, to his journey to Asia and role in the court of Kublai Khan, to his return to Europe, his introduction of such Chinese innovations as gunpowder and pasta, and his influence on the history of his era. Reprint. 60,000 first printing.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

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 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.