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Marco Polo: From Venice to Xanadu by…

Marco Polo: From Venice to Xanadu (2007)

by Laurence Bergreen

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
5491327,100 (3.59)18
  1. 10
    When Asia Was the World by Stewart Gordon (shieldwolf)
    shieldwolf: If early exploration interests you. If you enjoy Asian History and the merchants of the Silk Road. Both coming to Europe and India and from Europe and India, Then this is a must read.
  2. 10
    The Journeyer by Gary Jennings (JGolomb)
    JGolomb: Journeyer is a fictional telling of the travels of Marco Polo.
  3. 00
    Xanadu by John Man (edwinbcn)
  4. 00
    The Travels of Marco Polo by Marco Polo (JGolomb)

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Showing 1-5 of 12 (next | show all)
Marco Polo (1254 - 1324) has become the embodiment of East-West relations with China. To any foreigner with ties to China, Polo looms large. Both in Venice, where Polo was born and where he died, and Beijing, where he lived for some time, there are historical relics, in Venice his home known as 'il corte del milione' and the Marco Polo bridge in the western suburbs of Beijing (Lugouqiao).

Marco Polo was a contemporary of Dante Alighieri, and lived nearly a hundred years before Geoffrey Chaucer. Few people read works from the Middle Ages, as both the language and mind set of people of those times are difficult to comprehend. Polo's description of the world, or his travels have often been characterized as a phantasy, fiction rather than fact. However, an increasing amount of scholarship, including contemporary Persian and Chinese sources indicate that the Polos did actually reside in the Chinese empire, suggesting that Polo's travelogue is largely true.

Laurence Bergreen's book is not an edition of Marco Polo's Travels. Marco Polo. From Venice to Xanadu is more of a concordant history book. As the author explains in various places, Polo's book seems to be based on a loose-leaved manuscript that has fallen down the stairs and been recollected: there is no logical, historical progress to the narrative. Marco Polo claims to have been an emissary to Kublai Kahn, the then-ruler of China. The travels suggest that he made several prolonged stays in Chinese cities other than Beijing, but it isn't clear whether he would have returned to the capital after each mission or reported to the Kahn while travelling. In this sense, Bergreen's assumption that Polo's stay in China can be charted as a linear progress rather than a back and forth to the capital may constitute a violation of the historical accuracy of Polo's work. However, it does considerably clarify Polo's trajectory and create a clear and logical framework for the reader.

The opening chapters of Bergreen's book shine with a brilliant description of the Venetian Republic in its full splendour. In 14 chapters, Bergreen describes all we know about Marco Polo, all the people who surrounded him, both literally and historically, and all facts of history and geography that are relevant to the various stages of Polo's travels from Venice to China, and on the way back via India, returning to Venice. Bergreen's book bring together an impressive amount of scholarship, and he does not fail to point out contention and disagreement. Nonetheless, Bergreen is a strong proponent of the essential veracity of Polo's travelogue, and in Marco Polo. From Venice to Xanadu tries to tell us what Polo's cannot make sufficiently clear. In that sense, Bergreen's book is a great tribute to Marco Polo.

The final chapters of Marco Polo. From Venice to Xanadu are dedicated to the reception of Marco Polo's Travels, including Coleridge's famous lines. In these chapters Bergreen points out the problematic textual history of Polo's travels, authorship, language and manuscript versions. In fact, the end notes of Bergreen's book make a very interesting reading, and can be read as a succinct academic summary of the book. However, it is obvious that Bergreen is no sinologist of medievalist, and his book which is largely free from references and footnotes is intended for general readership.

Marco Polo. From Venice to Xanadu is a great book that (re-) tells a fascinating story. It is a pity that Chinese scholars are mainly wary of any research beyond anything purely Chinese. In fact, the legacy of Genghis Kahn as a conquerer of China is not without controversy in the People's Republic, while Chinese scholars do not really see Marco Polo as a truly researchable object within the body of Chinese history or Chinese studies. However, a thorough study of Chinese sources might reveal and make a major contribution to the understanding and significance of Marco Polo as a link between the western world and China. ( )
  edwinbcn | Feb 3, 2019 |
Since there are 2,000 reviews of this book already, there's no need to summarise the book but I'll just add my 'thumbs up' to a very entertaining and informative work. The combination of long quotes from Marco Polo accompanied by explanations and annotations by author Bergreen worked very well for me--I will confess that I found reading the Travels of Marco Polo in the original tedious and at times very slow going, but Bergreen has selected the most interesting sections without omitting the heart of the original. AND although I've been reading Asian history for decades, I learned a couple of new things that I hadn't run across before (for example, that the origin of the word 'caravan' is Persian karvan, which means 'company'...and this although I've personally travelled the Kashgar-Xi'an section across the Taklamakan Desert several times.)

Everyone should read the tales of Marco Polo; I would heartily recommend this book to anyone age 15 and up. It's going on my shopping list for nieces & nephews.... ( )
  pbjwelch | Jul 25, 2017 |
Fascinating read that follows Marco Polo's _Travels_ through Asia - enlightening us as to what was true and what he was making up (surprisingly little). Gives us some historical background and expands on Polo's own book. Somehow Bergreen manages to glean a balanced appraisal of the many versions of Polo's tale. ( )
  dbsovereign | Jan 26, 2016 |
Drawing on original sources in more than half a dozen languages, and on his own travels along Polo’s route in China and Mongolia, Bergreen explores the lingering controversies surrounding Polo’s legend, settling age-old questions and testing others for significance. Synthesizing history, biography, and travelogue, this is the timely chronicle of a man who extended the boundaries of human knowledge and imagination. Destined to be the definitive account of its subject for decades to come, Marco Polo takes us on a journey to the limits of history—and beyond ( )
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  Tutter | Feb 20, 2015 |
There's remarkably little to this book. LB was faced with the fact that there's not a great deal of material about MP except for his book. But we have 119 versions of that manuscript, as it was a best seller in his time. But it predates printing, and medieval scribes used the original manuscript was a mine of information as suited the client requesting a copy of the book. They seem to have edited the manuscript to suit the means and curiosity of the client. LB doesn't seem to want to include material from other sources dealing with tangential aspects of the time. Since he desired to write a thick book, he just stuck in factoids that a modern audience may like. I would say the book needs a final editing session, and then addition of stuff requiring more research than was done here. ( )
  DinadansFriend | Oct 5, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 12 (next | show all)
Marco Polo opened Asia to European trade, so we're told, but we generally don't know much else. Laurence Bergreen remedies that by bolstering Polo's reputation and arguing for his historical importance in a book as enthralling as a rollicking travel journal. Bergreen, who has written biographies of Louis Armstrong, James Agee and Irving Berlin, turned his attention to ancient explorers with “Over the Edge of the World,” which tracked Ferdinand Magellan’s circumnavigation of the globe. I was a fan of that book, but “Marco Polo” far outshines it, and not surprisingly.
Told with wit and insight, the story of Polo's journey still rivets nearly 800 years later. Perhaps that's because the world hasn't absorbed what Polo preached — that "commerce was the essence of international relations and that it transcended political systems and religious beliefs, all of which, in Marco's descriptions, are self-limiting."
This is an enthusiastic retelling of Marco Polo's timeless story. Laurence Bergreen draws from a broad range of the surviving Polo manuscripts to create a convincing portrait of how Marco was able to get to thirteenth century China, and of what he saw, felt and did when he got there. Readers unfamiliar with Polo's adventures will find much pleasure here.
added by shieldwolf | editAuthor of "Emperor of China", Jonathan Spence

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She hid from her enemies amid a seductive array of islands, 118 in all. Damp, dark, cloistered, and crowded, she perched on rocks and silt. Fortifications and spectacular residences rose on foundations of pinewood piles and Istrian stone. In Marco Polo's Venice, few edifices—with the exception of one huge Byzantine basilica and other large churches—stood entirely straight; most structures seemed to rise uncertainly from the water.   
Marco Polo came of age in a city of night edging toward dawn; it was opaque, secretive, and rife with transgressions and superstitions. Even those who had lived their entire lives in Venice became disoriented as they wandered down blind alleys that turned without warning from familiar to sinister. The whispers of conspiracy and the laughter of intimacy echoed through narrow passageways from invisible sources; behind dim windows, candles and torches flickered discreetly. In the evening, cobwebs of mist arose from the canals, imposing silence and isolation, obscuring the lanterns in the streets or in windows overlooking the gently heaving canals. Rats were everywhere—emerging from the canals, scurrying along the wharves and streets, gnawing at the city's fragile infrastructure, bringing the plague with them
Then all the charm Is broken—all that phantom-world so fair Vanishes, and a thousand circlets spread. .
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 140004345X, Hardcover)

Drawing on original writings and walking in the footsteps of Marco Polo himself, Laurence Bergreen's Marco Polo: From Venice to Xanadu is the most definitive biography of the legendary traveler to date, separating the man from his considerable myth.

Look inside Marco Polo (Click on thumbnails to see a larger image):

Marco Polo: a traditional portrait; Granger Frontispiece of an early published edition of Marco Polo’s Travels, Nuremberg, Germany, 1477; Granger Kublai Khan, emperor of the world’s largest land-based empire; Granger Marco Polo commanded a Venetian galley similar to this in the Battle of Curzola; Granger Stone carving on the Marco Polo bridge; Laurence Bergreen Marco Polo’s vivid and occasionally misinterpreted descriptions of his travels inspired this medieval artist to depict dragons in China; Granger

Marco Polo timeline (All dates given in the Julian calendar):

1215 - Kublai Khan, the grandson of Genghis Khan and Marco Polo's mentor, is born.

1254 - Marco Polo born in Venice, although one tradition locates his birthplace in the Venetian colony of Dalmatia.

1260 - Kublai Khan becomes leader of the Mongols and in 1271 founds the Yuan ("Origin") Dynasty.

1271 - Young Marco Polo leaves Venice with his father Niccolo and uncle Maffeo, bound for the court of Kublai Khan.

1274 - Kublai Khan oversees a failed Mongol invasion of Japan, as the Mongols, masters of the Steppe, meet their match at sea.

1275 - The three Polos arrive in Shang-du, Kublai Khan's summer palace immortalized by Samuel Taylor Coleridge as Xanadu; Marco begins his years in the service of the Khan.

1276 - 1293 - Marco travels throughout Asia, reaching the coast of India, and possibly Zanzibar, gathering intelligence for Kublai Khan and serving as a tax collector for the Yuan (Mongol) dynasty.

1281 - Kublai Khan's second failed invasion of Japan, a serious blow to his prestige.

1292 - The Polos escort Princess Kokachin to Persia to marry, their last formal service to Kublai Khan before departing.

1294 - Kublai Khan dies, freeing the Polo family, who undertake a dangerous return voyage by sea.

1295 - Marco, his father, and uncle, arrive in Venice after their 24-year absence. They have been away for so long that their fellow Venetians do not recognize them.

1298 - Marco is captured by the Genoese in the Battle of Curzola, according to some accounts, and confined to a cell in Genoa with a romance writer, Rustichello of Pisa, to whom he dictates his adventures in China, his reminiscences of Kublai Khan, his life among the Mongols.

1300 - Safely back in Venice, Marco Polo marries Donata Badoer; the couple has three daughters.

1324 - As manuscript versions of his exploits spread throughout Europe, Marco Polo dies in Venice, claiming that he did not reveal the half of his experiences in his remarkable Travels.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:06 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

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 of his era.… (more)

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