Thursday, March 19, 2015

Journeys on the Silk Road: A Desert Explorer, Buddha's Secret Library, and the Unearthing of the World's Oldest Printed Book by Joyce Morgan and Conrad Walters

Traveling the Silk Road – that ancient trade route between China and the Mediterranean – has been on my personal travel bucket list for years, so I did not hesitate to check out Joyce Morgan and Conrad Walters’ excellent “Journeys on the Silk Road.” This history provides a fascinating recounting of the travels of Aurel Stein in the early 20th century. A Hungarian by birth, Stein became an archeologist and was hired by the British in the early 1900’s to make expeditions along the Silk Road. Ostensibly hired to fill in “blank spots” on the maps of Central Asia, Stein also undertook archeological digs and unearthed fabulous treasures.

Stein’s most fantastic discovery was made in 1907 near Dunhuang, China. In a cave known as the “Cave of a Thousand Buddhas” he found the Diamond Sutra, the world’s oldest printed text, as well as 40,000 (yes, forty thousand!) other scrolls. The authors’ telling of this discovery reads like a thriller, with Chinese nationalists branding Stein a burglar, while Stein bribes the cave’s caretaker and removes more and more of the scrolls.

One of the most amazing aspects of Stein’s travels was his confidence crossing huge areas of uncharted desert. Without a GPS, Stein and his little dog Dash, along with guides, traveled across the Taklamakan Desert’s ocean of sand without even knowing if there would be any water holes. Luckily, water was found right before everyone in the expedition died of thirst.

“Journeys on the Silk Road” is one of the best-written non-fiction books I’ve read in a long time. To put it on hold, click here.  -Kay, Assistant Director

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