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Marco Polo: From Venice to Xanadu (2007)

de Laurence Bergreen

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6941526,911 (3.58)25
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.
  1. 10
    When Asia Was the World de 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 de Gary Jennings (JGolomb)
    JGolomb: Journeyer is a fictional telling of the travels of Marco Polo.
  3. 00
    Marco Polo: The Journey that Changed the World de John Man (edwinbcn)
  4. 00
    Libro de las maravillas de Marco Polo (JGolomb)
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Es mostren 1-5 de 15 (següent | mostra-les totes)
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 the 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. ( )
  bread2u | Jul 1, 2020 |
2019 (link goes to a LibraryThing page with the review) ( )
  dchaikin | Apr 18, 2020 |
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. ( )
1 vota 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 |
Es mostren 1-5 de 15 (següent | mostra-les totes)
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.
afegit per shieldwolf | editaAuthor of "Emperor of China", Jonathan Spence

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Boehmer, PaulNarradorautor secundarialgunes edicionsconfirmat
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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
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Then all the charm Is broken—all that phantom-world so fair Vanishes, and a thousand circlets spread. .
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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.

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