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Marco Polo and the Discovery of the World
by John Larner
ISBN 0300079710 / 9780300079715 / 0-300-07971-0
Publisher Yale University Press
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Marco Polo is important not because he traveled extensively in Asia--other 13th-century Europeans did that--but because he wrote down his experiences for others to read. In this excellent study, John Larner of Glasgow University assesses the impact of Polo's Travels on the intellectual society of his day. The book's contribution to learning was immense, giving medieval Europeans new information that forever changed their understanding of Europe's place in the world. Larner analyzes different versions of the book, originally written in a Genoa prison and translated into many languages within Polo's lifetime. He illustrates a number of fascinating early maps and analyzes Polo's influence on later geographical and literary treatises. Though Polo says very little about himself, Larner finds clues to his personality. Polo left Venice when he was 17 and remained in Asia until he was 41; Europe must have seemed strange to him, even uncouth, after his decades of service to Kublai Khan, Mongol emperor of China, the richest and most sophisticated country in the world at the time. Polo formed a strong affinity with the Mongolians, which may explain his failure to learn the Chinese language or mention Chinese customs such as tea-drinking or foot binding, occasionally suggested as evidence that he never in fact visited China. Marco Polo and the Discovery of the World demonstrates in straightforward language and with satisfying detective work how the record of a man's travels became one the most influential books of the millennium. --John Stevenson [via]