Dr. Peter Frankopan Interview About: The Silk Roads -- A New History of the World
It was a real honor to meet with Dr. Peter Frankopan in New York City on September 15th during his quick trip to the USA for scholarly presentations at Yale and Harvard and at the United Nations.
Dr. Peter Frankopan is Director of the Oxford Centre for Byzantine Research at the University of Oxford. His new book, The Silk Roads: New History of the World has become a best-seller and it's being hailed all over the world as a literary masterpiece. It has already won history book of the year by several media and journalistic outlets. William Dalrymple of the Guardian writes that this book, "is history on a grand scale with a sweep and ambition that is rare" and "a remarkable book on many levels.” The first German review in Berliner Zeitung that came out this week says that "it is not just the most important world history for the year, but the most important for decades.” Right now, it’s a number one non-fiction seller in the UK, Ireland, India and just became the number one non-fiction book in China this week, despite not being published for another month.
It must be said that Dr. Frankopan's approach to this book, helps any reader of history a chance to "recalibrate" history and challenge past historical assumptions, especially for us with our schooling in Europe or in the US that accepted the more simplistic and Eurocentric view with a heavy Greek, Roman and European focus. The author does a wonderful job of developing and defining the concepts and events overall that brings to life, the transport and movement of goods, scientific ideas, philospophies, religion, even disease and violence from East to West. The Oxford historian's account of over 2,000 years of history, was at times a roller-coaster ride, but always so thought-provoking. It is truly a refreshing reassessment of world history with fresh eyes from someone with Byzantine expertise and with a finer, nuanced appreciation of the networks that have linked the East and the West for centuries.
Of course, I was interested in how anyone could have undertaken such an ambitious project. Dr. Frankopan explained upfront that from the age of seven, with a world map on his wall that he really studied that map to learn most all the major cities and countries. He cited in this book's preface that for his fourteenth birthday, he was given a book from his parents, by anthropologist Eric Wolf and which further energized his interpretation of history and civilization. He shared with me how his parents encouraged all the children to take a serious interest in world affairs and so the dinner conversation was so globally and history-oriented. Also, he explained that he concluded by his teens that the schools in the United Kingdom were not seriously teaching history beyond European borders and so his interest in the Byzantine world, the Far East and Asia only grew over time.
Dr. Frankopan was quick to point out that Oxford University is such an outstanding place to do any historical research and his colleagues there were very supportive. Of course, his travels to over thirty countries helped his research as did his working knowledge of the Arabic and Russian languages and overall used sources in 15 languages. He shared a few of his favorite historical nuances and experiences from his overall research for this book and with so many fascinating trips including to Turkey, Pakistan, China and even drank fermented milk in Kazahkstan. It was illuminating to me, that his research substantiated that the Venetian Empires use of use of slaves (taken from the word slavs) was a huge edge over Ragusa-Dubrovnik as the Venetians build a bigger, richer empire upon the backs of thousands of slaves and including their Slav Christian neighbors.
The book's last 100 pages and his more modern day analysis of the US interventions over the past 25 years, and detailing the clumsy interventions and examining what he describes as doomed struggles, brings a real-time perspective to the challenges at hand from Afghanistan to the Mid-East instability of the 21st century. Dr. Frankopan's dissection and analysis of the battle for the soul of Islam going on right now, like a flashback to the the 7th century after Prophet Mohammad died, is such a sobering topic that is explored with an extraordinarily impressive and scholarly interpretation.
His fourteen page conclusion is a dazzling summation and should be a wakeup call to many English-speaking foreign policy decision-makers, bringing comp lex geo-political-historical conce pts to bear and to conclude that the world's centre of gravity has shifted eastward over the last few decades. Dr. Frankopan dives into the growing influence of China globally and cites many concrete factors and examples that show their growing global influence. He quotes, Chinese Pres. Xi Jinping who talks openly that the time has come for a "Silk Road Economic Belt" and even Turkey is looking East more these days, as an option to European Union membership.
Peter was born in London in 1971, and studied at Eton and Cambridge, where he won the History Prize and the Schiff Foundation Scholarship. His father, from an old and distinguished Croatian family, and mother (a well-known international lawyer) were the first representatives of the Croatian government to the UK after Independence. The family maintain strong connections, with investments mainly in Zagreb, but also via a long philanthropic record that has seen them fund NGOs across the country and also awarding some 250 scholarships and awards to enable outstanding post-graduate students to continue their studies at world-class universities, mainly in the UK and EU. He is married to Jessica, daughter of Sir Timothy and Lady Sainsbury, and has four children. Like many Croatians, he enjoys sports and has the rare distinction of winning ‘blues’ from both Oxford and Cambridge. He has been President of the Croatian Cricket Federation for nearly two decades.
His 8,479 followers on Twitter show this historian's impact and influence among his colleagues worldwide and foreign policy experts globally. However, in his modest way, he said I should be interviewing his brother, Lawrence, the business manager to Stan Wawrinka, the recent winner of the US Open. We laughed as we both hoped that Marin Cilic and Stan Wawrinka would be playing each other in the US Open finals next year. It was a special 100 minutes with a fellow Croatian and a brilliant historian who takes such pride in his research and shared his love for Croatia with several wonderful stories and anecdotes.
In summary, after this fascinating interview and from reading every word on all 507 pages, I better understand how "The Silk Roads are rising again" and why that should be of definitive interest to English and American foreign policy decision-makers.
The author with Dr. Peter Frankopan at Villa Berulia restaurant in New York City, September 15, 2016.
Formatted for CROWN by Marko Puljic
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