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Book Review: Journeys on the Silk Road by Joyce Morgan and Conrad Walters

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For most readers, an exciting book contains an explorer, a historical perspective, some secrets, elements of truth and an amazing discovery of some sort. Many others like a bit of intrigue, maybe a few love scenes and still others like to have a murder mystery or two or three thrown in the mix. Then, of course, there’s the sci-fi group of readers who have unearthly list of favorite aspects to a good book.

A new book by Joyce Morgan and Conrad Walters titled, Journeys on the Silk Road offers a bit of intrigue, travels across deserts and mountains, covers hardships and challenges and all with a sci-fi-type ending with the discovery of a cave filled with scrolls and the world’s oldest book.

Aurel Stein is the central figure of this historical account. Stein was a Hungarian-born scholar and archaeologist employed by the British service. His determination to travel across treacherous deserts on camels as well as completing some of his journey by boat and train is at the heart of the story. He endured numerous problems including frostbite. 

His journey led him to a Chinese monk who helped Stein enter a hidden cave in 1900. The cave was “piled from floor to ceiling, undisturbed for a thousand years” with scrolls. One of the most important finds inside the cave was the Diamond Sutra of AD 868.

The printed book was made 500 years before the Gutenberg printing press was invented. Inside the pages of the Diamond Sutra were key Buddhist teachings.

The authors write about theories as to why the items were stored in the cave. “Scholars agree the cave was plastered shut around the beginning of the eleventh century, but the reasons why remain unclear.”

There were theories of protecting the contents from Islamic invaders. Stein had his own theory. “But there is also support for Stein’s other thesis, that the cave was a storeroom or tomb for material no longer needed by local monasteries.”

Numerous pictures and a detailed map are included in the book to help readers imagine the era Stein’s journey took place. Photos show some of the hardships endured and some of the people he and his group encountered along the way.

While the discovery remains a great find today, the authors write that Stein himself is barely recognized. They write, “Stein’s name barely registers today and the treasures he found are rarely on view, but the philosophy his work drew attention to has captured popular imagination.”

The book overall is a great slice of a particular history and a compelling portrait of a particular place. It is written in an exciting narrative and makes for a great reading experience.

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