By Steppe, Desert, and Ocean: The Birth of Eurasia

By Steppe, Desert, and Ocean: The Birth of Eurasia

By Steppe, Desert, and Ocean: The Birth of Eurasia

By Steppe, Desert, and Ocean: The Birth of Eurasia

Synopsis

By Steppe, Desert, and Ocean is nothing less than the story of how humans first started building the globalized world we know today. Set on a huge continental stage, from Europe to China, it is a tale covering over 10,000 years, from the origins of farming around 9000 BC to the expansion of the Mongols in the thirteenth century AD. An unashamedly "big history", it charts the development of European, Near Eastern, and Chinese civilizations and the growing links between them by way of the Indian Ocean, the silk Roads, and the great steppe corridor (which crucially allowed horse riders to travel from Mongolia to the Great Hungarian Plain within a year). Along the way, it is also the story of the rise and fall of empires, the development of maritime trade, and the shattering impact of predatory nomads on their urban neighbours. Above all, as this immense historical panorama unfolds, we begin to see in clearer focus those basic underlying factors - the acquisitive nature of humanity, the differing environments in which people live, and the dislocating effect of even slight climatic variation - which have driven change throughout the ages, and which help us better understand our world today.

Excerpt

Many years ago I was expounding at length on some topic to my young son, who sat patiently for a while and then said, ‘Yes, dad, but how does it connect?’ That one question has been with me ever since. Whatever may capture our imagination—the beauty of a Song bowl, the behaviour of wild horses on the steppe coming down to drink in the evening, the statue of the mathematician al-Khwarizmi in Khiva, or the name of a Viking scratched in runic script on a balustrade in the Hagia Sophia—put them in context, embedded in a web of connectivity, and they become infinitely more fascinating and take on entirely new meanings. History is far more than a series of events and the biographies of big names; it is the subtle interweaving of human actions spread over vast landscapes and through deep time creating a dense fabric, every thread of which has significance. The wonder of it all lies in how interconnected everything is.

This book is an attempt to explore the two big themes, connectivity and mobility, as they developed throughout Eurasia from early prehistory, binding the world into a single system by the fourteenth century AD. It is the story of the energizing relationship between sedentary states, like China, the Near East, and, later, Europe, with the pastoral nomads of the steppe, whose huge homeland spread from Mongolia to Hungary, and with the maritime communities living around the ocean fringes. The steppe, the deserts, and the oceans created the connective tissue through which people, commodities, and ideas flowed.

To cover the whole of Eurasia throughout its formative first ten thousand years is something of a challenge. I am fully aware that every paragraph in this book could easily be expanded to a chapter. The task has been to be rigorously selective, to focus on the dynamics that seem important to the understanding of the narrative rather than to be lured into attractive sidelines. Thus, the impact of climate change is a recurring theme, while Alexander the Great’s adventures in Asia are given only brief . . .

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