Sunday, December 12, 2010

Book Review: In the Footsteps of Marco Polo

Even though he's a European I don't recall learning that much about Marco Polo in school. Maybe a day or two here but it was along the lines of "he went to Asia along the silk road and opened it up to foreigners but some people don't think he actually did it!"* But the guys who wrote this book, Fran and Denis, clearly knew more about him than most and loved the book Marco Polo dictated and went "hey, what if we were to try that...?"

In the Footsteps of Marco Polo

Summary: Like I said, two guys are inspired by Marco Polo's travels and go out to be the first people to retrace his entire route (they mention that some people had tried before but no one had managed to get everywhere). Takes place between 1993 and 1995 so having a memory of what was going on at the time would've been a nice thing.
The Good: I don't know much about some of the areas of the world they went to so it was fascinating to read about them for the first time. I loved the little details included in the story, like the people they met or the surprising number of places where Polo's reports matched up with what they saw over 1000 years later (and after finding out how long Polo journeyed and how many years later he told the story I'm even more impressed at how close it all was). In this kind of story (it was more of a travelogue than anything else, just travel with a history) it really is the details that make the story and make it memorable.
The Bad: There were times in the book where I felt like a section or even a whole chapter was missing or the guys would allude to something they didn't show or tell and that left me feeling frustrated. And the book had a hard time in some places for balancing the travelogue aspect with all the information about the area they were in (which was really necessary since a lot of the book takes place in the back mountains of the Middle East)
The Photography: I could tell that the photos in here were film not digital because of the grain in places but I think that's just me being a photo geek** and grain does bother me a bit in photos. But photos were all amazing, whether it was mountains, the people, or even objects they came across, each time I turned the page I had a hard time deciding if I should read the text first or stare at the photos. The book cover says that there is a made for tv movie/documentary/mini-series (wasn't sure which) and I'd love to watch that to see even more of the amazing photos.

I've only recently become interested in travelogues and memoirs so I haven't read many but, since a good chunk of the story took place in the Middle East mountains, I was reminded of Three Cups of Tea a number of times in it. Other than that I can't think of any more suggestions but In The Footsteps of Marco Polo was a nice bit of light reading with some great photos and tons of amazing people the world over.

*And I'm the kid who went to private schools too, no American school system as a convenient scapegoat here, unless American schools in general suck.
**Actually no, me being a photo geek is seeing the grain and go "someone wasn't using 100 ISO" and then realizing that 100 ISO film wouldn't work well in the places they were going, THAT'S geeky.