BY STEWART GORDON
CAMBRIDGE, MA: DA CAPO PRESS, 2007
240 PAGES, ISBN: 978-0306815560, HARDCOVER
Reviewed by Gwen R. Johnson
Stewart Gordon’s, When Asia Was the World, promises to be an important source for both high school teachers and undergraduate instructors in World History and Asian Studies. Having meticulously researched original historic texts and memoirs of the explorers and travelers who traversed Asia from 500 to 1500 CE, Gordon provides a unique multiple perspective lens from which to view the “riches of the East,” the interconnection of peoples and cultures, and the spread of ideas and knowledge across a diverse Asian world. In fact, as you read each traveler’s account, you begin feeling as though you are a part of the personal journey of that scholar, monk, warrior, or merchant. You are not only observing their actions, but experiencing their inner thoughts and revelations, and participating in their triumphs and losses. Gordon focuses on ‘real’ individuals along these routes. He comments on the distinctiveness of each traveler’s historic journey, then cleverly links their stories across the centuries. He shows the vibrancy and diversity of pre-1500 CE Asia, where the seeds of globalization may have had their beginning—where caravans, ships, and people, from China to Morocco, engaged in trade, philosophical and religious debates, and regional conflicts, and where empires and loyalties rose and fell. While these travelers in Asia were seeking avenues of contact and connection across time and space, Europe was focused inwardly as it entered the darker side of the Middle Ages with little knowledge of the land and people to the East.