Life Along the Silk Road by Susan Whitfield

Eye-opening. Brings two hundred years of Central Asian history to life through a series of vignettes, describing individual lives spent among the cities and caravans of the Silk Road. That technique lets the author pack of a lot of detail into a slim book.

Three of the many things I learned:

  • 9th century Buddhist monks would setup stalls in the monastery, offering spells for healing or insight into the future or advice for what to do
  • Chinese histories of the time portray surrounding empires as vassal states, when in truth China often paid tribute to those empires to stave off war.
  • Even in the eighth century, you could come across ruins and abandoned towns in the Tarim Basin. People had been living there for 2,000 years, and with water so precarious, often had to pick up and move as the climate shifted