Journeys on the Silk Road: Desert Explorer, Buddha’s Secret Library, and the Unearthing of the World’s Oldest Printed Book

Written by Conrad Walters Joyce Morgan
Review by Kristen Hannum

Sir Marc Aurel Stein, a Hungarian-born British foreign service archaeologist who led early 1900s expeditions in central Asia, could have been part of the inspiration for Indiana Jones. Journeys tells the story of his freezing, burning, desperate desert adventures but also takes the time to give background for readers not grounded in Buddhist history or paper-making. Here too are fascinating secondary characters: Stein’s friend Lockwood Kipling, curator of the Lahore Museum; the MacCartneys, the empire’s representatives in far-flung Kashgar; a mention of the “Muslim leader named Yakub Beg, a Tajik adventurer and former dancing boy…”

Google Dunhuang, where these hundreds of hidden ancient scrolls were discovered and check out the map: it’s in the middle of nowhere. Unfortunately, if readers want to know where Stein traveled, they too will need to google. The book has no maps, and its photos of the ancient manuscripts are so small as to be nearly useless in trying to discern what the text is describing. Nevertheless, this is a good, albeit surprisingly dry, history for anyone curious about old-school archaeology in central Asia.