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Posted July 10, 2007
While the Konemann edition of Marco Polo's Travels may lack maps, a table of contents, footnotes, or even an index, it does have its good points. First and foremost it is a beautiful little pocket size volume, a durable hardcover with great binding and high quality paper. Yes, if you're writing your Phd thesis on Polo you might want to skip this version, but the general adventure enthusiast could do much worse. As we all know, many Penguin and Oxford editions can be so very tedious what with their twenty footnotes a page and bulky translator's introduction that skews your thinking about the work before you've even read it. With the Konemann edition you can read Polo's adventure for yourself and draw your own unhampererd conclusions. The book itself reads like a day by day journal of interesting things the Venetian saw while in the East. Indeed, he dictated The Travels to a fellow inmate in a Genoan prison from notebooks he'd keep while in China. There are many little tales sprinkled throughout the narrative that will keep you turning the pages in hopes of finding more: tribes of savages that either offer him their virgin daughters to deflower or else threaten to devour him, descriptions of mysterious beasts such as the monoceros who attacks with a spiked tongue, and anecdotes about the fabled Christian king who lived in the east named Prester John. In addition, the Konemann version includes the introduction to the 1854 edition by Thomas Wright, which is found at the end of the book. This is a nice touch as reading it first would tend to make one doubt Polo before he even opened his mouth. Wright discusses the ongoing scholarly debate concerning whether or not Marco even traveled anywhere at all. Some experts believe he just compiled fantastic stories from inbound merchants. Some scholars also contend that Herodotus and Pytheas of Massalia did the same thing. Surely there will always be doubters whenever something epic is done (such as an amazing journey like this), but what these scholars seem to fail to realize is that just because an account may appear to have some stretchings of the truth, that that does not and cannot negate the work as a whole. Claiming that Polo never traveled anywhere smells too much like a frantic grad student desperately searching for a dissertation topic. Give Mister Polo a chance to tell you what he saw you just might be amazed. I for one do not lump him in with the likes of Baron Munchausen.
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