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

Overview

When a Chinese monk broke into a hidden cave in 1900, he uncovered one of the world's great literary secrets: a time capsule from the ancient Silk Road. Inside, scrolls were piled from floor to ceiling, undisturbed for a thousand years. The gem within was the Diamond Sutra of AD 868. This key Buddhist teaching, made 500 years before Gutenberg inked his press, is the world's oldest printed book.The Silk Road once linked China with the Mediterranean. It conveyed merchants, pilgrims and ideas. But its cultures and ...

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

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Overview

When a Chinese monk broke into a hidden cave in 1900, he uncovered one of the world's great literary secrets: a time capsule from the ancient Silk Road. Inside, scrolls were piled from floor to ceiling, undisturbed for a thousand years. The gem within was the Diamond Sutra of AD 868. This key Buddhist teaching, made 500 years before Gutenberg inked his press, is the world's oldest printed book.The Silk Road once linked China with the Mediterranean. It conveyed merchants, pilgrims and ideas. But its cultures and oases were swallowed by shifting sands. Central to the Silk Road's rediscovery was a man named Aurel Stein, a Hungarian-born scholar and archaeologist employed by the British service.Undaunted by the vast Gobi Desert, Stein crossed thousands of desolate miles with his fox terrier Dash. Stein met the Chinese monk and secured the Diamond Sutra and much more. The scroll's journey—by camel through arid desert, by boat to London's curious scholars, by train to evade the bombs of World War II—merges an explorer's adventures, political intrigue, and continued controversy.The Diamond Sutra has inspired Jack Kerouac and the Dalai Lama. Its journey has coincided with the growing appeal of Buddhism in the West. As the Gutenberg Age cedes to the Google Age, the survival of the Silk Road's greatest treasure is testament to the endurance of the written word.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In 1907, Hungarian explorer and archeologist Aurel Stein and his terrier, Dash, reached a remote Chinese cave housing a cache of ancient Buddhist scrolls. The grotto had been sealed off in the 11th century, and was being guarded by a Tibetan monk who allowed Stein to remove several specimens, including a woodblock-printed copy of the Diamond Sutra—dating back to 868 A.D.; it is the world’s oldest printed text. Morgan and Walters’s narrative is a captivating biography of the intrepid Stein, an intriguing history of the Sutra and the political and social upheavals that surrounded it, and an enthralling travelogue in its own right. Stein's expeditions—across scorching deserts and through frigid mountain passes—are described in detail, as is the journey of the Diamond Sutra from Stein's possession, to the British Museum in Bloomsbury (where, ironically, it was consigned again to a cave of sorts—the museum’s basement), to a stint in Wales during WWII when Britain funneled its most precious treasures out of the country for safekeeping. Both experienced journalists, the authors do an impeccable job of bringing readers into the action and situating the story in a broader—though no less riveting—historical context. (Sept.)
From the Publisher
"A high-velocity tale of epic adventure." —Sydney Morning Herald
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780762782970
  • Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
  • Publication date: 9/4/2012
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 1,011,392
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Joyce Morgan has worked as a journalist for more than three decades in London, Sydney and Hong Kong. Her writing has appeared in The Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian, The Guardian and The Bangkok Post. She has written on arts and culture since 1994. Joyce is a senior arts writer at The Sydney Morning Herald and a former arts editor of the paper. She has also worked as a producer with ABC Radio. Born in Liverpool, England, she has travelled extensively in Asia, including India, Pakistan, China and Tibet. Conrad Walters has worked in the media for more than thirty years in the United States, where he won awards for investigative journalism, and in Australia, where he is a feature writer and book reviewer at The Sydney Morning Herald. Conrad was born in Boston, educated in Europe and the Middle East and has lived in seven countries. He has travelled widely through North America, Europe and Asia. He has a master's degree in Creative Writing from the University of Technology, Sydney. They live in Sydney, Australia.

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Table of Contents

Prologue 1

1 The Great Race 3

2 Signs of Wonder 15

3 The Listening Post 35

4 The Moon and the Mail 51

5 The Angels' Sanctuary 67

6 City of Sands .83

7 Tricks and Trust 101

8 Key to the Cave 117

9 The Hidden Gem 131

10 The Thieves' Road 147

11 Affliction in the Orchard 163

12 Frozen 173

13 Yesterday, Having Drunk Too Much… 189

14 Stormy Debut 201

15 Treasure Hunters 219

16 Hangman's Hill 229

17 Facets of a Jewel 245

18 Shifting Sands 261

19 Scroll Forward 273

Postscript 287

Acknowledgments 289

Endnotes 292

Select Bibliography 310

Index 316

About the Authors 326

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 4, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Here is the account about Aurel Stein, the archaeologist, and hi

    Here is the account about Aurel Stein, the archaeologist, and his dog, Dash, and their astounding journey across what is known as the Silk Road, a journey traversing China, Tibet, India and more lands. Funded by the British government, Stein's job was to look for valuable pieces that would add to Great Britain's museum collection; but Stein's interests lay in a different direction. So he found no difficulty finding enough "gems," figuratively speaking to make his funders happy. But the rest of the story is magical and adventurous, and Morgan & Walters leave no stone unturned (literally and figuratively) in describing the preparation, journey, and eventual findings that riveted Stein. Indeed those discoveries are still touching the lives of millions of readers, explorers, adventurers, and tourists, professional and lay included.

    The authors describe how Stein's first journeys to Central Asia led him to wonder where the first Buddhist writings could be found and how that religion was transformed as it began in India and evolved into its state in China. As the journey across deserts and mountains was so vigorous and life-threatening, the authors describe how selective Stein was in choosing his aides. Sometimes the decisions proved pivotal and once almost disastrous. The descriptions are so vivid the reader can feel the storms, heat, brutal cold and other forces of nature such as avalanches that defy the imagination but which were survived by Stein and his team.

    Stein first is entranced by the artifacts inside Lahore Museum, ancient Buddhist statues, amazingly with decidedly Western features. Then the murder of the Scottish adventurer, Andrew Dalgleish, makes Stein realize what treasures existed so that others would murder anyone seeking to find those treasures. Soon the competition of others and the need for funding fueled his desire to get moving on this treasure hunt to the mysterious settlement of Loulan that another adventurer, Sven Hedin, had discovered in 1899. The Buddhist images and wooden documents, as well as a form of early paper kindled Stein's fascination and goals.

    The book also describes the writings of Xuanzang who taught Buddhism and wrote about these teachings on scrolls, all based on his journeys to India. This was the gold mine hidden in a cave which Stein was seeking and which he eventually found.

    It is impossible to cover all the aspects of this topic for which Stein dedicated his life. Every chapter of this momentous book is an adventure story that will rivet any reader, whether or not he or she has any interest in this subject. Indeed it reads like adventure fiction as well as historical fiction. The scholarly reader will be as satisfied as well as the lay reader is with the depth and diverse approaches to this comprehensive subject. Morgan & Walters have created a classic work of archaeological study that will be relished inside and outside the academic and archaeological world. Superbly crafted, mesmerizing, and informative! A must read for those who love great books!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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