Cover image for Marco Polo and the discovery of the world
Marco Polo and the discovery of the world
Larner, John, 1930-2008.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New Haven [Conn.] : Yale University Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
xiii, 250 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations (some color), maps (some color) ; 25 cm
Images of Asia and the coming of the Mongols -- The Polos -- Marco Polo and Rustichello -- The making of the book -- The description of the world -- Varieties of the book -- Marco, merchants and missionaries -- Marco among the humanists -- Columbus and after -- Jesuits, imperialists and a conclusion -- A note on manuscripts of the book -- Times of travel to China by land -- Marco Polo and world maps of the fifteenth century.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
G370.P9 L27 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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After many years in Asia, Marco Polo wrote one of the most influential books of the past millennium. No mere travel account, Polo's Book is a work that played a key role in the development of European overseas expansion. In this engaging and authoritative book, historian John Larner explores for the first time the full range of influence of Polo's Book on the history of geography and exploration. Larner assesses the findings of modern scholarship and offers an original account of Polo and his family, of how and why the Book came into being, and of its reception over the centuries.

Beginning with a discussion of the extent of European knowledge of Asia early in the thirteenth century, Larner considers what is known about Marco Polo's life and the composition of his text. He examines the Book 's scope and sources (vindicating its author from recent claims that he never visited China), as well as the nature of Polo's cooperation with his co-author Rustichello da Pisa. He traces the manuscript forms and translations of Polo's Book in the Middle Ages, its influence on Western cartographers, its fortunes in the climate of fifteenth-century humanism, the possible extent of its encouragement to Columbus, and its later evolution into such new guises as the object of historical scholarship and exotic curiosity. Finally, Larner provides a fresh view of the enigmatic Polo, who, despite a deliberate cultivation of impersonality, continues today to engage the attention of readers.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Marco Polo remains an enigmatic figure, and the authenticity and historical importance of his travels are controversial. While many historians still credit him for helping to inspire the Age of Discovery, some doubt he ever traveled to China, and others minimize the influence of his memoirs. Larner, professor emeritus of history at Glasgow University, clearly adheres to the former view. He acknowledges the difficulties inherent in validating Polo's claims, since his book, dictated to his cellmate, Rustichello da Pisa, is the only source of his adventures. Still, Larner engages in convincing suppositions and credible speculations based on generally accepted data on Europe, the Middle East, and the Mongol empire in the thirteenth century. He also presents fascinating insights into European attitudes toward "Cathay," and his probes into the identity of the mysterious Rustichello are bound to stimulate further inquiry. This is a highly readable and well-researched historical inquiry. --Jay Freeman

Library Journal Review

Larner (Culture and Society in Italy 1290-1420) focuses on the book that Marco Polo produced. After setting the stage, he introduces us to both Marco Polo and the man he believes was his coauthor, Rustichello da Pisa (whom Polo met when both were prisoners of the Genoese). He makes his case by arguing that the type of occupation-specific education that Polo, a member of Venice's mercantile class, had received before his journey to China would not have enabled him to write a literate narrative. Rustichello, on the other hand, was a minor author of literary romance, an ideal partner to sort out Polo's notes and arrange them into the work that captivated a generation. (Its geographical content, descriptions of Chinese cities and Mongol customs, and emphasis on the wealth of the East, Larner argues, inspired the Age of Discovery.) He also refutes Frances Wood's theory (in Did Marco Polo Go to China?, LJ 9/1/95) that he never went to China by presenting reasoned proof that he couldn't have been anywhere else for 24 years. Of interest to students and lay readers with an interest in history; for academic and larger public libraries.ÄRobert James Andrews, Duluth P.L., MN (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Larner (Glasgow Univ.) has written an erudite, comprehensive, and very readable study of enigmatic Venetian Marco Polo, his book, and the book's impact on European culture. He first establishes the contexts--personal, European, and global--for Marco's travels, then carefully considers the vexed questions surrounding Marco's career (yes, he did travel to China) and the composition, authenticity, and intended audience of the book. Larner's conclusions are likely to be as definitive as such questions allow. Marco himself is drawn with much sympathy, and Larner demonstrates that Marco has left a dispassionate and largely truthful description of the world he either visited or learned about secondhand from sources at the Mongol court. Larner then traces the reception of the book from a "book of marvels" into the mainstream of European geographic knowledge, whence it contributed, indirectly albeit powerfully, to Columbus's voyages and the Age of Exploration, with continued vitality in later centuries. Larner includes an excellent selection of illustrations, mostly of contemporary maps, an appendix on the manuscript tradition, and an extensive bibliography. Highly recommended for all medieval and world history collections; upper-division undergraduates and above. S. Morillo; Wabash College

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations and Mapsp. ix
Prefacep. xiii
Introductionp. 1
Chapter 1 Images of Asia and the Coming of the Mongolsp. 8
Chapter 2 The Polosp. 31
Chapter 3 Marco Polo and Rustichellop. 46
Chapter 4 The Making of the Bookp. 68
Chapter 5 The Description of the Worldp. 88
Chapter 6 Varieties of the Bookp. 105
Chapter 7 Marco, Merchants and Missionariesp. 116
Chapter 8 Marco among the Humanistsp. 133
Chapter 9 Columbus and Afterp. 151
Chapter 10 Jesuits, Imperialists and a Conclusionp. 171
Appendix I A Note on Manuscripts of the Bookp. 184
Appendix II Times of Travel to China by Landp. 187
Appendix III Marco Polo and World Maps of the Fifteenth Centuryp. 191
Notesp. 195
Works Citedp. 224
Indexp. 243