Best 10 Books on the History of Central Asia

There goes an old saying in Central Asia; “There is no future without history”, and to know one's past is almost like a must in all parts of the region. However, if you want to know about the history of the Greater Central Asia and its path of formation into contemporary independent states, I would personally recommended you these books to read. They all are both accessible and entertaining. I have learned so much and found a lot of inspiration for my project from the stories given in these books.

 

   1. Lost Enlightenment: Central Asia's Golden Age from the Arab Conquest to Tamerlane by S. Frederick Starr

This richly illustrated history book tells the story of fascinating but largely forgotten  achievements of Central Asia’s greatest minds during the medieval enlightenment. It tries to  explain its rise, and explores the cause of its eventual demise. Because the lingua franca of the era was Arabic, those scholars wrote in Arabic and they were long been known as Arabs. However, in fact, polymath scientists and scholars who had breakthroughs in astronomy, mathematics, geology, medicine, chemistry, music, social science, philosophy, and theology were from Central Asia. They gave algebra its name, calculated the earth's diameter with unprecedented precision, wrote the books that later defined European medicine, and penned some of the world's greatest poetry.

   2. The Empire of the Steppes: A History of Central Asia by René Grousset, Naomi Walford (Translator)

This great ambitious book describes two millenium history of the Greater Central Asia. Although it was written in the 1930s and lacks pictures or maps, it is still commonly read and considered very informative, and its storytelling style highly justifies its lack of illustrations. Because of the usage of certain terms such as “orientalist”, some people might find it to be biased, but I think those were used without any negative connotations in the book.

 

   3. The Heritage of Central Asia by Richard Nelson Frye

A study of the heritage of Central Asia gives the summary of the early history of the region. brings together ethnography and history of nomadic tribes of the region. It illustrates the distinct elements of Zoroastrianism, the spread of Buddhism along the Silk Road, Achaemenid ecumene, the Sakas and later waves of nomadic invaders.

 

   4. Empires of the Silk Road: A History of Central Eurasia from the Bronze Age to the Present by Christopher I.                Beckwith

 

The complete history of the origins and significance of  Central Eurasia.  Christopher Beckwith describes the rise and fall of the great Central Eurasian empires, including those of the Scythians, Attila the Hun, the Turks and Tibetans, and Genghis Khan and the Mongols. Furthermore, he explains why the region kept prospering economically, scientifically, and artistically for many centuries despite the invasions by  Persians, Greeks, Arabs, Chinese, and others.  He also recounts the Indo-Europeans' migration out of Central Eurasia, their mixture with local peoples, and the resulting development of the Graeco-Roman, Persian, Indian, and Chinese civilizations, and partially discusses the reemergence of contemporary Central Asian nations after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

 

   5. The Lost Heart of Asia by Colin Thubron

 

This book illustrates  the incredible history of the little visited but very important region of  Central Asia. The books tells the stories of the region from Thubrons own experience; his personal visit to magical cities of Bukhara and Samarkand, and the Kazakh steppes, the Karakum desert, and the Pamir mountains. This book is recommended for those who want to know both the history, and partially, what is the life thereof today like.

 


   6. Inside Central Asia: A political and cultural history of Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan,                  Tajikistan, Turkey, and Iran by Dilip Hiro

 

The book provides a definitive political and cultural history of the Central Asian republics of Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkey and Iran.This book gives deeper illustration of modern day five Central Asian countries. Hiro includes chapters on Turkey and Iran in order to show their cultural and political impact on the region. It gives well information about the recent history of Central Asia, and two of its neighbors with historical ties.

 

   7. The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia by Peter Hopkirk

This book is a great historical account of the struggle between Victorian Britain and Tsarist Russia. Peter Hopkirk tells the stories of a number of British and Russian officers and men involved in the great imperial struggle for supremacy across desolate terrain from the Caucasus to China. The stories in the book are never boring and informative. It is a good introductory book for understanding the struggle between Britain and Russia over Central Asia in the 19th century.

   8. Foreign Devils on the Silk Road by Peter Hopkirk

From the same author of the previous book, however this one tells the stories of lost cities that once blossomed into thriving centres of Buddhist art and learning. Peter Hopkirk in this book tells the story of the courageous men who led long-range archaeological raids in the oasis towns vanished beneath the desert sands to be forgotten for a thousand years. Those oases believed to be filled with treasures and guarded by demons, and archaeologists putting their lives under the risk face the challenge to seek, find and unearth those treasures.

   9. Life along the Silk Road by Susan Whitfield

This book brings alive the now ruined and sand-covered desert towns and their inhabitants on the vast network of Central Asian tracks that became known as the Silk Road. By encountering several both fictitious and factual figures in the book, we learn what life was like for ordinary men and women on the Silk Road. The stories of the different format present a highly original version of history.

    10. A History of Inner Asia by Svat Soucek

This accessible introduction to Inner Asia traces its history from the arrival of Islam, through the various dynasties to the Russian conquest. It starts from the period immediately before the Arab conquest of Transoxiana in the 7th and 8th centuries, and provides an outline of the historic, cultural and economic drivers of Inner Asia's development up to the post-Soviet period of independence.