I just finished reading the book Off The Edge of the Map: Marco Polo, Captain Cook and 9 Other Travelers and Explorers That Pushed The Boundaries of the World by Michael Rank. Years ago, when I was in high school, history was not one of my preferred subjects, but as I get older, I find myself becoming more and more interested in historical books. When I learned that I was going to be able to review this book, I was really pleased.
Michael Rank has written a very interesting book in which he selects eleven individuals who were pioneers in the truest sense of the word. Rank comes from the world of academia; he is a doctoral candidate in Middle Eastern history and so his opinions are based on years of post-secondary education in history. This is a fact that I appreciated. It is easy enough to select the commonly known explorers of old, and regurgitate their stories. Instead he selected a few historical figures who were unknown to me, but after reading their stories, I was amazed by their feats. I was also amazed that I had never heard of these people before.
For example, the author devotes a chapter to Ibn Battuta, a North African scholar who travelled throughout Africa and the Middle East for a number of years. When I read about his exploits, all of which took place in the 14th Century, without the benefit of modern conveniences, it was truly astonishing.
In another chapter, he tells the story of a Chinese monk named Rabban Bar Sauma, who is sometimes known as the reverse Marco Polo. He set out from the far East, and ventured west, a journey that I had never heard in any other contemporary historical textbook. The author’s background in Middle Eastern history really helps to bring Rabban Bar Sauma’s story to life. The perils faced upon his many travels were numerous, and the fact that he lived into his seventies seems almost incomprehensible.
Michael Rank also devotes chapters to many well-known explorers like Marco Polo, Captain James Cook, and Ferdinand Magellan. Even though I was familiar with these names, it was nice to re-read their stories with a more mature appreciation for the extent of their achievements.
Off The Edge of the Map was a really enjoyable book. I found Michael Rank’s writing style to be very well-informed, while still very readable. I did not get the sense that I was getting the same old version of a story that I had heard before. It was apparent that Rank’s research truly informed his writing, and for that I was truly appreciative.
If you are a person that enjoys reading story about notable historical figures, then I would highly recommend Off The Edge of the Map. An undisputed two thumbs up!
You can purchase a copy of this book on Amazon.
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