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Peter B. Golden. Central Asia in World History.

Peter B. Golden. Central Asia in World History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. Pp. 192. Paper $19.95; ISBN 978-0-19-533819-5.

Peter B. Golden's Central Asia in World History might be mistitled. Golden places the history of Central Asia in the context of Eurasian history. The early chapters focus on the countries of Asia, especially China, though Europe, particularly Russia, comes to the fore in later chapters. Golden references the global economy, perhaps in an effort to situate Central Asia in a global context. His effort at world history notwithstanding, Golden omits Africa, the Americas, Australia, and Oceania. Parts of Asia, Indonesia for example, are also absent from the narrative. This is not to say that Central Asia in World History has shortcomings, only that it is not world history. Perhaps this is unavoidable as it is difficult to grasp the connection between Central Asia and Samoa or Guadeloupe or any of a number of places that Golden was wise to omit.

Golden begins his narrative in prehistory, tracing the migration of humans into Central Asia about 40,000 years ago. Agriculture began in Central Asia about 6000 BCE, a date not much earlier than the invention of agriculture in the Near East, leading one to wonder whether agriculture arose independently in the Near East and Central Asia. Alternatively, Central Asia might have adopted agriculture from the Near East. Because Central Asians grew wheat and barley, the Near Eastern assemblage, transmission from the Near East to Central Asia seems likely. Farmers do not bulk large in this book. Golden focuses more attention on nomads and pastoralists who shaped much of Central Asia's history. Golden notes that nomads might have eaten better than farmers in Central Asia. Studies in other parts of the world have confirmed this insight.

An important topic in Central Asia in World History is religion. The peoples of Central Asia embraced a large number of religious beliefs. Among religious leaders, Golden draws attention to Zoroaster, who might have lived in Central Asia sometime between 1200 and 1000 BCE. Golden's treatment of Zoroastrianism, though brief, is insightful. Some Central Asians were Christian. Nestorian Christianity was especially influential, though one learns little about the role of Christianity in the lives of Central Asians. Buddhism receives treatment, though, not surprisingly, Islam merited the lion' s share of Golden's attention.

Politics and warfare are important foci of Central Asia in World History. The book is partly the story of the formation and dissolution of political alliances and of Central Asia's relationship with its neighbors. Their imperial ambitions often miscarried in Central Asia with the loss of many lives.

Central Asia in World History might have several uses in the classroom. An instructor might assign the book to students as a supplemental reading in a course on the history of world religions. It might serve also as a supplemental reading in a course on Chinese or Russian imperialism. Central Asia in World History might attract the lecturer who wishes to derive material on the topic of statecraft in Asia. An instructor might use the book to derive lecture notes on nomadism and pastoralism.

Christopher Cumo

Independent Scholar

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Author:Cumo, Christopher
Publication:Teaching History: A Journal of Methods
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 22, 2011
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