LEIGH FORBES: Books of all Sorts

The Riddle and the Knight: In search of Sir John Mandeville


by Giles Milton.

I loved this book! I’ve previously read the author’s Nathaniel’s Nutmeg, so had a pretty good idea of what to expect from his writing, and he didn’t disappoint.

The story of Sir John Mandeville’s book The Travels, published in 1357, has intrigued people for centuries. Did he really tour Europe and Asia for 34 years? Did he really reach China? Did he even exist?

Giles Milton follows in the enigmatic knight’s footsteps as far as the Sinai peninsula (via Turkey, Cyprus, Syria, and Israel), comparing his account with those of contemporary historians and with what modern-day proof is still available, in an attempt to determine how much truth The Travels really held, if any. Intermingled with the description of Milton’s journey, are what few snippets are known about John Mandeville’s life, plus an insight into the lives of people he meets on his own voyage.

I very much enjoy Giles Milton’s writing: he manages to be present without dominating the narrative, and in The Riddle and the Knight he strikes an excellent balance between a travelogue and a history book.


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