THE RIDDLE AND THE KNIGHT: In Search of Sir John Mandeville, the World's Greatest Traveler

Giles Milton, Author . Farrar, Straus &Giroux $23 (240p) ISBN 978-0-374-24997-7

Milton (Big Chief Elizabeth) exhumes The Travels, Mandeville's notorious account of leaving for the Holy Land in 1322 only to return 34 years later with wild tales of pygmies, giants and gem-bearing plants—not to mention the first account of man's ability to circumnavigate the globe. Mandeville's account offered thrilling information, but unfortunately none of it was true: whole sections of The Travels were lifted from the pages of his peers, and he never met the denizens of Sumatra or China as he claimed. The resulting scandal left his reputation sullied and his work discredited. Six hundred years later, Milton takes up Mandeville's torch to present a remarkable narrative that follows closely in his predecessor's footsteps and knits together a contemporary travelogue with an investigation of the Mandeville myth. Visiting churches from Istanbul to Sinai, Milton tracks Mandeville's passage from West to East, revealing what there is to be known about the history of the explorer and his fanciful book, which had inspired everyone from Mercator to Columbus. The strange and wonderful characters who appear throughout—the Muslim gatekeeper at the alleged tomb of Christ or the multilingual friend who compulsively watches national television stations sign off—are like modern-day reflections of the people Mandeville described with such fascination and hyperbole. A rare and excellent work that combines scholarship with intrigue, Milton's book may induce that wonderful swoon usually contracted after long hours researching libraries and labyrinths of history. Illus.(Nov.)

Reviewed on: 10/08/2001
Release date: 11/01/2001
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 301 pages - 978-0-340-81945-6
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Hardcover - 230 pages - 978-0-85031-999-6
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