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Tales of travels in 18th century central Asia

Travels Through Northern Persia: 1770-1774 - Samuel,  Gottlieb Gmelin

Samuel Gottleib Gmelin was an 18th century naturalist who, as a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, headed a pair of expeditions around the Caspian Sea region. Though he died during his second expedition as a result of his imprisonment by Usmey Khan, his friend Peter Simon Pallas compiled Gmelin's notes from his final, fatal expedition to complete the travelogue of his journey in the region. Long available in German, they were inaccessible to an English-language audience until Williem Floor undertook this translation of Gmelin's book.

Floor's book is only a partial translation's of Gmelin's larger work, as he is less interested in the sections concerning southern Russia than he is in the author's observations of the Persian lands in which he traveled. These are richly detailed, and encompass not just the flora and fauna, but the society and culture of the people living there as well. The range is breathtaking, giving the reader not just a sense of the dynamic diversity of life in the region but also of Gmelin's wide-ranging intellect and skills as an observer.

In providing this translation, Floor is to be commended for making Gmelin's work accessible to an English language audience. Not only does it offer a glimpse into the natural history of the area, but it also provides a portrait of life in a region not often chronicled by Western observers. It is the kind of the work that anyone interested in learning more about nearly any aspect of central Asia can profit from reading, one that will endure long after more detached studies have outlived their usefulness.