I would give high marks to any 30 pages from this book chosen at random. Byron was very knowledgeable about architecture and provides detailed and evocative descriptions of the ancient buildings on his travels in Iran and Afghanistan. His account of the actual travel and the conditions he found there was compelling. The trouble was that he circled, seemingly endlessly, between Teheran, Meshed, Isfahan, Herat, and a few other places, and by the middle of the book I was getting fairly bored. I basically skimmed the second half (to my loss, I’m sure) mostly because I knew I would remember scarcely anything about the book, other than general impressions, in a month or two.

For the modern Western reader it is interesting to see that modern Islamic fundamentalism had already developed in large part by the mid 30s, including the deadly conflicts between Shia and Sunni. The missing ingredient was organization and resolve.

I have to wonder how many of the architectural sites described in this book still exist. Even then many of them were in terrible condition, and I suspect that the past 80 years of turmoil and war have accelerated the destruction. Poignantly, Byron describes the Bamian Buddhas which had already been partially damaged and which were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001. Fortunately the architectural highlight of his travels, the Sheikh Lutfullah mosque, is still standing and in good condition.



Book cover

Metadata Info

  • Title: The Road to Oxiana
  • Author: Robert Byron
  • Published: 1937
  • ISBN: 0195030672
  • Buy: Amazon search
  • Check out: Seattle library
  • Rating: 3.0 stars