The ancient trade routes that made up the Silk Road were some of the great conduits of cultural and material exchange in world history. In this intriguing book, Xinru Liu reveals both why and how this long-distance trade in luxury goods emerged in the late third century BCE, following itsstory through to the Mongol conquest. Liu starts with China's desperate need for what the Chinese called "the heavenly horses" of Central Asia, and describes how the traders who brought these horses also brought other exotic products, some all the way from the Mediterranean. Likewise, the RomanEmpire, as a result of its imperial ambition as well as the desire of its citizens for Chinese silk, responded with easterly explorations for trade. The book shows how the middle men, the Kushan Empire, spread Buddhism to China. Missionaries and pilgrims facilitated cave temples along themountainous routes and monasteries in various oases and urban centers, forming the backbone of the Silk Road. The author also explains how Islamic and Mongol conquerors in turn controlled the various routes until the rise of sea travel diminished their importance.