Marco Polo's book — The Travels, The
Description of the World, II Milione, or
whatever we prefer to call it — is unquestionably
the best known of all contemporary sources on that
unprecedented historical phenomenon, the Mongol
Empire of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.
That is not to say that it is by any means the best
source. As history, it cannot compare, for example,
with Rashīd al-Dīn's Jāmi'
al-tawārīkh, and as a European travel
account (if that is what it is), it is not remotely
in the same class as Friar William of Rubruck's
Itinerarium. Nevertheless, while
Friar William may have been completely forgotten and
Chinggis Khan remembered only as someone a political
reactionary can, by dint of great effort, get
himself (or herself, one should hasten to add) to
the right of, there are many who know at least
something about Marco Polo: perhaps principally the
fact that he went to China — as almost everyone has
hitherto supposed that he did.