Much of his work has vanished, but Mas'udi's (c.890-c.956) matchless "The Meadows of Gold" has almost miraculously survived: a compendium of stories and information on what he knew of the worlds of the Middle East, the Far East and Europe. It is both a great monument to Islamic scholarship and a time capsule allowing us into the world over a millennium ago. "Great Journeys" allows readers to travel both around the planet and back through the centuries - but also back into ideas and worlds frightening, ruthless and cruel in different ways from our own. Few reading experiences can begin to match that of engaging with writers who saw astounding things: great civilisations, walls of ice, violent and implacable jungles, deserts and mountains, multitudes of birds and flowers new to science. Reading these books is to see the world afresh, to rediscover a time when many cultures were quite strange to each other, where legends and stories were treated as facts and in which so much was still to be discovered.