Genghis Khan and the making of the modern world

by J. McIver Weatherford (Afterword)

Hardcover, 2004


Checked out
Due Mar 10, 2022


New York : Crown, c2004.


A re-evaluation of Genghis Khan's rise to power examines the reforms the conqueror instituted throughout his empire and his uniting of East and West, which set the foundation for the nation-states and economic systems of the modern era.

User reviews

LibraryThing member cameling
The legacy of Genghis Khan is often riddled with fearsome myths around the man's cruelty and blood lust. The research that the author has undertaken shows us, as much as he is able, given the scanty written record of his earlier life and certainly little of his thoughts. What he does deliver is a
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blunt assessment of a man who, having been cast out with his mother and brothers from the clan after his father is killed, goes on to kill his elder half-brother, is imprisoned as a slave by another khan, forms a close alliance with Ong Khan, a friend of his father's and weds a woman to whom he was betrothed before his father was killed.

Not having been trained in different kinds of warfare, I found it fascinating that Genghis had such a different approach to war strategies, that he could see through the weaknesses in the general methods of defense and attack and to device strategies for his army that allowed them to be victorious, even when faced by armies much larger and even armies behind high city walls. He also developed, what could be considered the original version of a platoon, he divided his warriors into groups of 10 and factors of 10, with each group responsible for managing sub-groups. His treatment of the conquered also differed from the norm. He didn't believe in torturing his prisoners, but encouraged them to assimilate with his people, although for the leaders who wouldn't accept him as khan, he killed swiftly. The treasures of their victories were gathered and he distributed them all among the his people instead of keeping it all for himself or his family. He ensured that his people shared in the growing prosperity.

As his army and their families grew with each conquest, communication became key, especially as the territories they covered expanded, so Genghis developed the first postal system, although in those days, it was fixed stations where messages could be delivered from one station to another, and the messages then distributed to those in that area.

His people believed that he was a powerful shaman and that the God of the Eternal Blue Sky spoke to him and blessed his ventures. He had innate leadership skills, perhaps honed through the harshness he experienced during his youth and the memories of ill-treatment at the hands of others. He rewarded those from other clans with positions of leadership if they showed that they were able to do so, even at the expense of his own brothers.

He did manage to unite all the Mongols to one people, but it was his children after his death, who expanded their territory even further into Russia all the way over into Western Europe, and into China. They controlled at some point, the trade along the Silk Road. But while Genghis triumphed over his enemies and forged strong loyalty among most of his people and his army generals, he hadn't spent much time with his sons, and when he was in his 70s, he tried to make up for lost time, to teach his sons that leadership meant sometimes swallowing one's pride in order to achieve good for the community, and to encourage them to work together. Unfortunately, his sons and grandsons proved themselves not to be much like their illustrious ancestor and they quickly lost the lands so hard won by Genghis. If you were to compare the size of Mongolia today against the Mongolia conquered by Genghis, it's difficult not to be impressed by this one uneducated, illiterate and forward thinking tribal warrior from the steppes.
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LibraryThing member jddunn
An interesting attempt at a revisionist history of Genghis Khan and the Mongols. I only bother to say revisionist because in his (somewhat justified, as we will see) eagerness to vindicate the Mongols, he does go rather out of his way to downplay the havoc they spread. He spends all of maybe a page
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and a half on the sack of Baghdad, which resulted in the brutal and complete destruction of the greatest city of the most advanced civilization and culture of the era. This was a Big Deal, and what was destroyed and lost really needs to be taken into account along with what the Mongols built and enabled.

But what they built is quite impressive and important, and that's the story told by Weatherford. The semi-standard narrative of the Renaissance is that Marco Polo and the Venetians opened up trading routes with the East, commerce and cultural exchange in the Mediterranean and Near East grew from there, and eventually we rediscovered our birthright of ancient Roman and Greek culture and ideas. What's left out is who they opened up trading routes with, and how much that exchange had to do with Europe's ascent from the Dark Ages.They opened trade with the Mongols, who had built the world's first true multicultural and international empire covering most of Asia and the Middle East.

Although they did sack and burn and kill, that's not all they did. They also built safe roads and a postal system that allowed trade across thousands of miles of Eurasia, facilitated cultural and technological and religious exchange from Japan to Western Europe, invented paper money, militarized gunpowder and revolutionized siege tactics, used printing widely well before Gutenberg, and instituted efficient administration and the rule of law over a vast area. They even founded universities.

They were probably the first multinational, meritocratic, ecumenical, and in many ways, modern state, and that state covered more territory than any other before or since. They created modern China under Kublai Khan, and their descendents ruled India into the 19th century. Not bad for a bunch of marginal, illiterate, yak-herding yurt-dwellers.

It's pretty amazing that the story of this remarkable man and his people doesn't figure more prominently in our history, but a combination of time, racism, chauvinism, and in modern times, a lack of access to what scant records remain due to the Cold War has kept it fairly marginal. So, in that way, this is a very important book, and I feel like it really filled an big gap in my understanding of history.

On the downside, the sourcing does seem a bit thin and/or legendary at times, but no more so than what we have on someone like Alexander or most other ancient world figures. Just take into account that he's a) going easy on the Mongols to try to counteract their really nasty reputation, and b) working from fragmentary and/or mythical information in some cases, and enjoy it for what it is, which is a well-told tale of a criminally neglected era of history.
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LibraryThing member The_Hibernator
This book wasn't quite what I expected - I figured it would be about Genghis Khan's life, but it was actually just as much about how his legacy formed the modern world. Which, I must say, was a delightful surprise.

The first half of the book chronicled Genghis Khan's life, starting with a very
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interesting childhood. I loved how much detail was included about Genghis Khan's strong-willed mother. She was kidnapped from her first husband soon after their marriage, and was awarded to her captor, Genghis Khan's father. But she didn't just submit. She helped her first husband escape by letting herself be captured. Then, when Genghis Kahn's father suddenly died, the whole family was left to die by the rest of their group. But Genghis Kahn's mother had different plans. She kept the family alive against all odds. She was even willing to marry her step-son (only one year older than her own son) to make the family cohesive. But this is when Genghis Kahn's conquering spirit fired up - he didn't want his mother marrying his brother, because then his brother's place as head-of-household would be solidified. Instead, he encouraged his younger brother to shoot the elder. Interestingly, when he formed universal laws for his empire later in his life, such intra-family killings were outlawed.

After the incident with his brother, the narrative began to follow Genghis Khan rather than his parents. What I found interesting about this part of the book was that he was not portrayed as a conquering tyrant as he generally is in modern media. He was portrayed as cunning and wise. His laws were fair, reasonable, and well-thought-out. There was only very a little talk of battle strategy and history in this book. I had wished to have more of such information, but I can always read a different biography of Genghis Kahn. The purpose of Weatherford's book was not to chronicle a history of Genghis Khan's wars but to give a previously unseen glimpse into Genghis' private life, personality, and how his legacy changed the world.

One thing that I found particularly wise about Genghis Kahn was his realization that nepotism does not necessarily lead to the most devoted followers. Promoting one's family first was common among his people, so Genghis Kahn was breaking cultural norms when he promoted by loyalty first. And it was amazing what kind of loyalty he inspired. He must have been a very charismatic man.

The final part of the book was about Genghis Kahn's legacy. How his universal laws shaped the area even after they were neglected by his descendants. How his descendants spread around the world and made their own little kingdoms. How the trade routes he created became the major East-to-West connection for centuries - a connection that Columbus was trying to rebuild when he attempted to sail around the world to India.

Truly a fascinating read.
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LibraryThing member chrissie3
This is a book that can and should be read by everyone, at least all with the slightest interest in world history. I feel this so adamantly since what it tells us does away with serious misconceptions about the Mongol Empire. It explains in a clear and comprehensible manner how the world we live in
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today has been improved by Mongol practices. It is stated that the book is revisionary, but I believe wholeheartedly in what we are told. It is clear and thoroughly documented. What we are told just plain makes sense! The author is a cultural anthropologist and historian.

The book begins with a discussion about the life of Genghis Khan (1162-1227), follows his successors, offering detailed information both about Kublai Khan and powerful women of the clan, discussing the formation of the Mongol nation in 1206, the squabbling that arose between the successive leaders and concludes with a convincing analysis of how the Mongol Empire has influenced today’s world.

We all think of the Mongols as barbarians that wrought havoc on the world. Few of us are aware of how they opened the world to commerce. They opened new trade routes, not only of physical goods but for the transmission of ideas and cultures. I am daunted because I cannot adequately express how this book has so changed how I view world history. I used to praise the new ideas espoused during the Enlightenment, but did you know that Voltaire drew a picture of the savage, blood-thirsty Mongols that served their own purposes and created a one-sided view that hid the truth. Chaucer praised Genghis Kahn and Marco Polo did the same for Kublai Kahn; When Christopher Columbus sailed west it was to look for Cathay, to reconnect with the fantastic trade routes established by the Mongols. I could go on and on showing how what we have been told about these so-called barbarians just doesn’t quite add up! What is explained here in this book makes sense and it changes how we understand today’s modern world.

Did you know that Genghis Kahn made the capital of his Chinese Empire present day Beijing in 1266 and that that the Forbidden City was a huge park filled with wild animals where the Mongol leaders lived in ghers/yurts? Here in this enclosed area the Mongol leaders lived according to their own Mongol traditions. They ate their traditional foods, ate with knives, which the Chinese found abhorrent, drank fermented mare’s milk and practiced their own sports and games, so foreign to the Chinese culture around them. Did you know that “hooray” is based on a Mongol expression of exuberance? Did you know that Columbus called the red-skinned natives he encountered when he landed on the islands off the American mainland Indians because he thought he had met up with the Mongols living south of the Chinese Mongols, the Mongols of India? That is why Native Americans originally were called Indians. There is so much in this book that makes sense, it is like putting together all the pieces of a puzzle and everything fits!

Kublai Kahn supported universal education with classes held in the colloquial language. Paper money was invented by the Chinese, but he saw its practicality and radically expanded its usage. Under his rule China attained its Golden Age of Drama. Medical knowledge, textile production, printing techniques, basically all areas of knowledge that were practical and useful were supported and transported to new areas around the world. Under the Mongol rule there was religious freedom. In the 1200s, think of that!

I listened to the audiobook narrated by Jonathan Davis. His pronunciation of Mongol terms is clear. The pacing is perfect. This is essential in a book of non-fiction. Along with the download one is given pdf files of maps and diagrams. One difficulty that I had, when I searched on the net for further information, was that often more than one name was used for the same person. It is also difficult to recognize Mongol names. This is easier if you can both see and hear them.

It is time that we begin to acknowledge the good things Genghis Kahn and Kublai Kahn have given us. Read this book and you will stop using the word “Mongolian” as a word of slander.

Completed May 8, 2013
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LibraryThing member ljhliesl
"With so many accomplishments by the Mongols, it hardly seems surprising that Geoffrey Chaucer, the first author in the English language, devoted the longest story in The Canterbury Tales to the Asian conqueror Genghis Khan" (location 222).

The who in the what now? This nonsensical assertion
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immediately follows Jack Weatherford's crediting the Mongols for the Renaissance. That's broad, but I was open to his argument; to call Chaucer the first author in (Middle, comprehensible-ish now) English is risible. Pardon me, you've got some Langland stuck in your teeth.

... In the next paragraph he implies that Chaucer and Roger Bacon were Renaissance. Stop, no more, I'll have a fit.

I swear, I read the whole thing just to see what half-baked, zero-supported claim he'd make next.
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LibraryThing member maimonedes
Apart from the fact that I really knew nothing about Genghis Khan, it was the tag "and the Making of the Modern World" that made me want to read this book. It did not disappoint - although I was left with a little suspicion about its objectivity. The author is an anthropologist, who has clearly a
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lot invested - not just his intellectual energy and research, but also passion and emotion - in his subject. He explains how the "Hidden History" of Genghis Khan was lost for many centuries, and then reappeared in a number of forms. He also describes his own explorations of Genghis Khan's Mongolian homeland.
The first chapters relating to the childhood and early adulthood of Genghis Khan inevitably read like folk tales, rather than history; because that is what they are - although I don't doubt that they are based on some historical grains. But for me the mixing of legends with "real" history made for uncomfortable reading. However, from the time that Genghis become the "Great Khan", the rest is as they say history.
What was really new to me – and this was where the book really lived up to its promise - was to read how modern Genghis Khan was in his attitude towards statecraft and domestic politics. That he was ruthless and relentless in his conquests is quite clear. But, by the standards of his time, he refrained from excessive cruelty, and was certainly not the brutal monster that he is often popularly depicted as. He brought the rule of law, trade and communications to the countries in his empire; he abolished torture and , although remaining a pagan himself, tolerated all religions. During his life time Genghis Khan and his Mongols were recognized for the good they brought - after ,that is, the shock of conquest had subsided. However in later centuries they became tarred with the reputation of a barbarian horde terrorizing more civilized lands. These changing perceptions leave their trace in European literature; for example, the Mongols feature almost heroically in one of Chaucer's Tales, while three centuries later Voltaire portrays the stereotypic image of barbarian brutality which I was familiar with and which – I am happy to say – this book has dispelled.
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LibraryThing member DonSiano
This is a revisionist history (isn't it all?) of a truly remarkable figure, who created an empire greater even than the Romans, and he did it from scratch in just a few decades. He was a law-giver who essentially outlawed the culture he came from--transforming it from a Scots-like clan of cattle
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rustlers and raiders, to a monolithic, highly disciplined cavalry of conquerers. He devised entirely new military tactics that were as successful against the cities of the Chinese as against the armored knights of the West. And they started out as a people, he claims, who did not even know how to weave cloth!
Weatherford here takes up the challenge of accenting the positive impact of his brutal conquests. Among other things he makes the case for his setting the West up for the Renaissance, the introduction of paper money, the postal system, Religious tolerance, and new vegetables. He bases much of this on new scholarship, rather than the hysterical propaganda of the aristocrats whom he threatened. Partly based on the mysterious "Secret History of the Mongols," the author's own travels in Mongolia, and contacts with Mongolian revivalists, he makes this bit of history accessible even to the most prejudiced reader.

Strangely omitted, though, is the fascinating tale that the geneticists have discovered about his Y chromosome, which appears to show that he might just have been the most prolific lover in the last couple of millennia! Too recent, maybe.

One of the remarkable features of his style was that he hated the elite and the aristocrats, and slaughtered as many as he could. He loved the professional men, the teachers and doctors, and especially the craftsmen and engineers, and did not even tax them. My kinda guy!

Weatherford's style of writing is lively and easy to read. The maps are just detailed enough to be informative without overburdening the reader in detail. This is not an exhaustive account of every battle, every city destroyed, which would be mind-numbing history as usually written, but rather a wide survey of events and their impact on the world to come. And I especially enjoyed his description of the military tactics employed by the cavalry, and his use of siege engines and gunpowder, which would be new to most readers.

Perhaps one of his greatest inventions, though, is that of diplomatic immunity. Any city, and there were several, who murdered or mutilated his envoys as a method of rejecting his terms of surrender, would be ruthlessly razed and the inhabitants slaughtered. Even in those days, the word got around...

This is quite a tale, well told.
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LibraryThing member Zare
Wonderful book about rise of the nation and its slow but unavoidable demise. We follow Genghis Khan from his youth, involved in tribal squabbles with his relatives to the moment he establishes great Mongol empire spreading from todays China to eastern-most borders of Europe.

But as much as night
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follows the day so Genghis Kahn's successors proved unable to control the empire left to them - soon inter-clan fighting will almost eradicate entire Genghis Khan's blood line while the final strike would come from the most unsuspected place. Genghis Khan's empire suffered the same fate as the empire of Alexander the Great.

Great book showing how can a man coming from a steppe, descendant of the nomad nation, have a clear vision and be able to build a powerful state that will play the major role in the world and influence many.

Great book. Highly recommended
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LibraryThing member LisaMaria_C
This is a very entertaining, thought-provoking and well-written book. The relatively low rating reflects my lingering skepticism. The back of the book itself calls it "revisionist history" and Weatherford is not a historian, but an anthropologist. Although to give him his due, he was part of a team
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that helped translate The Secret History of the Mongols and explored the Mongolian homeland once it was no longer restricted in the wake of the breakup of the Soviet Empire. No doubt the image of the Mongolians merit another look and some corrections from the simplistic view of them as the "quintessential, bloodthirsty barbarians." Yet even within his sympathetic, nearly hero-worshiping account, one can find glimmers of the reasons for the view of Genghis Khan as a great destroyer. Though Weatherford disputes the numbers, contending the Mongols didn't have the numbers and resources to make it possible, he noted that the more conservative estimates of historians count 15 million dead in five years caused by Genghis' invasion of Central Asia--and Weatherford does admit Genghis was a destroyer of city after city in search of loot. The very word "slave" comes from the mass enslavement of slavic peoples by the Mongols who then sold them to the Turks. Weatherford even admits Genghis' Mongols made little contribution to civilization per se--what he claims for them is that they made the modern world because they were "unrivaled cultural carriers." As he put it:

The Mongols made no technological breakthroughs, founded no new religions, wrote few books or dramas, and gave the world no new crops or methods of agriculture. Their own craftsmen didn't weave cloth, cast metal, make pottery, or even bake bread: They manufactured neither porcelain nor pottery, painted no pictures, and built no buildings. Yet, as their army conquered culture after culture, they collected and passed on those skills from one civilization to the next.

Weatherford claims that this transfusion of culture and trade led to the "Mongol Global Awakening" and to the European Renaissance. I'm skeptical frankly of anyone that claims any one reason for the reawakening of the West, or any one source whether a rediscovery of Greek and Roman antiquity, infusion of Islamic learning through the Crusades or Mongolians transmitting Chinese civilization Westward. Nevertheless, I have to thank Weatherford for giving me a fresh perspective into this medieval empire and its possible contributions.
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LibraryThing member ursula
Most of us have some ideas about Genghis Khan, and those ideas are expressed and propagated in sayings like "He rampaged through like Genghis Khan!" But how accurate is the impression of Genghis Khan as the leader of a marauding horde of violent, merciless, pillaging, uncivilized outlaws? Maybe he
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was just misunderstood.

It turns out, he probably was mostly misunderstood. Okay, young Genghis killed his half-brother when he was 10 so that the brother wouldn't become the head of the household and therefore in a position of power over him. But he also took back his wife after she was kidnapped by a rival tribe - and let no one say anything against his son, who was born suspiciously soon after the wife's return. So he was a complex fellow. But as interesting as his early years are, once he starts rising to power things really get engrossing. Genghis successfully created a Mongol nation out of the wandering tribes that had previously fought relentlessly with each other. He abolished favoritism based on family ties alone and promoted based on merit. He intermarried someone from his family with someone from every group he conquered, or adopted in a child from their culture to show that he was completely integrating the group. If you submitted to his rule, you were spared. If you resisted, you were killed. Pretty simple rules, actually.

There's so much more to talk about, but I'll try to keep this short. Essentially, he had the element of surprise on his side in battle tactics because no one else had the horsepower and therefore speed of attack that the Mongols did. He also had that element of surprise in his treatment of conquered peoples, because he drew out those who had skills and made sure those skills were used well, while still not requiring any change of language, customs, or religion. About halfway through the book, Genghis Khan dies and we follow his heirs as Khan, some of whom were successful in the role and some of whom weren't. The most successful (although he didn't rule over the Mongol empire in its entirety) was Kublai Khan in China. Eventually, the Mongol empire disintegrated (due mostly to trade being cut off with the arrival of the bubonic plague) and the reputation of Genghis Khan and his people was reinvented as what we most often hear today.

The book is full of fascinating information and written so that it's easily digestible. Great if you already have an interest in the history of this part of the world, but equally great if you're just curious about what Genghis Khan really was.
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LibraryThing member Y2Ash
Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World describes Khan humble beginnings back when he was known as Temujin, a member of the steppe tribe to the leader of the most powerful and influential empires of all time. It was amazing to read that many of the aspects that are in daily life today were
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created be Khan.

He was an incredibly intelligent leader. For every conquered land, he gave its people a chance to join him as equals into his "family." Only the ones that fought back were killed and never in a brutal way. Khan did not believe in unnecessary torture of any kind. He also spread a terror campaign because fear and paranoia were powerful tools in his arsenal. These stories were how Khan got his brutal reputation.

He also created bridges to facilltate trade and the connect to the various people to promote solidarity and cohesion. It is also something that those bridges also helped the bubonic plague spread and decimate the Mongol Empire. Khan also created PAPER MONEY because the bouillons they carried were too cumbersome. Women also had a semi-equal part in the empire handling the administrative duties.

Jack Weatherford knows how to write. With history tomes, I often worry it'll be boring, dry, and drab but this book was really interesting! I have read Amy Chua's book in which she dscusses the Mongol Empire and Democracy so I already knew Genghis Khan was not the senseless and violent savage he has always been portrayed as. I just didn't know how much he shaped our world. My only worry is that Weatherford may have been too Pro Mongol and that may have blinded him to the fact Khan still committed acts of violence and spread terror everywhere he went.
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LibraryThing member Y2Ash
Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World describes Khan humble beginnings back when he was known as Temujin, a member of the steppe tribe to the leader of the most powerful and influential empires of all time. It was amazing to read that many of the aspects that are in daily life today were
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created be Khan.

He was an incredibly intelligent leader. For every conquered land, he gave its people a chance to join him as equals into his "family." Only the ones that fought back were killed and never in a brutal way. Khan did not believe in unnecessary torture of any kind. He also spread a terror campaign because fear and paranoia were powerful tools in his arsenal. These stories were how Khan got his brutal reputation.

He also created bridges to facilltate trade and the connect to the various people to promote solidarity and cohesion. It is also something that those bridges also helped the bubonic plague spread and decimate the Mongol Empire. Khan also created PAPER MONEY because the bouillons they carried were too cumbersome. Women also had a semi-equal part in the empire handling the administrative duties.

Jack Weatherford knows how to write. With history tomes, I often worry it'll be boring, dry, and drab but this book was really interesting! I have read Amy Chua's book in which she dscusses the Mongol Empire and Democracy so I already knew Genghis Khan was not the senseless and violent savage he has always been portrayed as. I just didn't know how much he shaped our world. My only worry is that Weatherford may have been too Pro Mongol and that may have blinded him to the fact Khan still committed acts of violence and spread terror everywhere he went.
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LibraryThing member patrickgarson
Weatherford has written a scintillating history, here. The book blew away my preconceptions of the Mongol Empire and replaced them with a much more nuanced understanding of how these people warred and ruled Fascinating, well-researched, and with a passion for the topic that shines through, this is
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one of the best popular histories that I've read.

Genghis Khan and the Golden Horde have a popular series of associations: mericiless barbarians, sweeping down from the steppe and leaving ruin and desolation in their wake. The reality, though, was quite quite different, and Weatherford does a stirling job of bringing it to light.

Starting with the genesis of the Mongols most famous ruler, Temujin - the Great Khan himself - Weatherford traces his development giving a background to both the man, and the cultures that propelled the Mongols halfway round the world.

This structure - interspersing the personal, political histories with the broader military and cultural development - is maintained throughout the entire book, and it really worked for me.

Weatherford brings a surprisingly deft narrative hand to his story, and it's difficult not to root for the various Mongols. But he doesn't shy away from scholarship, either, and more in-depth explanations of how war was waged, life was lived, and death was dealt.

The result is that both aspects of the book are equally engaging, and I never tired of either. The use of primary or secondary sources (where they are available) also helped lend a voice to both the Mongols and their opponents and vassals. Weatherford really is a good writer, and the audiobook version is narrated extremely well.

I learnt a lot from this book, and much of it was surprising and fascinating. Weatherford's passion is obvious and enthralling. A great read.
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LibraryThing member Michael.Bradham
Captivating history book. Jack Weatherford writes Mongol history and relates to events up to present day. Immense influence of Mongol Empire globalized majority of world. Tactics of war and peace, warrior mentality, collision of cultures, religions, drastically different ways of living.

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followed the sporadic attacks of the Moving Bush with the Lake Formation, in which a long line of troops advanced, fired its arrows, and then was replaced by the next line… Once the Naiman spread out, Temujin switched to his third tactic. He regrouped his squads one behind the other in the Chisel Formation.” (Pages 61–62)

Genghis Khan conquered and united. He was diplomatic, giving others a chance to pay tribute before taking over. He was brutal when conquered people fled or disobeyed new authority.

“In addition to sex, property, and food, Genghis Khan recognized the disruptive potential of competing religions. In one form or another, virtually every religion from Buddhism to Christianity and Manichaeanism to Islam had found converts among the steppe people, and almost all of them claimed not only to be the true religion but the only one… Genghis Khan decreed complete and total religious freedom for everyone.” (Page 69)

Christians of Europe first thought Mongols were invading Europe to reclaim bones of the Three Kings. When Mongols traveled away from location of bones, Christians believed they were exiled Jews, descendants of those who followed strange Gods when Moses was around. The scared, fearful Christians could not defeat the Mongols, but they killed Jews across Europe. “Church ordered that Jews had to wear less distinctive clothes and emblems to mark them for all to see.” (Page 157) (Pages 157-158)

“Unlike many civilizations – and most particularly western Europe, where monarchs ruled by the will of God and reigned above the law – Genghis Khan made it clear that his Great Law applied as strictly to the rulers as to everyone else.” (Page 70)

Description of religious debate:

“No side seemed to convince the other of anything. Finally, as the effects of the alcohol became stronger, the Christians gave up trying to persuade anyone with logical arguments, and resorted to singing. The Muslims, who did not sing, responded by loudly reciting the Koran in an effort to drown out the Christians, and the Buddhists retreated into silent meditation. At the end of the debate, unable to convert or kill one another, they concluded the way most Mongol celebrations concluded, with everyone simply too drunk to continue.” (Page 173)

Mongol caravans included people from diverse cultures and all walks of life. They applied controlling herds of animals, to controlling millions of people.
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LibraryThing member Stbalbach
A retelling of the Mongol Empire from its founding until the present day. Relies mainly on the primary source The Secret History of the Mongols using recent reinterpretations and new translations. More sympathetic to the Mongols as a positive force, rather than the negative barbarian destroyers of
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yore. Much more detailed and interesting than I thought it would be for a history of 13th century tribes. Probably the best general popular history of the Mongols available. It may deserve 4.5 or 5 stars as the first major reinterpretation of the Mongols, but I am not familiar enough with the historiography to judge.
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LibraryThing member RobertP
This is a brief history of Genghis Khan, his descendants, the empire that he built, and the consequences of that empire. It is short, eminently readable, and surprisingly competent for a book of its brevity. I enjoyed it, and learned a lot about Mr. Khan that I had not known, mostly with respect to
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what a stunning rise his was. He started with literally nothing, and emerged through intellect, will, and yes ruthlessness, at the top of the world.
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LibraryThing member GShuk
If you think Genghis Khan and the Mongols were just blood thirsty savages then read this book. While it has some historical inaccuracies and biased in favor of the Mongols it is very entertaining and covers their innovations which contributed to their success. In 25 years they transitioned from
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scattered tribes to a dominant empire that took over more land than the Romans achieved in 400 years. What surprised me was that unlike many other cultures of their time they did not condone torture and they allowed freedom of religion. Who knows how long their empire would have continued to grow if it were not for the plague.
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LibraryThing member amandacb
I've read this book a number of times. I originally picked it up because I was looking for some riveting historical non-fiction, and the cover looked interesting (yes, I judge a book by its cover). When I cracked it open, Weatherford's rhythmical prose captured me.

Weatherford encapsulates Khan's
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persona without resorting to pedantic didacticism. I always finish this book in a couple of days. The weakest part is the end of the book when Weatherford is arguing how Khan has affected modern societies, but that may be because that is not which fascinates me the most.

If you are looking for a great non-fiction book, pick this up and give it a try.
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LibraryThing member snash
The book is a history of the Mongol Empire from Genghis Kahns birth to the 1400's and its demise with the coming of the plague. The history uses the newly translated and interpreted "Secret Histories" written by the Mongols at the time and corrects the Western picture of them as demonic hordes.
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Their innovations and influence was amazing to discover, paper money, a universal alphabet, far reaching commerce, freedom of religion etc. It's interesting to speculate how the world would be now if the plague had not destroyed their rule.
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LibraryThing member lyzadanger
Out of nowhere in the early 1200s, Genghis Khan and his Mongol 'Horde' swept out of central Asia and in a sort of proto-blitzkrieg overwhelmed cultures from Korea to the Ukraine, acting as a catalyst in the development of cultural elements that we take for granted. Genghis' horseback steppe nomads
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didn't excel at traditional (infantry-focused) warfare, nor did they possess skilled artisans or tradesmen. They had neither prestige nor mercantile supremacy. What they had was the ability to start afresh, without being constrained by convention, and by thinking up new things were able to change the course of world history.

Jack Weatherford's biography-c*m-history of the Mongolian Empire in the 13th and 14th centuries focuses on the life of Genghis Khan but also the inventiveness, openness, innovation and legacy of his leadership. The Mongols vanquished, and then they built a framework. Instead of imposing a way of life on the conquered, they formed more of a cardiovascular system for the world's nascent trading geography: their core contribution was not defining cultural concepts, but in putting an empire together that could move ideas, people, and technology around. Their network of roads, stations, and government institutions spread and disseminated change. Medicines, printing, gunpowder flowed west out of China. Maths, crops, and raw goods flowed east out of Europe and the Middle East.

Strikingly, perhaps almost stunningly, Genghis Khan was supportive of all religions. Whereas the grudging tolerance for 'People of the Book' (Muslims, Christians or Jews) in Muslim Iberia or the relative cosmopolitanism of medieval Italian city states are often touted as shining examples of open-mindedness, these European examples were more of a tenuous situational reality than a philosophical intention. However, the idea of religious persecution was actually foreign to the Mongols. Genghis' court had Christians, Muslims, Buddists, Taoists, Shamanists, Animists—he granted universal religious freedom to his subjects in a way that wasn't just a nod to keeping things calm. Genghis elevated those who practiced education, medicine, religion, law to a respected position. He practiced equanimity in filling positions of power: instead of exclusively selecting leaders from his line of kinship—the established, unwavering Mongolian tradition—he sought out the competent, regardless of rank or breeding.

If this all sounds a bit pat and charming, it is. The Mongol campaigns were brutal war. Cities were given one option to surrender—if they did not, it was quite likely that most or all of its inhabitants would be enslaved, at best, or slaughtered, quite often. Life was hard, short, and painful. Revenge often punished those merely related to the original offender.

Genghis Khan himself is a fascinating personage, and it is in the biographical segments of the book—the first third or half—that Weatherford's story sparkles. The introduction is actually the pinnacle of the book; it gave me academic shivers to hear about the cryptic 'Secret History' (a lost, then found, then lost, then found, then finally translated document detailing Genghis Khan's personal life and rise to power) and the Mongolian's sacred homeland core, closed for centuries and centuries to any outsiders. The Soviet occupation of the territory in the 20th century, and the concomitant wretchedness and secrecy just serves to increase the appeal of the mystique.

The last third of the book makes it sound like Weatherford got tired or distracted. The information presented here is interesting, but not creatively organized. We learn of the intriguing lifestyle choices of Kubilai Khan in Xanadu (hey, now I know more about the Forbidden City in Beijing!), the provincial management of China, the vassal and transit system of Persia, the financial customs of Siberians. We hear of some brutal Tibetan Buddhists, a woman chief named Big and Fierce. But the latter portions of book lack enthusiasm and it's not until the last chapter, outlining the empire's point of demise, that things perk up again.
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LibraryThing member everfresh1
I found the book somewhat light, just skirting around a lot of interesting subjects. This is not necessarily bad if it was intended for the wide audience, but it's too boring and dry to be successful as a 'popular history' kind of book. Still, quite a few interesting facts are contained there - I
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just wish it was better written for such interesting subject.
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LibraryThing member cweller
Excellent overview of the Mongolian Empire from the beginning with Genghis Khan through Kublai Khan. Jack Weatherford shows how the Mongols effected the entire region and opened the trade routes from Europe to Asia.
LibraryThing member stephenrbown
I agree with some of the other readers who found some problems with this book. It was a good introduction to Mongol history, although only partially focussed on Genghis Khan himself. I found the earlier chapters, on Khan and his youth and rise to power, most interesting. The later chapters tried to
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cover too much information and too great a time period for my liking. Its a smoothly written book though and therefore a good introduction to the subject.
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LibraryThing member nobodhi
of numerous sources i've been studying on the subject, this is hands-down the single best introduction: an amazing story, with a variety of insights relevant to today, and very well organized and told. I look forward to reading his others books, which span a range of topics : money, Native
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Americans, etc.
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LibraryThing member kwjr
Fascinating history of my favorite era - the Mongol invasions of Asia and Europe. I docked one star because Weatherford was a little too effusive toward the Mongols and their place in history.


Minnesota Book Awards (Finalist — History & Biography — 2005)



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