An eye-opening look at the history I assumed that I had known. Jack Weatherford does an amazing job of cataloguing the life of Genghis Khan. I read this book in four days because it was so enrapturing. The subtitle, "The Making of the Modern World" is dead-on. It is easy to see how traditions and values created by the Mongol King are still present in today's world. This is an absolutely mind-blowing book, I hope anyone who enjoys history or non-fiction will pick this book up!
The first half read like a novel, the prose that showed itself here and there made me forget that I was reading something purely historical. Morbid descriptions of the type of punishments Genghis Khan avoided, those including mutilations of the body, were plentiful and fascinating. Ancient dictators had an amazing imagination when it came to using mutilation, and thus fear, to control the masses. Reading this book to come across these and the descriptions of the Great Khan's innovative war tactics alone is enough.
After reading this book and enjoying it thoroughly I checked on the internet for reviews. The historians who reviewed it found flaws. I noticed some of the same flaws as I was reading and sensed others, but Jack Weatherford brought Chingis to life, and I had to ask myself would I have been happier if Chingis had remained dead and dry as dust for me? No.
Historians guard their turf jealously, and in addition probably they're jealous that their books didn't become NYT bestsellers, and for that I am sorry, but for me this book was a great introduction to a historical figure - love him or hate him - who changed the world, probably changed history, and changed my perception of history, because what I was taught all through school is far from the truth. How big is that?
While I was reading the book, Chingis lived for me, and after I finished I knew far more than was in those dusty dry history books written by 'historians' that claimed Europeans ruled the world. Far from it, actually. The revelation of that truth was an epiphany if there ever was one. With that knowledge, everything changed.
Perhaps I'll eventually choose another book about Chingis and see what that author has to say. Weatherford's book left me wanting to know more, even though whatever I find cannot possibly be as exciting as Weatherford's story because for me Weatherford made history come alive.
If you read this book and like it because it reveals something unknown about history as you were taught, you might also like 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann
This is an epic and seminal book, one that, like Weatherford's Chingis, exposes facts that change all our perceptions.
The revelation of the presence in our hemisphere 14000 years ago of sophisticated and civilized societies that had to have been among the first developers of agriculture is, in itself astonishing. But the revelation of not just a few but many very large Indian-built cities of astonishing size, wealth, and artistry, containing sanitary facilities that rival those that Rome built far later, the plentitude of food discovered in those cities, the wealth of the leaders and populace, the beauty of costumes and jewelry, the cleanliness of body and face at a time when the Europeans who were 'discovering' the 'natives' were unwashed, filthy, unmannered, and completely unknowledgeable about cleanliness, their clothing and bodies lice-ridden, their hair and beards matted with grease from food and with bits of food itself... well, frankly the Indians believed they were animals. Is this what you learned in school? No? Are you surprised? I was - each page was a new adventure.
If you read and like Chingis, don't miss 1491.
And if you find 1491 interesting, take a look at the book MAYFLOWER, in which the disappearance of the millions of Indians and the discovery throughout the US of uncounted numbers of Indian villages complete with empty houses, food, utinsils, and clothing just waiting for English settlers to claim them is explained. I won't spoil the story. MAYFLOWER is as interesting in its way as Chingis and 1491. The three should be read in sequence because together the books correct a gigantic flaw in our understanding of world history.
I absolutely loved this book and the detailed story-telling quality of the history of Genghis Khan and the Mongul empire. (I prefer to use this spelling "Genghis", as the book does, and not the lesser known "Chinggis", as it was only used a couple of times in book. Even though we know it's the origin of his commonly-known name, I think it's less confusing and less presumptuous.)
There was a lot that I remember from history courses I had taken, but a lot I either didn't remember or hadn't heard before. As I read, I couldn't help but think that there was a lot humans should have learned from this man and kept as a part of culture throughout the years afterwards (free religion, women's rights, free trade, etc.). Instead I have to look back on it and think that it's a shame that so many things his empire pioneered took so long are now more recently something we take for granted today. Granted, there was brute force backing those who opposed, but it was still impressive to see so much ingenuity that benefit the people come out of something as ugly as war. Unlike today when the only creativity is who can make a bigger gun.
There are really just too many good qualities about this book and I felt the research was well-done despite what some of the author's critics may have thought. Reading it just made me relive the wonder and amazement at discovering that high school history essentially misrepresents such a remarkable man and makes us believe he was nothing other than a "barbarian".
This is yet another in that series of books on "How the (insert name of a person or ethnic group here) saved or created civilization."
I believe the author makes a good case for Genghis Khan, perhaps because I leaned slightly that way before reading the book.
Even if you don't subscribe to the author's arguments, you will have to concede that "Good Ol'Genghis" sure had a lot of smarts. Perhaps if more rulers had cooperated with him, the world would be a vastly different place today.
I enjoyed this well-written book. I apologize for not posting it for others to read, but my copy is just one big water stain.
This book is stunning! I sort of 'discovered' Genghis in 2000 while reading an account of the Crusades in the Middle East. His image is very tarnished in the US, but he was a genius. At a time that Christians and Muslims were deciding to make their areas more exclusive and intolerant of other religions, i.e. harassing and killing others that did not share the faith of the ruling classes; the Mongols were making statements like there is one God, and just like a hand has five fingers, so there are many paths to God. The Mongols conquered more territory in 25 years than the Romans did in 400 years. Very interesting and also relevant to our situation today.
A dissenting opinion: I was absolutely fascinated with this subject, but frankly I find the author's writing style so heavy-handed, so attemptedly-you-are-there that I could only get through about half the book. Compared with Bergreen's Over the Edge of the World or (author?) 1491, this is tedious going despite the subject. Start at your own peril.
A fascinating history of Genghis Khan - arguably the victim of the biggest PR smear campaign in history. His reputation for blood-thirsty conquering and mindless violence remains, while the truth couldn't be more different: during the height of the Mongol empire, Genghis encouraged religious freedom, rewarded merit rather than high birth, created a system of credit cards, modern military organization and warfare, stopped bride-napping, and encouraged trade, peace and prosperity. Jawaharlal Nehru considered Genghis the greatest military genius and visionary leader in history (so much so, Caesar and Alexander the Great paled in comparison). Yes, historians might quibble with some of the facts in this book (then again, when don't dusty academic types quibble), but I thought it well-written and super-informative about how this visionary man from unbelievably humble beginnings truly did change the world. Highly recommend.