|Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World
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The name Genghis Khan often conjures the image of a relentless, bloodthirsty barbarian on horseback leading a ruthless band of nomadic warriors in the looting of the civilized world. But the surprising truth is that Genghis Khan was a visionary leader whose conquests joined backward Europe with the flourishing cultures of Asia to trigger a global awakening, an unprecedented explosion of technologies, trade, and ideas. In Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World, Jack Weatherford, the only Western scholar ever to be allowed into the Mongols’ “Great Taboo”—Genghis Khan’s homeland and forbidden burial site—tracks the astonishing story of Genghis Khan and his descendants, and their conquest and transformation of the world.
Fighting his way to power on the remote steppes of Mongolia, Genghis Khan developed revolutionary military strategies and weaponry that emphasized rapid attack and siege warfare, which he then brilliantly used to overwhelm opposing armies in Asia, break the back of the Islamic world, and render the armored knights of Europe obsolete. Under Genghis Khan, the Mongol army never numbered more than 100,000 warriors, yet it subjugated more lands and people in twenty-five years than the Romans conquered in four hundred. With an empire that stretched from Siberia to India, from Vietnam to Hungary, and from Korea to the Balkans, the Mongols dramatically redrew the map of the globe, connecting disparate kingdoms into a new world order.
But contrary to popular wisdom, Weatherford reveals that the Mongols were not just masters of conquest, but possessed a genius for progressive and benevolent rule. On every level and from any perspective, the scale and scope
of Genghis Khan’s accomplishments challenge the limits of imagination. Genghis Khan was an innovative leader, the first ruler in many conquered countries to put the power of law above his own power, encourage religious freedom, create public schools, grant diplomatic immunity, abolish torture, and institute free trade. The trade routes he created became lucrative pathways for commerce, but also for ideas, technologies, and expertise that transformed the way people lived. The Mongols introduced the first international paper currency and postal system and developed and spread revolutionary technologies like printing, the cannon, compass, and abacus. They took local foods and products like lemons, carrots, noodles, tea, rugs, playing cards, and pants and turned them into staples of life around the world. The Mongols were the architects of a new way of life at a pivotal time in history.
In Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World, Jack Weatherford resurrects the true history of Genghis Khan, from the story of his relentless rise through Mongol tribal culture to the waging of his devastatingly successful wars and the explosion of civilization that the Mongol Empire unleashed. This dazzling work of revisionist history doesn’t just paint an unprecedented portrait of a great leader and his legacy, but challenges us to reconsider how the modern world was made.
From the Hardcover edition.
- Genghis Khan
I read quite a few books, and few really alter my world view. This book changed my perception of Genghis Khan and the times in which he lived in a fundamental way. I had always thought of Genghis Khan as the ultimate military campaigner gone wild. Yes he was that but so much else in addition. His use of diplomacy, propaganda, his establishment of the concept of diplomatic immunity, his open-minded acceptance of all religions, his utter lack of personal greed and his vision of unifying the world mark him as an historical character worthy of much more attention and respect....more info
- A Different View of the Genghis Khan
Many people in the west often imagine Genghis Khan as a barely civilized marauder tearing across the land detstroying everything in his path. Jack Weatherford paints a very different picture of the leader in this book. In fact, the author credits Genghis Khan with the creation of the modern world. To provide some examples of ways in which the Mongols transformed the world--they created a system of paper money which revolutionized the world of commerce at the time. Also, Mongols highly prized those with specialized knowledge, so individuals with scientific, technical, or administrative knowledge were moved around to various parts of the empire thus spreading previously localized knowledge to all corners of the earth.
The Mongols also were very open culturally. To provide a good example, one Mongol leader sponsored a religious debate Christians, Muslims, and Buddhists among other religious groups. In this debate, the Christian and Muslim participants often sided together in order to counter the points of argument from the Buddhist side. In the end, the debate ended with a feast. The Mongols went to great lengths to open up the tolerance of members of the empire. In fact, the Mongols were strong supporters of the seperation of church and state, which allowed for a multi-ethic and multi-religious nation to exist as one, something which would not appear again for hundreds of years.
The book details a lot of the advances made during the Mongol period which have influenced the modern world. One of the most interesting ideas that the book presents is that the rise of Europe can be attributed to the rise of the Mongols. In a sense, the Europeans benefited from the modern world system without the downside of having their lands invaded. This is an interesting proposal that deserves to be considered.
I strongly recommend this book. It's brings up a lot of questions that you might not have considered before and helps us to understand that the world was modern perhaps a few hundred years before we imagined....more info
- Genghis Khan
Excellent book. Very informative and eye opening. It dispels the myths about the mongols and clearly shows how the modern world's existence is in large part a consequence of the Mongol Expansion....more info
- Lies start in the introduction of the book
I could not get past the introduction of this book. I could get past some lies, like the fact that the Qin dynasty united China as a nation centuries before Genghis Khan, but when the author lied about current events just for convenience I could not take it anymore. The book claims that the Taliban killed the Hazara people (descendants of Mongol armies) in 2002 in "angry revenge" because they equated the US invasion to the Mongol invasion centuries ago. The author did not have the sense to do a little research and find out that The Taliban had been targeting the Hazara people before 9/11 not because of their ethnicity but rather because they subscribe to the Shia Muslim school of thought, while they themselves are extremist Sunni Wahabis. Massacres of Hazara civilians, and some Iranian diplomats, at Mazar-e-Sharif almost led to a war between the Taliban and Iran before 2001 - of course at that point the US was providing aid to the Taliban to fight poppy production.
It is clear that the author is ready to make up facts to make his book more interesting.
I was looking for a good book about Mongol history - clearly this is more like pulp fiction....more info
- Great introductory book
I think this was a great introduction to Genghis Kahn and the Mongolian Empire. I didn't much of anything before and felt that the book was fair and based on the information that is available. It was easy to read and very interesting, yet had the benefit of being very informative. It isn't the textbook detail some may be looking for, but is a great way to learn about the rise and fall of the Mongolian empire. Genghis comprised only about the first half of the book, the remainder involving the continuation of the Mongol empire after Genghis including the decline and some of the effects of the empire that we can still see today.
- Worth Reading
I bought this book after watching a documentary on Ghengis Khan. This episode of history is something that I struggle to make sense of. I honestly feel that I now have a better grasp on what happened in terms of physical detail, but this book, though written beautifully, concentrates only on the political and military dimensions of the story. In other words, the mysterious ideological or religious philosophy that underpinned Mongol culture is neglected. Experience leads me to believe that history is more than facts. That is not to say that I don't recommend this book to others, because I do. Maybe I expect too much, but it's just that, for some reason, we don't like to know too much about what inspires our enemies. So Nazis were only motivated by brute primitive instincts, Soviet Communism was merely a failed economic system, and Osama Bin Laden is simply a fanatical terrorist. The author explains that Ghengis Khan listened to his shamans, but it would be nice to know more. ...more info
- This is not a book about China
Wonder why this book was listed as one of the books about China!
Must be a joke!...more info
- A great read and a moral whitewash
This book on readibility gets top marks. Its narrative power is truly great. Weatherford uses his rich personal knowledge of Mongolia, his deep reading of whatever sources are available, and his wide general historical knowledge to weave a fascinating tale, the story of the world's greatest conqueror. Unfortunately as Niall Ferguson and others report he prior to Mao was also the greatest mass- murdererer in human history. This book has two- hundred seventy pages , just imagine what it would have been the size of the book which gave one page to every one of the estimated thirty- eight million human being his forces killed.
Weatherford claims that Ghengis Khan's military policy was largely a humane one. He says that Ghengis Khan was interested in efficient conquest, that he ordinarily gave his foes a chance to surrender, that he did not torture and maim his opponents. But against this are accounts of vast pillages and rapes performed by the Mongol hordes. The fear and hatred peoples of many areas such as Ukraine, Poland, Hungry , Turkey have for the Mongols still today are no doubt related to this. It is not therefore surprising that the most well- known quotation we have about Genghis Khan is a recipe for his own happiness but not for those subject to his conquest.
"The greatest pleasure of a man is to vanquish your enemies and chase them before you, to rob them of their wealth and see those dear to them bathed in tears, to ride their horses and clasp to your bosom their wives and daughters."
This is again not exactly what those subject to his 'progressive methods' might consider a formula for their own happiness. i.e. It may not be wrong after all to think that the traditional picture of Genghis Khan is a little closer to the truth than Weatherford's enlightened benefactor and expediter of international commerce. He most often murdered the elites and aristocracies of the places he conquered. Perhaps this makes him a neo- Marxian hero but it certainly does not suggest his place in a higher spiritual world of compassion and kindness.
Weatherford does his best to make his great hero humane. And the story of his restraint and forbidding himself any sign of emotion upon learning of the death on the battlefield of his most beloved grandson Mulagu is a gripping one. Yet however 'humane' the great Khan may appear when for instance adjudicating between his quarreling sons , the fact remains that he created a vast and efficient death- machine. And that he set a scorched earth policy which places him surely among Mankind's greatest evildoers.
Weatherford may love him and they may think him a hero in Mongolia. But the enormous pain and destruction he brought to so many peoples mean he is not deserving the kind of admiration which pervades Weatherford 's narrative. ...more info
- First paper money, conquered Bagdad and introduced religious tolerance
This book is a great treat - it dispells the lies Western "civilization" tells about Genghis Kahn, it explains the first globalization, it explains why the Forbidden City in Beijing is the most beautiful and humane of royal palaces, and it gives us some very useful background for how to deal with the Middle East and world peace today. All this, and it's well-written, erudite, and sent me back to Coleridege: In Xanadu did Kubla Khan/A stately pleasure-dome decree..." It plays upon so many connections: e.g., the recent discovery that over 1.6 million people in Europe and Asia carry Genghis' DNA. My thought after reading the book: is that all?...more info
- The Great Khan leaps from the pages
Genghis Khan leaps from the pages of this book much as the real warrior and leader galloped across the great plains of the Asian Steppe so many years ago.
Richly researched with as much factual detail as one can immagine but married nicely with a personal flair where the reader gets a vivid picture of not only the person but also of the many lands and empires he conquered during his lifetime.
It also provides and elegant historical perspective on empire building and how difficult it was for the vast empire to hold power after the great Khan's demise.
Simply a fabulous read. ...more info
- Ghengis Khan
An in depth look at a truly world figure. I marveled at the extent and complexity of the Mongol empire and was fascinated by how well the author developed the character each Mongol ruler....more info
- will leave you wanting more
the book is not bad as an introduction, but it's really not a full length biography, rather it is three different stories. One is the story of the historiography about Genghis Khan and the author's journey to Mongolia to experience the history and gain a better understanding of the Secret History. The second is a short, skimpy bio of Genghis, and the third is the story of the Mongol empire after Genghis, again, rather cursory.
Some things you will want to know more about after reading this book:
-- more info about the Sacred History
-- more info about Genghis military tactics, political strategy, and imperial policies
-- more info about the trajectory of the empire after Genghis
What you won't need to know more about after reading this book:
-- how the author felt about being in Mongolia
The book is not bad. It's informative, and it provides a fresh perspective, even if it does go a little overboard in trying to correct the image of the Mongols. Maybe they weren't just bloodthirsty barbarians, but it's hard to believe that they were all that civilized either. Worth reading, but don't just read this one by itself if you want an informed view about the man and his era....more info
What an unlightening experience! Genghis Khan's story has too long been left untold and this work of historical fiction sheds light on this extraordinary man. It should be required reading for all World Civilization students....more info
- Reformist Revelation
I bought this book to read during my 20-day early summer holiday. I have just finished reading the book here in Konya, Turkey, the capital of the Saljuqs of Rum. I rarely write reviews of the books I read, but with Prof. Weatherford's thrilling and informative work, I must make an exception. For years I have tried to understand the complexities of central Asian history; this one book has now put everything into perspective for me. This gifted writer deserves credit for reinstating the Great Khan after so many years of unwarrented malignment. The scope of the book is also of truly epic proportions: an empire encompassing lands from the borders of Poland to Korea and from Egypt to Japan. This well-researched book of revisionist history should be made required reading for all history, fine arts, science, sociology, political science and literature majors ... it's that important a book! Personally, I've been encouraged to study the unique Phagspa script as a tangeable means for further understanding the enormous legacy of Genghis Khan. ...more info
- Readable but flawed.
It was an easy read but the author has a very transparent agenda. Note that he is not a historian but an anthropologist, which gives you a clue as to what he is setting out to do. The back of the book states that the Mongols led to a "blossoming of civilization"!! The civilizations were the ones the Mongols trampled over, slaughtered, burned, and enslaved. There are biased, unfavorable comparisons with Europe and especially Christianity. One would think the 13th century had nothing of value in Europe - no St. Francis, Dante, Magna Carta, etc. There are several mentions of Genghis Khan's not using torture, but that doesn't count for much when he murdered his half-brother, best friend, and millions of innocent people all across Asia....more info
- not the guy you thought he was!
Before I read this book I always thought of Ghengis Khan as the ultimate bad guy--him and Attila the Hun! This book claims quite the contrary to be the actual story, and it is a great one.
The author is quite obviously very enthusiastic about his subject- and portrays the man of Ghengis Khan as a great leader and a founder of civilization. The book is an extraordinary history of a man,and an era and you will learn that both had amazing impact on the world they left behind. I wish this book were required reading for high school students--it is vastly educational and is a compelling, fun read. This is the type of book that could make a life-long learner out of almost anyone....more info
- compelling account of the life and legacy of Genghis Khan
This is a compact and well written account of the life, times and legacy of Genghis Khan. The author has succeeded in presenting a revisionist but cogent history that counters the common misconception of Genghis and his murderous Mongol hordes. You need not be a student of history to enjoy this thought provoking tome. It reads and lingers like a good novel. ...more info
- Great read, gripping story, too much hagiography, but worth the purchase
I agree with much of what "Shalom Freedom" had to say, although I wouldn't put it into the same modern political terms. This is a fast and entertaining read, and Weatherford provides a lot of insight into a number of personalities, not just that of Jenghiz/Genghis/Jinghis/whatever Khan. I approached this book as something of an entry into reading more about the Mongols, having only peripheral knowledge from reading about other peoples and periods. It was a good choice, because it's well-written and quite accessible. It traces through three-plus generations of the dynasty with a great deal of aplomb and obvious affection for the subject. My one misgiving is that it seems to me that Weatherford lets his affection for the subject lead him into the dangerous territory of overpraising the people about whom he's writing. I don't know enough to contradict actual facts, and I'm sure he's got most of them right, but just going on the material in the book, Weatherford's tone rings too strongly of, "sure, he killed lots of people, often innocent civilians, and often in incredibly cruel ways, but hey, he created a civilization and modernized his people, so he's a net plus!" While too often history can be written using a much too detached and faux-neutral tone, I think the pendulum might have swung a wee bit too far in the other direction on these pages.
But when all is said and done, if you're interested in Genghis and the Mongols, this is a quick and fun read with a lot of interesting information....more info
- Culture Shock
I never knew how much I didn't know until I read this book. I only read it because of my book group, and everyone in the group was enthusiastic about it. I think that you'll like this book, even if history wasn't your favorite subject, and that you'll learn something from it even if it was. I wish all my history teachers had made this required reading instead of the thick, unreadable surveys of World History I was offered. Jack Weatherford hooked me from the first few pages and opened my eyes to world I barely knew existed. It is an adventure well worth your time....more info
- Briskly Readable Revisionist History
Revisionist histories are always fairly seductive--the whole point of them is to capitalize on your ignorance by taking what you think you know and turning it inside out in a kind of intellectual magic trick. That's certainly what Weatherford intends in taking a fresh look at the Mongol Empire, which will likely live forever as the largest land empire in history. He set out to travel its routes and wander its geography in the company of both eminent scholars and everyday herdsmen in an attempt to try and get into the heads of Genghis Khan and his hordes. His research fortuitously coincided with the appearance of the first complete English translations of the "Secret History of the Mongol Empire". This anonymous contemporary history was commissioned by Genghis' descendants and as a primary source, sheds much-needed light on the inner workings of the empire.
This is the first book for the general reader which draws upon the "Secret History" and as such, promises a host of surprises as Weatherford weaves episodes from it with other historical accounts of the Mongol conquests and his own travels. Throughout he is keen to paint the Mongols as a much more civilized and innovative empire than conventional wisdom would have it. For example, in an early form of globalization, they created systematic free trade routes that greatly accelerated the movement of trade and ideas -- and per the law of unintended consequences, the plague. Despite the vast caravans of loot that made its way back to the homeland, Genghis was a firm believer in living the simple life (a belief that was not fully embraced his progeny, ultimately leading to their undoing). Among other things, the Mongols abolished aristocracies in favor of meritocracy, created an imperial lingua franca, instituted paper money, codified law, and enforced religious freedom on an unparalleled scale. Indeed, it was somewhat stunning to learn that most of Genghis's descendents were (at least nominally) Christians.
To be sure, as invaders they offered a rather bleak choice: surrender or die. However, unlike most of those they conquered, the Mongols found torture an anathema and created the concept of diplomatic immunity. Much of Weatherford's story of their innovation is told on the battlefield, as they leveraged both tactical genius and technology to defeat what were often much larger armies. The military history never gets too arcane, and Weatherford is good at explaining tactics and technicalities to the general reader in an entertaining way. Who knew the Mongols were masters of both the siege engine and gunpowder, or that they didn't particularly care for hand to hand combat? Interestingly, conquered subjects were absorbed into the empire with varying degrees of self-rule, and any craftspeople or intellectuals with useful skills or knowledge were sought out and sent back to the homeland in a precursor to today's corporate "best practices" strategies.
On the whole, this is a very brisk and readable broad account of Genghis's life and his empire, although as with all revisionist histories, it should be taken with a grain of salt. Doubtless, those with expertise in 13th and 14th century world history would find their own flaws with Weatherford's spin. ...more info
- historical reading as it should be: lively
Compared with Jack Weatherford's earlier books (Indian Givers, etc), this biographical narration of Genghis Khan and the legacy of the Mongols is his best book. The research is well done, the narrative flow is excellent - historical reading needs to be lively and Weatherford serves this one up well.
The life and personality of Genghis Khan is covered in the first part of the book. Weatherford throws plenty of light upon the enigma known as the Great Khan and how he came to dominate most of the world 800 years ago. The second half explains how the Mongols conquered over 60 kingdoms and discusses the advanced innovations they introduced.
Weatherford synthesizes information from many sources to indicate these social contributions implemented by the mongols: religious freedom and the emphasis upon expanded trade; revamped laws and governance systems; new forms of currency; and an early form of the postal system. These legacies are "the making of the modern world" part of the title.
Genghis Khan was an extremely astute ruler. His progressive ideas were directed towards the spreading of goods and knowledge through expanded commerce among the people the mongols eventually came to dominate. It was when the emissaries carrying these invitations to trade were murdered, that the wrath of the Great Khan became all consuming - at this point, mercy was not an option and whole populations were laid to waste.
Genghis Khan had no use for the aristocratic elites who put up resistance - they went under the sword first. It was the crafts people, the artisans, and Leonardo types that were spared and sent back to Mongolia to disseminate their skills and knowledge.
For the history of the Mongols and the best bio of Genghis Khan, read this book first. Then, if still interested in what modern Mongolia is like, read Tim Severin's book (see review) for further adventures.
The Cloud Reckoner
Extracts: A Field Guide for Iconoclasts
- Revisionist History at its Best
Genghis is iconically currently known as a merciless, thoughtless conqueror. His brutality, by modern standards, assuming there are any, pales in comparison to the mass killers of the past century. While that might be the result of the increase in world population, he certainly showed little mercy to the rulers and elites of his opponents. However, his methods of warfare and governance were both innovative. He and the Mongols devised entirely new methods of attack, striking from all directions with speed, and withdrawing as if defeated in order to draw the other side into an extended pursuit ending in ambush. And in governance, like Napoleon, he directed the construction of a code of laws which he saw were enforced and obeyed, even by him.
Jack Weatherford, a Professor of Anthropology at Macalester College in Minnesota, lived for a long period in Mongolia researching this book. He describes the historical position of the Khan, the ruler of the Mongols and how Genghis rose to and greatly expanded that role. In one generation he brought the Mongols dominion over most of Eurasia, from Korea to Poland. He outlines, in detail, the position of the Khan in Mongolia and how it evolved under the aegis of his children and grandchildren, including the administration of Kublai Khan in China.
Genghis was a believer in participatory government, which was not fostered again in Asia until the twentieth century. He instituted a relaxation of criminal sentences, cut in half the offences for which the death penalty was authorized, and fostered the resolution of disputes by local councils. He also greatly expanded the use of paper money, instituted diplomatic immunity, established universities, decreed universal education, proposed a 40 character alphabet and fostered free trade. While he demanded unquestioned loyalty, he rejected Confucianism and foot binding, and granted freedom of religion. Chaucer wrote in awe of him in the longest Canterbury Tale: "This noble king was called Genghis Khan, who in his time was of so great renown that there was nowhere in no region so excellent a lord in all things Genghis' early life on the Onon River, from his birth in 1162 for nearly twenty years, was one of constant strife. His mother, Hoelun, was kidnapped from her husband by Yesugei, a Mongol warrior who already had one wife and children. Shortly after being abducted she gave birth to her first child and named him Temujin after a warrior Yesugei had killed. His father died when Temujin was a decade old. As a result his two wives and seven children were deserted by their clan, left to die without animals or shelter on the side of the river of his birth. He survived through his mother's extraordinary efforts.
He married before he was twenty, but his wife Borte was kidnapped by warriors of the Merkid, a tribe that occupied the land to the North of the Onon toward Lake Baikal which is now in Siberia. After praying to the animist gods, Temujin allied his small band with two larger bands and with them attacked the Merkids and recovered his bride. There followed a series of raids and counter raids among the Mongols and tribes occupying land near them. Alliances were made and broken year after year. What made Temujin successful was his ability to assess what talent a man had, and to assign him a task to suit his ability, regardless of his family standing or relationship to Temujin. He developed this meritocracy in his twenties and it served him for his entire life. That, along with his demand for absolute loyalty, led to success in warfare and in the growth of his band. Allied with Ong Khan, the leader of the Kereyid tribe which had helped him to recover his bride, he raided the Tartars and looted their goods. He next attacked the Jurkin and for the first time showed no mercy to their defeated leaders. He divided the loot into predetermined shares based upon each warriors standing. His band grew substantially as a result and he became the Khan, Genghis.
His cavalry attacks in Central Asia upon Bukhara, Samarkand and thousands of other cities are legends of military genius, much beloved and imitated by the German General Staff. He and his warriors traveled without a train so they were all mobile fighters. He found food where he was and constructed mammoth siege engines on the spot. What is not well known is the government he brought to conquered territories. Napoleon is well known for lost battles and his code, but Genghis did not lose any and perhaps as a result his governance has been forgotten. It is only in the nineteenth century when a copy of the Secret History of the Mongols, in Chinese characters representing Mongolian sounds, was found in Beijing and decoded has the history of Genghis been disclosed.
In 1937, Genghis' sulde, a spear shaft to which hair from his best stallions was tied, was removed from the Buddhist monastery where it had been protected for hundreds of years. The Soviets were demolishing the temples and everything in them, but reportedly the sulde was saved. Its current location, like the location of Genghis' burial site is unknown. Genghis has no temple, his grave site area was closed by the Mongols and completely occupied with large facilities installed by the Soviet military.
Weatherford has not brought Genghis to life. There is no dialogue and few indications of deep emotions. There could not be as the Mongols, except for the Secret History, left few books or writings. Their history has been left to others, many of whom are not sympathetic. But Weatherford has written a captivating description of the life of one of history's most important individuals, one who is grossly misunderstood by Westerners. The Mongols revere Genghis. They speak of him as we would speak of Washington or perhaps Grant.