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Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World Paperback – March 22, 2005
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—Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of India
“Reads like the Iliad. . . Part travelogue, part epic narrative.”
“It’s hard to think of anyone else who rose from such inauspicious beginnings to something so awesome, except maybe Jesus.”
“Weatherford’s lively analysis restores the Mongol’s reputation, and it takes wonderful learned detours. . . . Well written and full of suprises.”
“Weatherford is a fantastic storyteller. . . . [His] portrait of Khan is drawn with sufficiently self-complicating depth. . . . Weatherford’s account gives a generous view of the Mongol conqueror at his best and worst.”
—Minneapolis Star Tribune
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The book can't quite seem to decide what it wants to be. Is it a thesis of how the Mongol empire provided foundational technologies and practices of the modern age? Is it a biography of Genghis Khan? Is it a history of the Mongol empire? It turns out to be a haphazard mix of all three, with major shortcomings on all fronts.
As a broader anthropological thesis about the impact of Genghis Khan, Weatherford makes a very compelling case that the Mongol empire contained some then-innovative ASPECTS of modern ideals (e.g. religious tolerance, meritocracy, globalization of commerce, public schooling, paper currency, among others). He convincingly argues that the Mongols spread good ideas from one region of the empire to another, and combined those ideas in novel ways. He doesn't do a very good job of arguing that these innovations formed the basis of the modernity, spread into the broader world, and continued into today. Much of his focus is also on developments after the death of Genghis, particularly on Kubalai. While this makes sense from a historical narrative perspective, it's harder to tie the achievements of Kubalai back to Genghis, when the former took power 33 years after the latter's death, following the reign of three other Great Khans. Weatherford also mostly ignores developments in the other Khan lineages upon Kubalai taking the (disputed) title of Great Khan. He makes some ambitious and expansive claims, but doesn't provide compelling evidence. A few that caught my eyes are that Mongol culture was a foundational precursor to the European Renaissance or that the Nazi's blitzkrieg strategy was based on the study of Mongolian battle tactics. He could well be right, but I wasn't convinced of his conclusions on the basis of the evidence he presented.
As a biography, I didn't get much of a feel for Genghis Khan man outside of his tactical brilliance and shrewdness for exploiting public sentiment. I felt I had a much better sense of the character of Ogodei and Kubalai Khan than Genghis himself. Granted, much of that is probably due to lack of good contemporaneous primary sources due to historical reasons, and Weatherford seems to feel that the main source of truth is The Secret History of the Mongols, a history written either late in Temujin's life or shortly after his death. But much of the Secret History seems like after the fact mythmaking, such as when it claims that Temujin was born with a blood clot in his fist, portending great leadership. Broadly there's a lot of projection and conjecture about how he must have felt and thought. For example Weatherford sometimes posits that perhaps Khan was just trying to protect his family, his tribe, and his way of life, rather than conquer the known world. I don't know. Given the lack of good primary sources, I'd rather he leaned more on secondary sources with the necessary qualifications, or kept it more concise and stuck to the facts. As is, the biographical portions awkwardly straddles the line between idle conjecture and dry "and then this happened".
Finally as far as the broader Mongol empire is concerned, the focus is surprisingly narrow and cursory on the broader conquest. It has a pretty good discussion of broader strategy, tactics, and specific applications, but Weatherford mostly focuses on a couple campaigns (European campaigns of Ogodei Khan, Kubalai's campaigns into Sung China, and Genghis' campaigns in Mongolia, against the Jurched, and against the Khwarizm). Meanwhile he'll casually drop "And by this point the Mongols had dominion over Korea" without explaining how the Mongols adapted their steppe calvary tactics to the mountains and monsoons of Korea, while claiming the Mongols were stopped cold going out of their steppe comfort zone into the tropics of southern India or the forests of Western Europe. He sets up an epic conflict in Egypt an army of with former slav slaves, but kind of cursorily refers to it while suddenly jumping 20 years in to the future before jumping back. And as stated above, he has a pretty heavy focus on Kubalai, only briefly touching on the Ilkhanate in Persia and the Golden Horde in Eastern Europe.
In all, I enjoyed the book and I'm not swayed by other criticism I've seen about whitewashing the character of a despot. I appreciate Weatherford trying to bring more nuance to a much caricatured man and culture. But couldn't help but think that the book is less than the sum of its parts, and could have been much more.
Much, as the author points out, of the inner workings of Genghis "court" and family are still a mystery today, but he must have had some very simply remembered "unifying-underlying" creed/credo/method he not only rallied and inspired the "disparate" tribes, and nations of his vast Empire with, and made them "aware' that they were part of something "larger" than themselves and despite differences in race, creed , and religion , part of one "cohesive" Nation.
That being stated, it reminds me of article in “VFW Magazine ~ September 2018 ~ War Horses for Veterans Single Issue Magazine – 2018” by VFW Staff (Author) [at Amazon.com web-address: https://www.amazon.com/Magazine-September-2018-Horses-Veterans/dp/B07H3CFJ5Z/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1536741446&sr=8-2&keywords=vfw+magazine+2018 ] about “veteran’s values” on page number-14 of "hard copy" version. Below is quoted a list of the VFW recommended "veterans’ values":
“1. I am an American Veteran.
2. I proudly served my country.
3. I live the values I learned in the military.
4. I continue to serve my community, my country, and my fellow veterans.
5. I maintain my physical and physical discipline.
6. I continue to lead and improve.
7. I make a difference.
8. I honor and remember my fallen comrades.”
Perhaps like Genghis Kahn, whom the author more than makes the point of, gets’ not only a very bad “historical “reputation, but a “huge” misunderstanding of his contributions made to the advancement of ALL, up to, and including, the modern era! PERHAPS, like the VFW and other Veterans Service Organizations (VSO’s), etc… Genghis had some simple “credo” such as the US VFW “proposed” veteran’s creed, for not only a new "generation" of combat veterans, but their forebears of all major US Conflicts- as well!
Not too long-ago, as a Wounded Warrior, whom went to Law School- minus both legs- and got themselves elected to the US Congress has put it "we must own our problems!" Think this individuals personal story, of overcoming adversity, as well as their "credo” are relevant to not only other "wounded warriors" but the entire Nation of the United States of America, or otherwise- perhaps, the "greatest nation on earth" might simply cease to be one day.... ???? Furthermore, I remember a story another veteran- attempting similar- going back to school in early 2000's, that whole lot of veterans of all ages trying to get "degrees" in things like engineering, computers, etc... and this "vet" went back in later 2000"s and hardly saw another single US veteran let alone very many US "student's attempting this "difficult" task!
It simply might prove useful, taking cue off not only the VFW, from proposed credo above, but other organizations as well, such as Boy-Girl Scouts of America, US Army Ranger creed, etc... if the US as a "unified-nation,” just as Genghis Kahn’s “nation” was of different individual identities, adopted something for all its Citizen’s along a similar vein? One simply does not have to serve in the United States Military, to in fact serve the United States- or their Nation and community… is as oft believed! There are numerous other ways to “serve” - such as simply “working” a meaningful job, etc... So, with all that in mind, as one simply should not recommend something, without hopefully a recommended "workable" solution, below is a working “idea” of a US Citizen "Creed-Values” that wonder what Genghis Kahn, if alive today, and others would think of(?):
Recommended US Citizen Values/Creed Below:
1. I am a citizen of the United States of America.
2. I am proud of my country, fellow US Citizens, my flag, and the values they all collectively represent.
3. I live the values imbued in the United States Constitution and all its amendments and will continually strive to learn as much as possible about my Nation.
4. I strive to serve the United States by serving my community, my fellow citizens, in both peace and war.
5. I will strive to maintain a healthy lifestyle and maintain my mental and physical health and well-being.
6. I will attempt to do the best I can at all I endeavor both in personal as well as professional matters with honesty, integrity and decorum to the extent possible.
7. I seek both personal, community, business, and national continual improvement as long as I live.
8. I honor all those, whom in either service to the nation, or local community, made the ultimate sacrifice.
9. When both at home and abroad, I am a personal ambassador of the United States and will honor the recognized legitimate traditions and customs of others never once forgetting I am a US Citizen.
Well, just an idea, and perhaps something Genghis Kahn himself, had to unify his “culturally” diverse Nation! Both the author of “Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World” as well as the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) “out-did” themselves with their words……
Must Read by all “US Citizen!!!!!”
Top international reviews
As regards history, it’s difficult to know what is true and what is not. In fact, one could go to a public event, as I did recently, and find that all recorded information on it is wildly inaccurate, incomplete, and heavily biased. Go back 800 years and it becomes a virtual impossibility to produce a piece of historical writing that holds any degree of accuracy and often any recorded history, such as it may be, is biased by being recorded by those who wished things to be recorded a certain way and subsequently seen through the subjective prisms of those who subsequently try to present it to a modern reader hundreds of years after supposed events occurred.
Having said the above, there were times I found it entertaining and the epic story of a man who went from being a slave to a great conqueror is quite a story.
There were places where I felt the story was perhaps trying to present ideological ideas of the modern world rather than presenting things as they were.
At times I felt like it just jumped from one fact to another which hindered my flow of reading and made it difficult for me to concentrate on it for as long as I usually would on books in general.
I expect this book took a lot of effort to write but that the central ideas of how Khan impacted the modern world could have been laid out more lucidly. At times I found the book somewhat incoherent and dry, though it goes to certain lengths not to be which reminded me slightly of Hollywood blockbusters like Aladdin or Gladiator.
Is it worth a look? Maybe. I guess these things are subjective. I tend to consistently find “New York Times Bestseller” books a bit dull though.
Nevertheless, it is a good book but need patience to get to the heart of the subject about Genghis Khan.
This being said it's a good tale which I thoroughly enjoyed.
A minor complaint would be in the title since only about half the book deals with Genghis himself and the rest to his relatives. I bought "Khublai Khan" simultaneously and find the books overlapping. It's a minor matter so I just enjoy the ride.