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10 thoughts on “Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World

  1. says:

    Genghis Khan and his Mongol Horde were good news for the world Really. Not convinced Consider the following 1 Genghis Khan was an advocate of human rights, specifically freedom of religion, freedom from torture and free trade he got two of the Four Freedoms right, which is pretty impressive by medieval standards, especially when they still, like, burned heretics and unbelievers in Europe and elsewhere GK forbade the use of torture in trials and as punishment He also granted religious freedom within his realm, though he demanded total loyalty from conquered subjects of all religions His own immediate family was religiously diverse besides those who were Shamanists or Buddhists, a significant number were Monophysite Christians and later also Muslim converts As for the free trade thing, it was of a byproduct of the commercial opportunities that developed along the Silk Road history s largest free trade zone , once the interior of the Eurasian landmass became safe enough to travel under the Pax Mongolica Free trade as human right is still a pretty iffy concept, anyway.2 GK created a hitherto unprecedented egalitarian society where men and some women on this later advanced through individual merit, loyalty and achievement , instead through birth and aristocratic privilege This egalitarian society was also incredibly diverse, comprising of people of different religions and nations The Mongols hired European artisans to decorate their HQ in Xanadu, Chinese engineers to man their siege engines, and Muslim astronomers to chart their horoscopes And they might have hired an Italian guy called Marco Polo to govern the city of Hangzhou who knows But there s no independent proof of it whatsoever.3 GK was a proto feminist well, he was sort of pro woman, in the context of his era He made it law that women are not to be kidnapped, sold or traded Through marital alliances, he installed his daughters as de facto rulers over conquered nations In Mongol culture, when the men went off to war, the women ruled the roost And since Mongol men in the time of GK went really far away to conquer distant nations and did not return for years, the wives and daughters were the real boss at home and also at the various Mongol courts, when many of GK s male descendants turned out to be drunken incompetents A successful queen like Sorkhothani, the wife of GK s youngest son, was able to rule in her dead husband s stead and made all of her sons Great Khans Failure, however, could doom such women into cruel and unusual punishments, such as being sewed up naked into a rug and then pummeled to death Mongols abhorred the sight of blood, thus the rug.4 The Mongols promoted pragmatic, non dogmatic intellectual development in the countries that they ruled Although himself an illiterate, GK and his family recognized the value of learning and actively encouraged the development of the sciences Under the Mongols, learned men did not have to worry whether their astronomy agreed with the precepts of the Bible, that their standards of writing followed the classical principles taught by the mandarins of China, or that Muslim imams disapproved of their printing and painting New technology, such as paper and printing, gunpowder and the compass were transmitted through the Mongol realm to the West and sparked the Renaissance a few generations later 5 The Mongols were for low taxes GK lowered taxes for everyone, and abolished them altogether for professionals such as doctors, teachers and priests, and educational institutions.6 The Mongols established a regular census and created the first international postal system.7 The Mongols invented paper money it was soon abandoned because of hyper inflation, but they got the right idea and elevated the status of merchants ahead of all religions and professions, second only to government officials this is in contrast to Confucian culture, which ranked merchants as merely a step above robbers They also widely distributed loot acquired in combat and thus promoted healthy commercial circulation of goods.8 The Mongols improved agriculture by encouraging farmers to adopt efficient planting methods and tools, as well as transplanting different varieties of edible plants from country to country and developed new varieties and hybrids.Okay So Pax Mongolica was basically good for the world But wait, how about all of those terrible massacres, rapine and wholesale destruction of cities Didn t Genghis Khan famously stated that the greatest joy a man can know is to conquer his enemies and drive them before him To ride their horses and take away their possessions To see the faces of those who were dear to them bedewed with tears, and to clasp their wives and daughters in his arms Actually, Muslim chroniclers attributed that quote to him and it is highly unlikely that he ever uttered it Muslims writers of the era often exaggerated Mongol atrocities for Jihad purposes The Mongols were very aware of the value of propaganda as a weapon of war and actively encouraged scary stories about themselves.The Mongols decimated cities that resisted them, such as Baghdad, the capital of the Abbasid Caliphate, but they generally let those that surrendered remain unmolested At the end of the fourteenth century, Tamerlane piled up pyramids of heads outside the cities that he conquered, and as he flimsily claimed to be a Mongol, his practices were anachronistically assigned back to Genghis Khan Three centuries later, Voltaire adopted a Mongol dynasty play to fit his own personal political and social agenda by portraying GK, whom he used as a substitute for the French king, as an ignorant and cruel villain So basically, GK got an undeservedly bad rap.Yay for Genghis Khan conservative scholars place the number of dead from Genghis Khan s invasion of central Asia at 15 million within five years Even this modest total, however, would require that each Mongol kill than a hundred people the inflated tallies for other cities required a slaughter of 350 people by every Mongol soldier Had so many people lived in the cities of central Asia at the time, they could have easily overwhelmed the invading Mongols Although accepted as fact and repeated through the generations, the inflated numbers have no basis in reality.


  2. says:

    Having listened a couple of years kago to the 5 Star captivating and detailed podcast by Funjokyk Dan Carlin HardCore HistroyWrath of the Khans I became fascinated with Genghis Khan and when this book came up on my recommendation feed in GoodReads I decided to revisit this period in historyThe Mongols existed during the 13th and 14th centuries and was the largest contiguous land empire in history They were experienced rulers way ahead of their time not only in in military terms but also in trade and agriculture and without doubt have played a major part in making of the modern world They were ruthless beyond belief and left devastation in their wake where ever they conquered This is a very well researched account that explores the sheer domination of Genghis Khan and the Mongol Empire of 1000 years ago.This book does in my opinion however tend to learn towards painting a favourable picture of how great the Mongols were and the positive aspects of their reign and this is extremely interesting too as they are believed to be responsible for the making of the modern world with the introduction of paper currency, improvements lin trade and agriculture and the tolerance of allowing their subjects to practice different religions as long as they prayed for the ruling families.While I enjoyed this book I do highly recommend Dan Carlin and his Wrath of the Khans podcast for its meticulous research but above all the way he brings history to life in a manner I have never encountered before and encourages the listener to think outside the box IEnjoyed this book as its interesting, easy to read, factual and even if you don t have an interest in history I think this account will intrigue and fascinate any reader I always love when a book teaches the reader new things.


  3. says:

    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 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 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.


  4. says:

    This gets two stars instead of one because it s very well written Factually, however, it s abysmal.If you want a light, easy and entertaining read, you won t be disappointed If you d like to learn about Mongolian history however, I can only urge you not to read this book A better bet would be the eminently reliable, but still readable The Mongols by David Morgan.It suffers from many of the faults common to revisionist history starting out with a good point but over exaggerating to the point of wilful ignorance of available evidence What makes that particularly irritating in this instance is that it s not entirely necessary Ghengis Khan was not a blood thirsty barbarian, few scholars would dispute that these days By the same token, Jack Weatherford is not a historian Edit I m taking away one of the stars its factual innacuracies are dangerous and should outweigh any entertainment value that the book has.


  5. says:

    So while I rated this at three stars I don t want you to think this is not a good book or that you shouldn t pick it up It is actually a rather good introductory book about Genghis Khan and the Mongols It does a wonderful job discussing Genghis s early life an area that I knew little about and showed how the traumas of his youth which were legion influenced the man and empire builder he became It was rather illuminating in that regard, even as it related the story of the Mongols I was already familiar with The tragedies his family endured seemed to have instilled in him a profound determination to defy the strict caste structure of the steppes, to take charge of his fate, and to rely on alliances with trusted associates, rather than his family or tribe, as his primary base of support. My issue with the book was due to it not holding up the promise of the title It is clear that Weatherford has a great passion for Mongolian history but I fear he bit off than he could chew with his title I will certainly concede that the Mongolian Empire was unique for its time The Mongols were always a minority where they ruled so they could not use the traditional tool of Empire building, the fist of the army, as their only strategy Instead they had to adapt to the people they conquered and look everywhere they could for innovative means of preserving their power and influence Whether in their policy of religious tolerance, devising a universal alphabet, maintaining relay stations, playing games, or printing almanacs, money, or astronomy charts, the rulers of the Mongol Empire displayed a persistent universalism Because they had no system of their own to impose upon their subjects, they were willing to adopt and combine systems from everywhere Without deep cultural preferences in these areas, the Mongols implemented pragmatic rather than ideological solutions They searched for what worked best and when they found it, they spread it to other countries They did not have to worry whether their astronomy agreed with the precepts of the Bible, that their standards of writing followed the classical principles taught by the mandarins of China, or that Muslim imams disapproved of their printing and painting The Mongols had the power, at least temporarily, to impose new international systems of technology, agriculture, and knowledge that superseded the predilections or prejudices of any single civilization and in so doing, they broke the monopoly on thought exercised by local elites. This universalist and pragmatic approach certainly generated qualities that we find in today s modern world religious tolerance, secular governance, emphasis on technological achievement, paper money, state support of long distance trade, etc But these qualities did not have any sort of lasting impact on the world Because of their universalist outlook and light for the times footprint on their conquered populations the Mongol Empire left little in the way of lasting cultural achievements Many were merely absorbed into the local culture even as Mongol Dynasties continued to rule Their legacy was written by the people they conquered China or threatened Europe and that history did their legacy no favors.All the trappings we now see as modern for the most part perished with the various successor Kingdoms The Mongols may have shown hints of what the Modern World would becomes but they by no means set the world onto this path to modernity In my opinion the book doesn t even make an effort to support its thesis, devolving into a general history of the Mongols than offering some convincing through story of how they contributed to making the Modern world.So don t approach this book expecting some grand theory of history with the Mongols providing some pivotal trans civilizational transformation as I did Instead, approach it as a really good, if broad, examination of how the Mongolian Empire came to be, was sustained, and ultimately shattered In that light it is a good gateway book to deeper dives into the fascinating and unique Mongolian Empire.


  6. says:

    This might be my favorite book of all time It s as fascinating as a history book or biography can get while also being a terrific read From the first page, you are immersed in understanding how an illiterate steppe warrior became ruler of an empire larger than Africa Perhaps most enticing to me are the ways in which the survival strategies of steppe nomads influenced the ethics of rulership and the cunning development of military tactics I recommend this book to anyone with a sense of curiosity, whether you typically enjoy reading history or not.


  7. says:

    A book 17 years in the making, packed with superlatives spiced with hyperbole The author s cheerleading aside, Khan s numbers and creativity will thrill and bewilder you Alexander Caesar Mere light weights who statistically pale next to this titan it s not even close Massive Mongol Moments In 25 years, the Mongol army subjugated lands and people than the Romans had conquered in 400 years In American terms, the accomplishments of Genghis Khan might be understood if the United States had been founded by one of its illiterate slaves who liberated America from foreign rule created an alphabet, wrote the constitution, established universal religious freedom marched an army from Canada to Brazil in a free trade zone On every level and from every perspective, the scale and scope challenge the limits of imagination and tax the resources of scholarly explanation His entry into Bukhara followed the successful conclusion of possibly the most audacious surprise attack in military history While one part of his army took the direct route from Mongolia to attack the sultan s border cities head on, he had secretly pulled and pushed another division of warriors over a distance longer than any army had every covered 2000 miles to appear deep behind enemy lines, where least expected The Mongol military consisted entirely of cavalry, armed riders without a marching infantry so they rarely fought in hand to hand combat The breath or odor of the enemy carried a part of his soul, and thus warriors sought to avoid the contamination The Mongols easily rode and even fought on frozen lakes and rivers the Volga and the Danube became highways for the Mongols, allowing them to ride their horses right up to the city walls during the season Europeans least prepared for Khan ordered each man to set 5 camp fires every night on the hills where his army had camped From a distance the small army appeared much larger, since they seemed to have fires than stars in the sky Khan s first new law reportedly forbade the kidnapping of women, almost certainly a reaction to the kidnapping of his wife Borte He forbade the selling of women into marriage For the same reasons, he outlawed adultery He instituted a massive lost and found system that continued to grow as his empire spread Any person who found such goods, money, or animals and did not turn them in would be treated as a thief the penalty for theft was execution In probably the first law of its kind anywhere in the world, Genghis Khan decreed complete and total religious freedom for everyone To promote all religions, Genghis Khan exempted religious leaders and their property from taxation and all types of public service he later extended the same tax exemptions to a range of professionals including undertakers, doctors, lawyers, teachers, and scholars The Chinese noted with surprise and disgust the ability of the Mongol warriors to survive on little food and water for long periods Each Mongol unit of 1000 traveled with its own medical unit, usually composed of Chinese doctors Genghis Khan never asked his men to die for him he waged war with this strategic purpose in mind to preserve Mongol life Unlike other generals in history who easily ordered hundreds of thousands of soldiers to their death, Genghis Khan would never willingly sacrifice a single one The Mongols did not find honor in fighting they found honor in winning They had a single goal in every campaign total victory While Europe, China, and India had only attained the level of regional civilizations, the Muslims came closest to having a world class civilization with sophisticated commerce, technology, and general learning, but because they ranked so high above the rest of the world, they had the farthest to fall The Mongol invasion caused damage here than anywhere else By August 1221 Mongol officials sent their Korean subjects a demand for 100,000 sheets of their famous paper The volume of paper shows how rapidly Mongol record keeping was increasing as the size of the empire grew The Mongols did not torture, mutilate, or maim By comparison with the terrifying acts of civilized armies of the era, the Mongols did not inspire fear by the ferocity or cruelty of their acts so much as by the speed and efficiency with which they conquered Genghis Khan would be accurately described as a destroyer of cities than a slayer of people, because he often razed entire cities In a massive and highly successful effort to reshape the flow of trade across Eurasia, he destroyed cities on the less important or inaccessible routes to funnel commerce that his army could easily supervise and control To stop trade through an area, he demolished cities down to their very foundations Because bullion and coins proved bulky to transport, the Mongols created a system of paper money exchanges that made trade much easier and safer The Mongols planted trees along the sides of roads to shade the travelers in summer The Mongol army would fight campaigns that would stretch out over a distance of 5000 miles and than 100 degrees latitude, a feat unmatched by any army until World War II Preparation for the campaign toward Europe required 2 years The Mongols sent in small squads to probe enemy defenses and identify valleys and plains that would best feed sheep or goats and. cattle and horses Where the natural grassland seemed inadequate, the Mongols opened up farmland by sending in soldiers to burn villages and farm settlements Without farmers to plow and plant the land, it reverted to grassland before the main Mongol army arrived A cadre of Mongol census takers followed the army to record the number of people, animals, and products seized Then they sent thousands of prisoners to transport the goods back to Karakorum the Mongol capital Because of the enormous wickedness of the Jews , Christians accused them of bringing the wrath of the Mongols From York to Rome, angry Christian crowds attacked the Jewish quarters set fire to Jewish homes and massacred the residents In the mere 14 years since the death of Genghis Khan, all four of his sons had died Khan s grandsons raced home to continue their battles against each other in the quest to become the next Great Khan The European cities produced little loot Disappointed with the material reward of their invasion and eager to show some profit, the Mongol officers struck a deal with the Italian merchants of Crimea This began a long and lucrative relationship between the Mongols and the merchants of Venice and Genoa While the Mongol men stayed busy on the battlefield conquering foreign countries, women managed the empire On July 22, 1246 the first envoy arrived in the Mongol court from western Europe He required nearly a year to cross Europe Once in the Mongol transport system, however, he covered 3000 miles in a mere 106 days The Mongols loved competitions of all sorts, and they organized debates among rival religions the same way they organized wrestling matches The Mongol army had accomplished in 2 years what the European Crusaders had failed to do in 2 centuries of sustained effort They had conquered the heart of the Arab world No other non Muslim troops would conquer Baghdad or Iraq again until 2003 Khubilai Khan s genius derived from his recognition that he could not conquer all of China by mere force He built a Chinese capital, took Chinese names, created a Chinese dynasty, and set up a Chinese administration He won control of China by appearing to be Chinese than the Chinese During the Mongol era, the whole complex of the Forbidden City was filled with gers yurts , where members of the court often preferred to live, sleep, and eat While Khubilai and his successors maintained public lives as Chinese emperors, behind the walls of the Forbidden City they continued to live as steppe Mongols The Mongols reduced by nearly half the number of capital offenses in China from 233 to 135 Khubilai Khan rarely allowed the use of execution for those offenses that remained At the same time that the Mongols were moving to limit the use of torture, both church and state in Europe passed laws to expand its usage to an even greater variety of crimes for which there need be no evidence Unlike the variety of bloody forms of torture such as stretching on a rack crushed by a great wheel impaled on spikes various forms of burning Mongols limited it to beating with a cane Criminals, and often their entire families, had to sign documents acknowledging receipt of the sentence To preserve the record of the event, fingerprints were taken A diverse set of administrators included Tibetans, Armenians, Khitan, Arabs, Tajiks, Uighurs, Tangut, Turks, Persians, and Europeans The Mongols staffed each office with an ethnic quota so that each official was surrounded by men of a different culture or religion The record of the Mongol dynasty lists 20,166 public schools created during Khubilai Khan s reign Mongol authorities distributed an early type of combined passport and credit card Depending on which metal was used and the symbols illiterate people could ascertain the importance of the traveler and thereby render the appropriate level of service As ruler in Persia, Hulegu still had 25,000 households of silk workers in China under his brother Khubilai Each lineage in the Mongol ruling family demanded its appropriate shares of astronomers, doctors, weavers, miners, and acrobats Khubilai owned farms in Persia and Iraq Clerics traveled throughout the empire checking on the goods in one place and verifying accounts in another The Mongols in Persia supplied their kinsman in China with spices, steel, jewels, pearls, and textiles, while the Mongol court in China sent porcelains and medicines to Persia The failed invasions of Japan and Java taught the Mongols much about shipbuilding In the first years, Mongols moved some 3000 tons by ship, but by 1329 it had grown to 210,000 tons As early as 1226 Genghis Khan allowed the Genoese to maintain a trading station at the port of Kaffa To protect these stations on land and sea, the Mongols hunted down pirates A commercial handbook published in 1340 by the Florentine merchant Francesco Balducci Pegolotti stressed that the routes to Mongol Cathay were perfectly safe, whether by day or by night By responding to the needs of a universal market, the Mongol workshops in China eventually were producing images of the Madonna and the Christ Child carved in ivory for export to Europe Mongol authorities had specific instructions from the central government to seek out astronomers in each newly conquered land These included Jamal ad Din, who was one of the most brilliant astronomers of the era he brought with him the blueprints for major astronomical devices and new means of scientific measurement unknown in China The number of books in print increased so dramatically that their price fell constantly throughout the era of Mongol rule Presses throughout the Mongol empire were soon printing agricultural pamphlets, almanacs, scriptures, laws, histories, medical treatises, new mathematical theories, songs, and poetry in many different languages


  8. says:

    Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford is both an account of the life and empire of Genghis Khan 1162 1227 and, unfortunately, a series of unsubstantiated claims about the empire s positive contributions to the world I wanted to like this book but, the I read, the I was bothered by what seem to me to be unsubstantiated and over the top claims by the author Since I know little about Asian history, I can only assume that the first part of the book is a fairly conventional account of the life and conquests of Genghis Kahn However, from about the end of the first part of the book to its conclusion, I can say that Weatherford fails to provide evidence for several major claims he makes about world history Weatherford never mentions that the Empire of Genghis Khan and his sons and grandsons killed 30 to 40 million people Weatherford also downplays the fact that the Mongols brought slaughter, destruction, and misery to cities and villages from the Pacific Ocean to Eastern Europe and the Middle East for about one hundred years When Weatherford does mention some Mongol atrocity, he usually precedes or follows its description with a description of a worse atrocity committed by some European And when he does mention a Mongol atrocity, many times he tries to give some rationalization for it For example, Weatherford blames one of Genghis Kahn s daughter in laws for the decision to kill every man, woman, and child in a certain city and to amass their severed heads into three corresponding piles According to Weatherford, the Mongols are victims of a smear campaign started by the Enlightenment Europeans He doesn t seem to consider that the Europeans may have remembered their ancestors being burned alive in churches by the Mongol invaders According to Weatherford, the Europeans should be grateful Although never ruled by the Mongols, in many ways, Europe gained the most from their world system Weatherford s main thesis claim is that by improving the East West trade routes across Asia, the Mongolian empire enabled the Europeans to benefit from the advanced culture of China much sooner than they would have without the Mongols I think it could be argued that the world would have been better off without the Mongol Empire and the 30 to 40 million deaths and destruction and with a Europe that discovered Chinese technology a couple of centuries later Weatherford seems to have bought into Genghis Khan s propaganda that he wanted to unite the whole world in one empire under the Eternal Blue Sky I ll finish this review with a quote from the book that I think fairly summarizes Weatherford s thesis In conquering their empire, not only had the Mongols revolutionized warfare, they also created the nucleus of the universal culture and world system This new global culture continued to grow long after the demise of the Mongol Empire, and through continued development over the coming centuries, it became the foundation for the modern world system with the original Mongol emphasis on free commerce, open communication, shared knowledge, secular politics, religious coexistence, international law, and diplomatic immunity I do not recommend this book I m giving it two out of five stars rather than one star because I assume it provides the conventional account of Genghis Kahn and the Mongol Empire Rating 2 out of 5 stars Notes Audiobook Narrated by Jonathan Davis, Jack Weatherford Length 14 hours and 19 minutes Unabridged Audiobook Release Date 2010 02 16 Publisher Audible Studios


  9. says:

    The rise of Genghis Khan, the spread of his immense empire, the surprisingly farsighted policies he implemented, the intrigues of his successors, and the way Europe and Asia were changed in their wake make for an interesting book with lots of colorful characters and dramatic events Genghis s rise from an orphaned nobody dependent on the good will of others to absolute command of the largest empire in history is a remarkable story, a combination of intelligence, boldness, guile, and ruthlessness, and no doubt a good deal of luck as well.He seems in many way to be almost an admirable character Almost That is, if you can overlook the dead bodies, the millions of people slaughtered from China to Hungary, from Russia to Iraq, entire cities laid waste and their populations put to the sword And not just once or twice, but everywhere the Mongols went, because they viewed terror as a cheap alternative to combat Kill everyone who attempts to oppose you and eventually you can scare the rest into surrendering, but you have to kill a lot of people for everyone else to decide that surrender and slavery is a better option than putting up a fight By some estimates they killed 5% of the earth s population at that time, and they left vast stretches depopulated With a record like that, it s hard to think of them as the good guys.Mongolia was not a large place, and it was thinly populated since it takes a lot of territory to support a pastoralist lifestyle As a result, after the first conquests actual Mongolians were a minority in the armies, which contained large numbers of affiliated troops, some from conquered peoples, some from allied nations, and some specialists, such as doctors, engineers, and siege warfare experts, from China and the West.Their success depended on equal parts mobility, ferocity, superior equipment, and strategy As a nation on horseback, they could move far faster than infantry based armies, and their soldiers were trained from childhood to ride, shoot, and fight They used the fearsome compound bow, which was lethal at longer ranges than the weapons of their opponents, and they could shoot behind themselves as accurately as they could shoot ahead They also had a sophisticated communications system that allowed them to coordinate vast bodies of troops, and used it to avoid direct encounters and wherever possible sweep around their opponents flanks It helped that the armies they fought were poorly trained and equipped and badly led For instance, in Russia the local nobles were so jealous of each other that they refused to name an overall commander they attacked piecemeal and were destroyed piecemeal In Hungary the nobles held back their troops even as the Mongols were at their doorstep to try to get additional concessions from the king The Holy Roman emperor was at war with the pope, and was willing to let western civilization burn rather than accept a compromise When the Mongols attacked Baghdad the caliph was so certain that the armies of Islam would come to his aid that he did not order the walls be repaired until literally the day before the city was attacked In both their invasions of Europe and the Middle East, the only thing that stopped the Mongols was news of the death of the great khan, and the need for their leaders to return home to elect a new one Had that not happened nothing would have stopped them from conquering all of Europe and the Middle East.The empire they created, for those who were able to avoid death or slavery, was remarkable for its time At a time when you could still get burned at the stake in Europe for minor theological disagreements, the Mongols tolerated all religions, so long as they obeyed the law There was far equality than anywhere else in the world, and they promoted polices that enhanced agriculture, trade, and education It is hard to tell whether these policies were the result of far sighted political thinking, or if they just didn t care about things like religions or personal freedoms, so long as the economy remained strong and the people loyal In any case, within a few generations of Genghis s death the empire was broken up into smaller kingdoms ruled by lesser khans, and the freedoms were gradually revoked.The Mongol empire remains one of the greatest episodes of human history, and helped open up the world for trade and the exchange of ideas Whether the price paid in blood for its success was worth it is up to the historians to debate, but this book is a fine introduction for anyone interested in this subject.


  10. says:

    Weatherford relates the remarkable story of Genghis Khan as told in The Secret History of the Mongols Born in 1162, Genghis Khan grew up an uneducated outcast on the Asian steppes He learned through harsh experience to be an astute judge of people, to be self reliant and to be completely ruthless He set his own traditions He valued loyalty first followed by competence Lineage and social standing did not matter He was a great organizer and quick study, taking the best ideas from each society he conquered and weaving them into an unstoppable strategy for conquest He conscripted anyone of value into his army or his capable administrative organization Those left behind had to pay homage or be killed While he consulted with his compatriots, he did not tolerate dissension from anyone He disdained torture, but killed without compunction Weatherford is clearly enad with his subject as he lauds Genghis Khan s resourcefulness while treating his mass killings and wholesale destruction matter of factly.Genghis Khan forever changed the world Prior to his reign, Europe, China and India were all isolated from each other The Muslim Arab, Turkic, and Persian realm was the most advanced in literacy, education and in trade What limited commerce existed between West and East went through the Middle East and made its way from tribe to tribe along the Silk Road south of the Mongol homeland Genghis Khan would bring the world, its goods, ideas and technologies, together Genghis Khan s original name was Temujin After a tough childhood, he was able to take over the leadership of his own tribe Then he started aligning with or defeating nearby tribes This included the Tatar tribe, thus causing some Europeans later to refer to the Mongols as Tartars In 1206 he adopted the name Genghis Khan, ruling a group of tribes that would be known as the Mongols He constantly refined his strategies, adopting the weapons and tactics of his enemies as needed He offered his adversaries the chance to submit before attacking Many of them became his allies Unlike the Europeans who killed of all the commoners and saved the nobility for ransom, Genghis Khan killed all the aristocrats and conscripted the commoners His army grew So did his administrative staff Genghis Khan valued highly those with skills and they were welcomed In 1215 Genghis Khan defeated the important Jurched tribe sacking their capital in what is now Beijing This victory gave him control of northern China and brought him in direct contact with the Sung dynasty in coastal and southern China He did not take on the Sung because he was uncomfortable with the terrain and the humid hot climate He headed west instead following the plains he felt at home in In 1221 he defeated the large powerful Khwarezm Empire bringing him most of Central Asia and up against Russia and Europe.After Genghis Khan s death in 1227, his empire was split among his sons One would occupy the role of Great Khan retaining central authority Two major campaigns were launched, one against the Sung dynasty in China and one against Europe The Chinese campaign weakened the Sung dynasty and took some outlying areas but failed in its goal to take China However, the Mongols were very successful slaughtering European armies while advancing to the outskirts of Vienna in 1241 where the plains ended Here the Mongols stopped They had been taking in far less booty than in prior campaigns against the richer Asian societies However the Mongols struck a deal with Genoese traders in Crimea selling Slavic prisoners for gold The Genoese sold many of the prisoners to the Sultan of Egypt who used them in his army that would in twenty years defeat the Mongols.After the indulgent and reckless rule of two of Genghis Khan s progeny and years of infighting, Mongke Khan, one of Genghis Khan s grandsons, became the Great Khan in 1251 Mongke, the last of the Great Khans, authorized two campaigns, one against the Moslem strongholds in the Middle East and the other against the Sung dynasty In 1258 Mongke s brother Hulegu accomplished what the crusaders never could He victoriously entered Baghdad deposing the Caliph whose line had ruled for 500 years Hulegu s expansion would reach its limits when his army lost to the Egyptian Mamluk slave army in 1260 Following Mongke s death in 1259 and after a prior tepid start, Mongke s brother Kublai defeated the Sung in 1271 Kublai established the Yuan dynasty creating a new united China with all the territory it has today Kublai would become increasingly preoccupied with food, drink and song The Yuan dynasty would begin to decay, surviving another 100 years In 1293 the Mongol Empire reached its maximum extent There were four separate Mongol domains The Yuan dynasty ruled China, Tibet and Mongolia The Ilkhanate consisted of Iraq, Iran and adjacent areas The Golden Horde included southern Russia and Eastern Europe The Chagatai Khanate occupied Central Asia connecting the other three The Mongol empire although now broken into four distinct entities, stretched from Korea to Baghdad, from Viet Nam to Bulgaria Each khanate was ruled by the decedent of an illiterate reject who a hundred years earlier roamed the hills between Siberia and the Gobi Desert.In the early part of the 14th century, the khanates prospered The Mongol trade links that connected China, India, the Middle East and Europe facilitated the infusion of new goods and ideas But something sinister was also along for the ride, the plague, starting in China in 1331 China lost half its population in the next twenty years The plague spread along the Mongol trade routes reaching Europe by 1347 which would lose a third of its people in the epidemic Trade came to a halt The khanates isolated themselves Cut off from each other, eventually the Mongol leaders would be displaced or absorbed into local cultures The Ming rebels took over in China in 1368 and built walls to keep others out and themselves in They abandoned the sea trade Kublai Khan had started, stranding Chinese in ports around Asia Only the Chagatai Khanate preserved Mongol traditions In 1370 Tamerlane took over Chagatai He fancied himself a descendant of Genghis Khan who would reestablish the Great Khan s empire Tamerlane went on to create his own Central Asian and Middle Eastern empire, but it quickly disintegrated after he died in 1405 Today when the promise and the threat of globalization are top concerns, it is fascinating to read about how it all started 800 years ago an itinerant animal herder from one of the remotest corners of the globe rose to create the largest contiguous empire the world has ever known In so doing he brought together for the first time the developed cultures of the world The new technology and ideas that had come from Asia to Europe over the past two centuries would pave the way for the Renaissance The desire to reestablish trade with China is what drove Columbus to look for a route west Since communications with China had ceased over 100 years before his voyage, he thought the Great Khans still ruled there The drive towards greater economic integration would march forever forward, albeit with interruptions Weatherford, although clearly pro Mongol biased, makes some compelling arguments about how much the modern world owes to the Mongol empire His short history is easy to follow and full of interesting tidbits to keep the reader engaged He provides a different perspective, not looking at the Mongols through the lens of the West If any of this strikes your interest, then you should give Weatherford s book a try.


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