Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World

Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World

by Jack Weatherford

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Overview

New York Times Bestseller • The startling true history of how one extraordinary man from a remote cornerof the world created an empire that led the world into the modern age.

The Mongol army led by Genghis Khan subjugated more lands and people in twenty-five years than the Romans did in four hundred. In nearly every country the Mongols conquered, they brought an unprecedented rise in cultural communication, expanded trade, and a blossoming of civilization. Vastly more progressive than his European or Asian counterparts, Genghis Khan abolished torture, granted universal religious freedom, and smashed feudal systems of aristocratic privilege.

From the story of his rise through the tribal culture to the explosion of civilization that the Mongol Empire unleashed, this brilliant work of revisionist history is nothing less than the epic story of how the modern world was made.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780609809648
Publisher: Crown/Archetype
Publication date: 03/22/2005
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 27,419
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Jack Weatherford is the New York Times bestselling author of Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World; Indian Givers: How the Indians of the Americas Transformed the World; The Secret History of the Mongol Queens; and The History of Money, among other acclaimed books. A specialist in tribal peoples, he was for many years a professor of anthropology at Macalaster College in Minnesota and divides his time between the US and Mongolia.

Read an Excerpt

The Blood Clot

There is fire in his eyes and light in his face.

The Secret History of the Mongols

Of the thousands of cities conquered by the Mongols, history only mentions one that Genghis Khan deigned to enter. Usually, when victory became assured, he withdrew with his court to a distant and more pleasant camp while his warriors completed their tasks. On a March day in 1220, the Year of the Dragon, the Mongol conqueror broke with his peculiar tradition by leading his cavalry into the center of the newly conquered city of Bukhara, one of the most important cities belonging to the sultan of Khwarizm in what is now Uzbekistan. Although neither the capital nor the major commercial city, Bukhara occupied an exalted emotional position throughout the Muslim world as Noble Bukhara, the center of religious piety known by the epithet "the ornament and delight to all Islam." Knowing fully the propaganda value of his actions by conquering and entering the city, Genghis Khan rode triumphantly through the city gates, past the warren of wooden houses and vendors' stalls, to the large cluster of stone and brick buildings at the center of the city.

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 other army had ever covered—two thousand miles of desert, mountains, and steppe—to appear deep behind enemy lines, where least expected. Even trade caravans avoided the Kyzyl Kum, the fabled Red Desert, by detouring hundreds of miles to avoid it; and that fact, of course, was precisely why Genghis Khan chose to attack from that direction. By befriending the nomads of the area, he was able to lead his army on a hitherto unknown track through the stone and sand desert.

His targeted city of Bukhara stood at the center of a fertile oasis astride one of the tributaries of the Amu Darya inhabited mostly by Tajik or Persian people, but ruled by Turkic tribesmen in the newly created empire of Khwarizm, one of the many transitory empires of the era. The sultan of Khwarizm had, in a grievously fatal mistake, provoked the enmity of Genghis Khan by looting a Mongol trade caravan and disfiguring the faces of Mongol ambassadors sent to negotiate peaceful commerce. Although nearly sixty years old, when Genghis Khan heard of the attack on his men, he did not hesitate to summon his disciplined and experienced army once again to their mounts and to charge down the road of war.

In contrast to almost every major army in history, the Mongols traveled lightly, without a supply train. By waiting until the coldest months to make the desert crossing, men and horses required less water. Dew also formed during this season, thereby stimulating the growth of some grass that provided grazing for horses and attracted game that the men eagerly hunted for their own sustenance. Instead of transporting slow-moving siege engines and heavy equipment with them, the Mongols carried a faster-moving engineer corps that could build whatever was needed on the spot from available materials. When the Mongols came to the first trees after crossing the vast desert, they cut them down and made them into ladders, siege engines, and other instruments for their attack.

When the advance guard spotted the first small settlement after leaving the desert, the rapidly moving detachment immediately changed pace, moving now in a slow, lumbering procession, as though they were merchants coming to trade, rather than with the speed of warriors on the attack. The hostile force nonchalantly ambled up to the gates of the town before the residents realized who they were and sounded an alarm.

Upon emerging unexpectedly from the desert, Genghis Khan did not race to attack Bukhara immediately. He knew that no reinforcements could leave the border cities under attack by his army, and he therefore had time to play on the surprise in a tortured manipulation of public fear and hope. The objective of such tactics was simple and always the same: to frighten the enemy into surrendering before an actual battle began. By first capturing several small towns in the vicinity, Genghis Khan's army set many local people to flight toward Bukhara as refugees who not only filled the city but greatly increased the level of terror in it. By striking deeply behind the enemy lines, the Mongols immediately created havoc and panic throughout the kingdom. As the Persian chronicler Ata-Malik Juvaini described his approach, when the people saw the countryside all around them "choked with horsemen and the air black as night with the dust of cavalry, fright and panic overcame then, and fear and dread prevailed." In preparing the psychological attack on a city, Genghis Khan began with two examples of what awaited the people. He offered generous terms of surrender to the outlying communities, and the ones that accepted the terms and joined the Mongols received great leniency. In the words of the Persian chronicler, "whoever yields and submits to them is safe and free from the terror and disgrace of their severity." Those that refused received exceptionally harsh treatment, as the Mongols herded the captives before them to be used as cannon fodder in the next attack.

The tactic panicked the Turkic defenders of Bukhara. Leaving only about five hundred soldiers behind to man the citadel of Bukhara, the remaining army of twenty thousand soldiers fled in what they thought was still time before the main Mongol army arrived. By abandoning their fortress and dispersing in flight, they sprung Genghis Khan's trap, and the Mongol warriors, who were already stationed in wait for the fleeing soldiers, cut them down at a nearly leisurely pace.

The civilian population of Bukhara surrendered and opened the city gates, but the small contingent of defiant soldiers remained in their citadel, where they hoped that the massive walls would allow them to hold out indefinitely against any siege. To more carefully assess the overall situation, Genghis Khan made his unprecedented decision to enter the city. One of his first acts on reaching the center of Bukhara, or upon accepting the surrender of any people, was to summon them to bring fodder for his horses. Feeding the Mongol warriors and their horses was taken as a sign of submission by the conquered; more important, by receiving the food and fodder, Genghis Khan signaled his acceptance of the people as vassals entitled to Mongol protection as well as subject to his command.

From the time of his central Asian conquests, we have one of the few written descriptions of Genghis Khan, who was about sixty years old. The Persian chronicler Minhaj al-Siraj Juzjani, who was far less kindly disposed toward the Mongols than the chronicler Juvaini, described him as "a man of tall stature, of vigorous build, robust in body, the hair on his face scanty and turned white, with cats' eyes, possessed of dedicated energy, discernment, genius, and understanding, awe-striking, a butcher, just, resolute, an overthrower of enemies, intrepid, sanguinary, and cruel." Because of his uncanny ability to destroy cities and conquer armies many times the size of his own, the chronicler also goes on to declare that Genghis Khan was "adept at magic and deception, and some of the devils were his friends."

Eyewitnesses reported that upon reaching the center of Bukhara, Genghis Khan rode up to the large mosque and asked if, since it was the largest building in the city, it was the home of the sultan. When informed that it was the house of God, not the sultan, he said nothing. For the Mongols, the one God was the Eternal Blue Sky that stretched from horizon to horizon in all four directions. God presided over the whole earth; he could not be cooped up in a house of stone like a prisoner or a caged animal, nor, as the city people claimed, could his words be captured and confined inside the covers of a book. In his own experience, Genghis Khan had often felt the presence and heard the voice of God speaking directly to him in the vast open air of the mountains in his homeland, and by following those words, he had become the conqueror of great cities and huge nations.

Genghis Khan dismounted from his horse in order to walk into the great mosque, the only such building he is known to have ever entered in his life. Upon entering, he ordered that the scholars and clerics feed his horses, freeing them from further danger and placing them under his protection, as he did with almost all religious personnel who came under his control. Next, he summoned the 280 richest men of the city to the mosque. Despite his limited experience inside city walls, Genghis Khan still had a keen grasp of the working of human emotion and sentiment. Before the assembled men in the mosque, Genghis Khan took a few steps up the pulpit stairs, then turned to face the elite of Bukhara. Through interpreters, he lectured them sternly on the sins and misdeeds of their sultan and themselves. It was not the common people who were to blame for these failures; rather, "it is the great ones among you who have committed these sins. If you had not committed great sins, God would not have sent a punishment like me upon you." He then gave each rich man into the control of one of his Mongol warriors, who would go with him and collect his treasure. He admonished his rich prisoners not to bother showing them the wealth above the ground; the Mongols could find that without assistance. He wanted them to guide them only to their hidden or buried treasure.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"There is very little time for reading in my new job. But of the few books I've read, my favourite is Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford (Crown Publishers, New York). It's a fascinating book portraying Genghis Khan in a totally new light. It shows that he was a great secular leader, among other things."
—Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of India

“Reads like the Iliad. . . Part travelogue, part epic narrative.”
Washington Post

“It’s hard to think of anyone else who rose from such inauspicious beginnings to something so awesome, except maybe Jesus.”
Harper’s

“Weatherford’s lively analysis restores the Mongol’s reputation, and it takes wonderful learned detours. . . . Well written and full of suprises.”
Kirkus Reviews

“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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Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 111 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
To be honest, the thought of reading a book all about history would have disgusted me only a few days ago. And the truth is, it still does. However, this book is not just another boring list of facts; it's an engaging and informative piece that tells me what I need to know in a way that I want to learn it. I'm not going to say that this book is the greatest I have ever read, because it's not, but in the realm of books about history, I would definitely recommend this. There isn't a great deal of big words or unneccessary information in this book. However, the greatest thing about this book, for me, was the topic. The Mongols were such an important part of history, and the impact of their rule still exists in our world today. Just that was enough to draw me in. I hadn't heard of Jack Weatherford before reading this book, and when I read about his credentials, I thought he would definitely be the type of author who drones on and on about a topic. But as I've already stressed to point out, this was not the case at all. At the beginning of each chapter, Mr. Weatherford quotes a short, blunt, yet thought-provoking phrase. This phrase then stays in the reader's mind throughout the extent of the chapter; this technique is one that causes you to subconsciously make connections that then amplify themselves later on in the book. The careful construction and layout of this book makes it a very effective learning experience. Overall, I would have to say that this book shines a whole new light on the life and rule of Genghis Khan, his well-thought out war plans and tactics, and the carefully crafted civilization he left behind. If you are even remotely interested by the Mongols, I would say definitely give this book a chance.
Jimgraz More than 1 year ago
I was excited to read a book about Ghengis Khan that was not written in the classic "textbook" fashion. This book, however, should be called "The Mongol Empire and the Making of the Modern World." Ghengis Khan is pretty much done by page 100 and there is a great deal of time spent on what happens to the Mongol Empire thereafter. In a way, I wsh this book were either longer or shorter. For the period of time it covers, the paucity of pages means that the author glosses over what no doubt would be fascinating topics. This may be a function of the record-keeping at the time, though, and maybe there isn't a lot he can delve into. While there were some facinatig bits and the examination of the Mongol fihgting style was interesting, I just constantly felt as if the book could have been better. One example is the creation of a Navy and attempted invasion of Japan by Kubilai Khan (who receives possibly more pages than Ghengis). There had to be more to tell here, but ther author spends a few scant pages on two attempts to onvade Japan. Likewise, the bubonic plague and period of time where the Mongol leaders were killing each other off in a great power struggle received very scant treatment, though they semed fertile and interesting ground. In short, this is not consistent with the recent trend of well-written, enlightening history books. It is written in a very textbook style and unfortunately gosses over much of the interesting history. The author makes numerous statements that he either is making up, or simply failed to provide backup for. I was very disappointed in this book and would notrecommend it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My impression of "Genghis Khan", by Jack Weatherford, is rather good. Weatherford does an excellent job discussing various topics concerning the Mongols, such as Genghis Khan's childhood, many Mongols invasions, and the mannorisms and traditions that governed the majority of the Mongol people. I personally did not know very much about the Mongols, except that they ransacked cities, so this book did extremely well in eductating me on the various aspects of the Mongol civilization. Although Weaterford provides excessive amounts of information on the Mongols, the book is particularly slow at certain points. For example, reading about plunder the same city for a couple of pages seems unnecessarily drawn out at some points. Other than those few circumstances, the book was entertaining in general, and it contains a great deal of information about Genghis Khan and the Mongol empire. "Genghis Khan" by Jack Weatherford is an excellent book to read for anyone wishing to learn more about the Mongol empire and their ruthless founder, Genghis Khan. Weatherford accomplishes his goal of showing readers how the Mongol empire came to be, and what lead to Genghis Khan's transformation to the leader and founder of this huge civilization. This book is extremely successful in doing this because it is written following the Mongols. This characteristic is different from most historical works concerning the Mongols that are tainted by the bias of the accounts of the Mongols from the time period-all of which are written by the societies being attacked by the Mongols. So overall, this an excellent read to better understand Genghis Khan and the Mongol civilization.
ProseSax More than 1 year ago
Genghis Khan is one of those names that floats the earlier chapters of 'World History' books with little detail to illuminate the myths. Mr. Weatherford supplies much original research to a book that is packed with fascinating portrait of a man and a family whose empire at its height stretched from Vienna to Korea!
Genghis sacked cities with a system: people with useful occupations were asborbed into his empire; peasants could stay or leave; the rich were exterminated.People who were allowed to escape his purges spread the word of his barbaric practices. This prooved to be an effective way of manipulating his image so that future cities would capitulate more quickly. In this manner the empire spread, with a working mail delivery system, and unified commerce with prices and trade tightly controlled.
The unravelling of this world took a few generations and is described in surprising detail, considering the brevity of the book.
For a fast paced look at a little understood person and epoch, this book will hook anyone even remotely interested in history.
trvlnchic More than 1 year ago
This book is very informative for students who have an interest in history. Jack Weatherford gives a complete circle of the real Genghis Khan and what he did for his people and how he continues to affect our everyday lives some 782 years later. The misconception that GK was a brutal leader is the interpretation from ancient Chinese rule. The Secret History of the Mongols, once discovered, painted an extremely different picture of this humbled conqueror. In my research of this amazing man, I found that Weatherford is cited in several other articles, papers, etc. I have thoroughly enjoyed researching and learning about a conqueror who gave his own wealth back to his Nomadic people and his highly sophisticated army. He was not afraid to surround himself with people more talented and intelligent. GK had the foresight and understanding that if he wanted to advance the life of his people, he needed those more skilled in different areas than him. This book is an awesome understanding of Genghis Khan the Greatest Ruler ever!
Tom_Ucity More than 1 year ago
This is an easy to read history which goes far beyond Genghis Khan. Besides giving what is known of his personal history and conquests, it goes into the competitions among his successors and describes many innovations of Mongol governments and how they have affected history and the modern world. This is done in surprisingly few pages, without too much academic apparatus. Author does note contrary opinions without getting distracted into long arguments. Gives some help in understanding the origins of Asia outside of Russia, China, and India.
quilter17 More than 1 year ago
This is not a page turner, but it is an extremely informative novel about an area and a people I knew very little about. The research that Jack Weatherford did to write this book is impressive. The book is much more than Genghis Khan. It is about generations after him also. Some of his ancestors were not as smart as he was so they did not work together. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes history and the study of people and their relationships to each other.
Guest More than 1 year ago
â¿¿When Christopher Columbus set sail from Spain in 1492 he was heading for Cathay, the land of the Great Khan.â¿ David Morgan (quoted on p. 241) Columbus sought to reestablish the lost trade connection between Europe and the Mongol domains over the ocean after the land route became inaccessible. What made the Mongol court so attractive that the European monarchs agreed to finance this expedition? Prof. Weatherford presents a fascinating story a single manâ¿¿s life and shows how life experiences shaped his world view. Chingis Khan was not born onto a throne. His military-political career started by a fateful accident which lead to a long sequence of difficult choices that eventually made him the founder of a new nation. The nation he created was small but qualitatively different from all contemporaries. A progressive reformer, Chingis Khan created first an army and then a kingdom founded on values that he followed throughout his life. Most of the Mongol Empire was conquered by his sons and grandsons, but his legacy was so strong that only the Great Plague succeeded in undermining it. Perhaps, the greatest merit of this book is in the way it presents a balanced view of the â¿¿goodsâ¿ and â¿¿badsâ¿ of Mongol conquests, treating them like we view today, for example, the colonization of America. â¿¿In conquering their empire, not only had the Mongols revolutionized warfare, they also created the nucleus of a 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 emphases on free commerce, open communication, shared knowledge, secular politics, religious coexistence, international law, and diplomatic immunity.â¿ (p. 234) Towards the end of the book, Prof. Weatherford also discusses the rise of a general anti-Asian sentiment in the West starting in the eighteenth century but still very strong up to this day. These attitudes frequently centered on the Mongols and culminated in extreme Social Darwinist theories circa World War II. At the beginning of the twenty first century, when the center of gravity of the world economy is again shifting to the East, the story of the rise and fall of the Mongol Empire has a lot to teach us. Growing trade and prosperity demanded ever more trade and prosperity from the Mongol rulers. Failing to provide this to their subjects because of an epidemic, the rulers turned to other means to legitimize their power. This shift towards nationalism and religion signified the reversal of Chingis Khanâ¿¿s reforms and eventually the undoing of his empire. If history does teach us something, it teaches us patterns. It is this pattern that we should beware of.
Anonymous 9 months ago
I enjoyed this book very much. I liked that the author uses very basic words so that people of all ages could read and enjoy this book while learning about history as well. I found the topic of Genghis Khan to be really captivating. To learn about all the detail on the background of Khan's life such as the blood clot and the detail and imagery of the land that the Mongols were established on. Reading the details of their religion as Shamists also gives me a religion lesson and understand why they were religiously tolerant. I enjoyed learning about the tactics they used, such as keeping those that were of use to them, from conquered lands in order to get ahead of other civilizations in the aspect of agriculture, industry, and war. Also reading that they were nomads in the beginning makes me understand why they were skilled on horseback. They were constantly on the move and applied their fast and nimble lifestyle to their war tactics and allowed them to use that to their advantage and be the most feared civilization during their time.
rokinrev More than 1 year ago
“Fate did not hand Chinnguis Khan [aka Gengis Khan]his destiny. He made it himself. It seemed highly unlikely that he would have ever had enough horses to create a Spirit Banner, much less that he would follow it all over the world.” This fascinating overview of the life and times of Gengis Khan is well worth the time to track down and read. Jack Weatherford has presented Khan as a unifier of the scattered Mongols as well as a shaper of his own future. Based upon the divergence of friendship and enmity, Khan developed what we now see as modern warfare techniques and the skelton of a government not see previously . Weatherford contends Gengis Khan May have changed the world, but did not let the world change him, returning to his roots for rest, reflection and recharging. With each chapter, the author brings us deeper into the life of a man who changed the world to save others from being abused as he was. In this way, he helped to change the aspects and safety of his people far beyond his lifetime. This is a book to read and return to. Highly recommended 5/5 [disclaimer: I read this library ebook after hearing an author I follow talk about it. I have chosen to read and review it, and I hope someday to own a copy]
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
APWH ~ I loved this book After reading this book I l loved the topic of Genghis Khan and the Mongol Empire. Weaterford takes a unique take in the Mongols, and by talking about how he was a civil leader who tolerated races, gender, and religions. However most historians would describe the Mongols as brutal savages. This makes Genghis Khan a more complex historical character because now people can have the debate on whether or not Genghis was a good person or not. Another interesting take Weatherford takes is how the Mongol empire contributed to the European Renaissance. They did this as they took up most of Central Asia and they played the role of the middle men between East Asia and Europe. So they would transfer goods and technologies such as paper money, gunpowder and others that would spark the Renaissance. These two extraordinary takes on the Mongol Empire makes this amazing and able to expand your knowledge on Genghis Khan and the Mongol Empire.
jddunn on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An interesting attempt at a revisionist history of Genghis Khan and the Mongols. I only bother to say revisionist because in his (somewhat justified, as we will see) eagerness to vindicate the Mongols, he does go rather out of his way to downplay the havoc they spread. He spends all of maybe a page and a half on the sack of Baghdad, which resulted in the brutal and complete destruction of the greatest city of the most advanced civilization and culture of the era. This was a Big Deal, and what was destroyed and lost really needs to be taken into account along with what the Mongols built and enabled.But what they built is quite impressive and important, and that's the story told by Weatherford. The semi-standard narrative of the Renaissance is that Marco Polo and the Venetians opened up trading routes with the East, commerce and cultural exchange in the Mediterranean and Near East grew from there, and eventually we rediscovered our birthright of ancient Roman and Greek culture and ideas. What's left out is who they opened up trading routes with, and how much that exchange had to do with Europe's ascent from the Dark Ages.They opened trade with the Mongols, who had built the world's first true multicultural and international empire covering most of Asia and the Middle East. Although they did sack and burn and kill, that's not all they did. They also built safe roads and a postal system that allowed trade across thousands of miles of Eurasia, facilitated cultural and technological and religious exchange from Japan to Western Europe, invented paper money, militarized gunpowder and revolutionized siege tactics, used printing widely well before Gutenberg, and instituted efficient administration and the rule of law over a vast area. They even founded universities. They were probably the first multinational, meritocratic, ecumenical, and in many ways, modern state, and that state covered more territory than any other before or since. They created modern China under Kublai Khan, and their descendents ruled India into the 19th century. Not bad for a bunch of marginal, illiterate, yak-herding yurt-dwellers.It's pretty amazing that the story of this remarkable man and his people doesn't figure more prominently in our history, but a combination of time, racism, chauvinism, and in modern times, a lack of access to what scant records remain due to the Cold War has kept it fairly marginal. So, in that way, this is a very important book, and I feel like it really filled an big gap in my understanding of history.On the downside, the sourcing does seem a bit thin and/or legendary at times, but no more so than what we have on someone like Alexander or most other ancient world figures. Just take into account that he's a) going easy on the Mongols to try to counteract their really nasty reputation, and b) working from fragmentary and/or mythical information in some cases, and enjoy it for what it is, which is a well-told tale of a criminally neglected era of history.
RobertP on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a brief history of Genghis Khan, his descendants, the empire that he built, and the consequences of that empire. It is short, eminently readable, and surprisingly competent for a book of its brevity. I enjoyed it, and learned a lot about Mr. Khan that I had not known, mostly with respect to what a stunning rise his was. He started with literally nothing, and emerged through intellect, will, and yes ruthlessness, at the top of the world.
T42 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I didn't really know anything about Genghis Khan when I picked up this book - I had only heard the stereotypes. After reading this book, I felt a lot of respect for the Mongol culture and people, including Genghis Khan. In fact I became very interested in Mongol culture. I'm glad that Weatherford paints a more accurate picture of the man, but it's too bad that more people aren't aware of or interested in this. For example, when I went to see "Mongol" over the weekend (BTW I was able to pick out some of the accuracies and inaccuracies of the movie thanks to this book), a man went up to the ticket counter and asked for a ticket to "Barbarian." Ugh.
stephenrbown on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I agree with some of the other readers who found some problems with this book. It was a good introduction to Mongol history, although only partially focussed on Genghis Khan himself. I found the earlier chapters, on Khan and his youth and rise to power, most interesting. The later chapters tried to cover too much information and too great a time period for my liking. Its a smoothly written book though and therefore a good introduction to the subject.
storyjunkie on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World is a very engaging popular history. Jack Weatherford has an enthusiasm for his subject that is directly communicable to the reading experience, even when he's making connections that I was skeptical about.
GShuk on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
If you think Genghis Khan and the Mongols were just blood thirsty savages then read this book. While it has some historical inaccuracies and biased in favor of the Mongols it is very entertaining and covers their innovations which contributed to their success. In 25 years they transitioned from scattered tribes to a dominant empire that took over more land than the Romans achieved in 400 years. What surprised me was that unlike many other cultures of their time they did not condone torture and they allowed freedom of religion. Who knows how long their empire would have continued to grow if it were not for the plague.
santhony on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
As the title of this review implies, this work is a very short, cursory introduction to the rise and expansion of the Mongol Empire, primarily throughout the 13th and 14th century. Viewed as such, it is perfectly functional, however, to insinuate that this is some kind of scholarly masterwork, or the primary source book for all things Mogol would certainly be a mistake. This work is essentially 250 pages long with introductions and afterwards that contribute nothing to the discussion aside from making the author appear silly. It does a servicable job in explaining and tracking the childhood and early formative life of the man who would become Genghis Khan. It follows Genghis Khan in his early conquests and the administrative advances introduced through Mongol rule. It follows his succession for essentially two further generations to encompass the conquest of China by his grandson Kublai Khan and the fragmentation of his empire through the various branches of his family. As one not terribly familiar with this history, it was satisfactorily detailed, though I felt some of the analysis was not strongly supported. I would guess that most people view the Mongols as an uncivilized barbarian horde. While I get the feeling that the author might be taking a little license in presenting the Mongol Empire as perhaps a little more enlightened and cultured than they actually were, it cannot be denied that the systems of trade, communications and empire administration were certainly well above the level of barbarian. In sum, if you are at all familiar with Mongol history, you might want to look for something a little deeper and more thoroughly researched. If, on the other hand, you're looking for a basic primer on the formation, growth and domination of the Mongol Empire, this could be the book for you. In any case, skip the afterward, it is simply embarrassing.
cameling on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The legacy of Genghis Khan is often riddled with fearsome myths around the man's cruelty and blood lust. The research that the author has undertaken shows us, as much as he is able, given the scanty written record of his earlier life and certainly little of his thoughts. What he does deliver is a blunt assessment of a man who, having been cast out with his mother and brothers from the clan after his father is killed, goes on to kill his elder half-brother, is imprisoned as a slave by another khan, forms a close alliance with Ong Khan, a friend of his father's and weds a woman to whom he was betrothed before his father was killed. Not having been trained in different kinds of warfare, I found it fascinating that Genghis had such a different approach to war strategies, that he could see through the weaknesses in the general methods of defense and attack and to device strategies for his army that allowed them to be victorious, even when faced by armies much larger and even armies behind high city walls. He also developed, what could be considered the original version of a platoon, he divided his warriors into groups of 10 and factors of 10, with each group responsible for managing sub-groups. His treatment of the conquered also differed from the norm. He didn't believe in torturing his prisoners, but encouraged them to assimilate with his people, although for the leaders who wouldn't accept him as khan, he killed swiftly. The treasures of their victories were gathered and he distributed them all among the his people instead of keeping it all for himself or his family. He ensured that his people shared in the growing prosperity.As his army and their families grew with each conquest, communication became key, especially as the territories they covered expanded, so Genghis developed the first postal system, although in those days, it was fixed stations where messages could be delivered from one station to another, and the messages then distributed to those in that area. His people believed that he was a powerful shaman and that the God of the Eternal Blue Sky spoke to him and blessed his ventures. He had innate leadership skills, perhaps honed through the harshness he experienced during his youth and the memories of ill-treatment at the hands of others. He rewarded those from other clans with positions of leadership if they showed that they were able to do so, even at the expense of his own brothers. He did manage to unite all the Mongols to one people, but it was his children after his death, who expanded their territory even further into Russia all the way over into Western Europe, and into China. They controlled at some point, the trade along the Silk Road. But while Genghis triumphed over his enemies and forged strong loyalty among most of his people and his army generals, he hadn't spent much time with his sons, and when he was in his 70s, he tried to make up for lost time, to teach his sons that leadership meant sometimes swallowing one's pride in order to achieve good for the community, and to encourage them to work together. Unfortunately, his sons and grandsons proved themselves not to be much like their illustrious ancestor and they quickly lost the lands so hard won by Genghis. If you were to compare the size of Mongolia today against the Mongolia conquered by Genghis, it's difficult not to be impressed by this one uneducated, illiterate and forward thinking tribal warrior from the steppes.
Zare on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Wonderful book about rise of the nation and its slow but unavoidable demise. We follow Genghis Khan from his youth, involved in tribal squabbles with his relatives to the moment he establishes great Mongol empire spreading from todays China to eastern-most borders of Europe.But as much as night follows the day so Genghis Kahn's successors proved unable to control the empire left to them - soon inter-clan fighting will almost eradicate entire Genghis Khan's blood line while the final strike would come from the most unsuspected place. Genghis Khan's empire suffered the same fate as the empire of Alexander the Great.Great book showing how can a man coming from a steppe, descendant of the nomad nation, have a clear vision and be able to build a powerful state that will play the major role in the world and influence many.Great book. Highly recommended
amandacb on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I've read this book a number of times. I originally picked it up because I was looking for some riveting historical non-fiction, and the cover looked interesting (yes, I judge a book by its cover). When I cracked it open, Weatherford's rhythmical prose captured me. Weatherford encapsulates Khan's persona without resorting to pedantic didacticism. I always finish this book in a couple of days. The weakest part is the end of the book when Weatherford is arguing how Khan has affected modern societies, but that may be because that is not which fascinates me the most.If you are looking for a great non-fiction book, pick this up and give it a try.
snash on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The book is a history of the Mongol Empire from Genghis Kahns birth to the 1400's and its demise with the coming of the plague. The history uses the newly translated and interpreted "Secret Histories" written by the Mongols at the time and corrects the Western picture of them as demonic hordes. Their innovations and influence was amazing to discover, paper money, a universal alphabet, far reaching commerce, freedom of religion etc. It's interesting to speculate how the world would be now if the plague had not destroyed their rule.
cweller on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Excellent overview of the Mongolian Empire from the beginning with Genghis Khan through Kublai Khan. Jack Weatherford shows how the Mongols effected the entire region and opened the trade routes from Europe to Asia.
lyzadanger on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Out of nowhere in the early 1200s, Genghis Khan and his Mongol 'Horde' swept out of central Asia and in a sort of proto-blitzkrieg overwhelmed cultures from Korea to the Ukraine, acting as a catalyst in the development of cultural elements that we take for granted. Genghis' horseback steppe nomads didn't excel at traditional (infantry-focused) warfare, nor did they possess skilled artisans or tradesmen. They had neither prestige nor mercantile supremacy. What they had was the ability to start afresh, without being constrained by convention, and by thinking up new things were able to change the course of world history.Jack Weatherford's biography-cum-history of the Mongolian Empire in the 13th and 14th centuries focuses on the life of Genghis Khan but also the inventiveness, openness, innovation and legacy of his leadership. The Mongols vanquished, and then they built a framework. Instead of imposing a way of life on the conquered, they formed more of a cardiovascular system for the world's nascent trading geography: their core contribution was not defining cultural concepts, but in putting an empire together that could move ideas, people, and technology around. Their network of roads, stations, and government institutions spread and disseminated change. Medicines, printing, gunpowder flowed west out of China. Maths, crops, and raw goods flowed east out of Europe and the Middle East. Strikingly, perhaps almost stunningly, Genghis Khan was supportive of all religions. Whereas the grudging tolerance for 'People of the Book' (Muslims, Christians or Jews) in Muslim Iberia or the relative cosmopolitanism of medieval Italian city states are often touted as shining examples of open-mindedness, these European examples were more of a tenuous situational reality than a philosophical intention. However, the idea of religious persecution was actually foreign to the Mongols. Genghis' court had Christians, Muslims, Buddists, Taoists, Shamanists, Animists—he granted universal religious freedom to his subjects in a way that wasn't just a nod to keeping things calm. Genghis elevated those who practiced education, medicine, religion, law to a respected position. He practiced equanimity in filling positions of power: instead of exclusively selecting leaders from his line of kinship—the established, unwavering Mongolian tradition—he sought out the competent, regardless of rank or breeding. If this all sounds a bit pat and charming, it is. The Mongol campaigns were brutal war. Cities were given one option to surrender—if they did not, it was quite likely that most or all of its inhabitants would be enslaved, at best, or slaughtered, quite often. Life was hard, short, and painful. Revenge often punished those merely related to the original offender.Genghis Khan himself is a fascinating personage, and it is in the biographical segments of the book—the first third or half—that Weatherford's story sparkles. The introduction is actually the pinnacle of the book; it gave me academic shivers to hear about the cryptic 'Secret History' (a lost, then found, then lost, then found, then finally translated document detailing Genghis Khan's personal life and rise to power) and the Mongolian's sacred homeland core, closed for centuries and centuries to any outsiders. The Soviet occupation of the territory in the 20th century, and the concomitant wretchedness and secrecy just serves to increase the appeal of the mystique.The last third of the book makes it sound like Weatherford got tired or distracted. The information presented here is interesting, but not creatively organized. We learn of the intriguing lifestyle choices of Kubilai Khan in Xanadu (hey, now I know more about the Forbidden City in Beijing!), the provincial management of China, the vassal and transit system of Persia, the financial customs of Siberians. We hear of some brutal Tibetan Buddhists, a woman chief name
everfresh1 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I found the book somewhat light, just skirting around a lot of interesting subjects. This is not necessarily bad if it was intended for the wide audience, but it's too boring and dry to be successful as a 'popular history' kind of book. Still, quite a few interesting facts are contained there - I just wish it was better written for such interesting subject.