John Man's Genghis Khan is a chalenging and rewarding read. It will come as a bit of a jolt to readers used to reading popular biographies of more modern figures. This is a very different experience to reading about, say, Churchill or Kennedy. More modern subjects have a wealth of source material available to the historian, whose task becomes one of selection and condensation. Not so for a 13th century leader whose life was often deliberately shrowded in secrecy. Man's task is not to wade through volumes of material, but to actually find material. And he does a terrific job.
He has pieced together a rivetting account of Genghis Khan's life, from birth to death and beyond. He takes the reader on a journey in search of Genghis, through the steppes and deserts of Central Asia, into Europe, and to China.
One strength of this book is Man's depth of knowledge and experience. He has clearly spent a great deal of his life in Mongolia, has picked up the language and immersed himself in the culture of the Mongols. He still sees himself as an outsider, an indication of his great humility, but he is certainly not typical of many modern writers who adopt a subject only until their book is published. The scope of this book is truly impressive.
A word should also be made about the illustrations. The book has two sections of illustrations, and many seem to be photographs taken by Man himself. They add to the enjoyment and experience of the read, as do the several maps included in the text.
Another great strength of this book is in capturing the present day spirit and influence which Genghis still holds in Mongolia and beyond. There is a nice concluding chapter on Genghis's current place in international relations and how modern day leaders manipulate his image and legacy for geopolitical reasons.
Overall, this is not your average popular historical biography. I imagine the general reader, like me, doesn't dwell too much on 13th century Mongolia. But for a glimpse of the life, death and resurrection of one of history's greatest leaders, I can imagine no better treatment.