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In the Empire of Genghis Khan: A Journey Among Nomads [Paperback]

Stanley Stewart
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
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Book Description

12 Mar 2010

As a child, award-winning travel writer Stanley Stewart dreamed of crossing Mongolia on horseback. This is the story of how that dream was fulfilled by following in the footsteps of a 13th-century Franciscan friar.

Eight centuries ago the Mongols burst forth from Central Asia in a series of spectacular conquests that took them from the Danube to the Yellow Sea. Their empire was seen as the final triumph of the nomadic ‘barbarians’. But in time the Mongols sank back into the obscurity from which they had emerged, almost without trace. Remote and outlandish, Outer Mongolia became a metaphor for exile, a lost domain of tents and horsemen, little changed since the days of Genghis Khan.

In this remarkable book, Stanley Stewart sets off in the wake of an obscure 13th century Franciscan friar on a pilgimage across the old empire, from Istanbul to the distant homeland of the Mongol Hordes. The heart of his odyssey is a thousand-mile ride on horseback, among nomads for whom travel is a way of life, through a trackless land governed by winds and patterns of migration. On a journey full of bizarre characters and unexpected encounters, he crosses the desert and mountains of Central Asia, battles through the High Altay and the fringes of the Gobi, to the wind-swept grasslands of the steppes and the birthplace of Genghis Khan.

Vivid, hilarious, and compelling, this eagerly-awaited book will take its place among travel classics – a thrilling tale of adventure, a comic masterpiece, an evocative portrait of a medieval land marooned in the modern world.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Flamingo; (Reissue) edition (12 Mar 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0006530273
  • ISBN-13: 978-0006530275
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 399,978 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Amazon Review

In recent years, Mongolia has received unprecedented literary attention. Stanley Stewart's third travel book, In the Empire of Genghis Khan, puts Stewart in the company of Tim Severin, Nick Middleton and Benedict Allen, telling of his journey across Mongolia on horseback, in the hoofprints of the famous Mongol emperor.

Stewart's narrative is moulded in the style of older travel classics, as both an epic journey and an historical quest, and the 2001 Thomas Cook Travel Book Award has been given to him for the book, making Stewart only the second writer--after Jonathan Raban--to win the "Booker of travel writing" twice.

Interestingly, Stewart is a very different writer to Raban, with his prose being most distinctive when dwelling on Mongolia's wild geography--here, its lyricism and scope make it a joy to read. Insightful when discussing Mongol culture and history, and sensitive to the concerns of the nomadic way of life, his only flaw in this book is in trying to drag too much humour out of his subjects, which occasionally makes him a less than sympathetic companion to the isolated people that he meets.

Nevertheless, In the Empire of Genghis Khan is beautifully written and Stewart's style wins through. Travelling with local guides and meeting hundreds of Mongolian nomads, his book introduces us to a little-known world of vodka-drinking shamans and summer festivals in the steppe. In the course of his exciting, demanding journey, he paints an intimate portrait of a world that most of us find difficult to imagine, and of a way of life that will probably vanish during our lifetimes. --Toby Green


‘One of the best travel books of the year.’ Sunday Times

‘Humane and funny…an excellent book with sharp, compassionate observations on the lives of people struggling with the weight of history.’ Spectator

‘Stewart is a sensitive, observant traveller, and a gifted writer…in this entertaining, colourful and moving book he reveals both the sad absurdity of this beguiling land and the heartbreaking pathos of its modern history.’ Sara Wheeler, Literary Review

‘A classic travel story, beautifully written…’ Wanderlust

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding! 4 Mar 2003
Since 1980, the Thomas Cook Travel Book of the Year has been considered the travel writing equivalent to the Booker or Pulitzer, and this Stewart's second book to win the prestigious honor. The book's framework is Stewart's plan to travel from roughly the western edge of the 12th-century Mongol empire to the mountain in eastern Mongolia where Ghengis Khan was buried. The first quarter of the book covers his trip from Istanbul to the the Crimea on a decrepit Russian cargo ship, across Ukraine, Russia, and Kazakhstan by train, and by air into Mongolia. This is all warmup for Mongolia itself, as he intersperses the history Mongol conquest with that of a proselytizing mission made by a Franciscan monk to the Mongol court in 1253, as well as his own encounters with a gun-toting teenage Russian smuggler, a Dickens-loving Russian procuress, and various lonely souls.
Once in Mongolia, Stewart switches to horseback, as his plan is to ride over 1,000 miles across its breadth. With a succession of translators, guides, and horses, he find that the happiest and healthiest Mongols live virtually the same nomadic lives as their ancestors of five centuries ago. Even accounting for a certain degree of romanticization of the countryside, it's hard to find anything redeeming about the settlements he passes through. Virtually all are crumbling towns with few permanent residents beyond a mayor, policeman, and a few other caretakers. These regional centers are ugly concrete legacies of the Soviet era which have been largely abandoned since the end of Soviet aid and seem destined to return to the earth.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thanks for being fair 6 Dec 2004
I have been living and working in mongolia for several years and know first hand the quirks of the countryside. Unlike other travel journals of mongolia (of which there are many) I found the author both very well informed about the real life of the people here, accurate and most importantly-fair. While the book grips you and carries you along as any good book should, he has not over-romanticied things in his favour. Often people are too prone to add their western ideas of living or comfort to this country and in turn do it an injustice. Surprisingly infact I found myself re-discovering things about this country through his fresh eyes, while also nodding in agreement to other things. As well as a journal of his experience, he weaves history lessons into the book with wit and insight. Overall I greatly enjoyed this book and have already passed it on to others in the counrty to read.Well done and thanks for your fairness.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating read about a remarkable country 25 May 2004
By Darren Simons TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This was the first book I've read by Stanley Stewart but I have no intention of it being the last. Stewart looks to travel across much of the Mongolian empire as conquered under the leadership of Genghis Khan. Starting in Istanbul he crosses Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Kirghizstan before riding a horse all the way across Mongolia (the meat of the book).
Before reading this book I knew very little about Mongolian history or culture, but having read this book I feel I have a far better understanding (albeit in reality merely skimming the surface) in the nomadic culture of Mongolia. Stewart cleverly mixes his own travel adventures with the history of the empire ensuring that at the end of the book you understand why, where, who and what his travels have all been about - it really is superbly written, one of the most interesting travel books I have read for a long time.
I definitely recommend this book - the humour is very dry and not in the style of Bill Bryson for example at all. This is a far more serious traveller who has a remarkable knack of being welcomed wherever he goes resulting in a far richer story. His stories about some of the drinking habits found in nomadic Mongolia are quite incredible. Definitely recommended.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stewart writes with his heart. 24 Feb 2002
By A Customer
I thouroughly enjoyed this book. Stewart writes with his heart. His portrayal of the people he encountered and the landscape in which they live is compelling and engaging. He seamlessly interchanges his own experiences with the history of Mongolia; both are endlessly fascinating. I was sad to come to the end of Stewart's journey and eagerly await his next book.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant read - highly reccomended 2 Sep 2002
By A Customer
I will leave this short, other than to acclaim praise for this short travel novel. In particular I must praise Stewart's usage of vocabulary and style. Quite exemplary indeed. Stewart is able to marry humourous, interesting material with enriched language to superbly convey the landscape of Mongolia.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great insight into Mongolia 11 Nov 2008
I hate to use the word interesting, but this really is. A book not just about the country, but also the further reaching ends of Mongolian influence. I must admit that I had never realised how far they had reached and seemingly only stopped their expansion because of a horse race!

The author also writes of the people he meets, Mongolian herdsmen, 2 wedding parties, a librarian as well as Russian travellers. One insight that particularly liked was the observation that the writer was the real traveller, not the nomadic Mongolians.
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