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Khubilai Khan's Lost Fleet: History's Greatest Naval Disaster [Hardcover]

James Delgado
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

15 Jan 2009

*After finally achieving what eluded even his grandfather Ghengis Khan - the conquest of China - and inheriting the world's largest navy, Khubilai Khan turned his sights to Japan, which he attacked with an immense armada in 1274. Vastly outnumbered and facing total massacre, the Japanese prayed to their gods for survival, and the very next day Khan's entire armada was destroyed by a 'divine wind' (kamikaze). When Khan tried again seven years later, with a fleet double the size of the first, the very same thing happened.

* The legend of the kamikaze - revived as a Japanese national legend as they modernised and militarised, culminating in the suicide bombers of WWII - has endured for centuries.

* Now, after decades of painstaking research and underwater excavation, marine archaeologist James Delgado has discovered what really happened.

* Based on original sources as diverse as actual sunken ships, archeological excavations on land, temple inscriptions, hand-painted scrolls, woodblock prints, and historical and literary records from China, Japan and Vietnam, Khubilai Khan's Lost Fleet is a captivating journey back through the mists of time.

* It tells the fascinating tale of the great Mongol's maritime forays, offers a compelling study of where myth, legend and history blend and blur, and solves one of history's greatest mysteries: what sank the Khan's immense fleet?

Product details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Bodley Head; First Edition edition (15 Jan 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1847920772
  • ISBN-13: 978-1847920775
  • Product Dimensions: 14.4 x 22.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,247,026 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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"This is history at its best - the world's greatest naval disaster brought to vivid life by a rare combination of personal experience and rigorous scholarship." (John Man)

"Terrific ... a fascinating adventure tale packed with insights into a maritime empire about which most Westerners know almost nothing." (Nathaniel Philbrick)

"Through brilliant and painstaking research Delgado has brought Khubilai Khan's lost fleet to the surface, showing for the first time the true nature of the doomed adventure." (Stephen Turnbull)

"One finishes the book ready to strap on mask and tanks to dive for the buried remains of the shops that still hold more Mongol secrets" (Rev’d Carol Gluck TLS)

"James Delgado does a splendid job as a cultural historian in showing how the legend of a brave but doomed defence, supported by the intervention of the gods, shaped national identity over seven centuries." (Adrian Brewer Tablet)


"One finishes the book ready to dive for the buried remains of the shops that still hold more Mongol secrets."

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Gone with the wind 21 Nov 2013
By G. M. Sinstadt VINE VOICE
The cover promises the story of "History's Greatest Naval Disaster." It does eventually get around to it but the route is winding and disorienting.

At the start, the disaster is attributed to a "divine wind" or "kamakaze" (sic), which prompts a chapter on Japanese suicide pilots in 1942. Then there is a dissertation on boat-building from the dugout canoe until Kublai's giantt vessels. The story of Kublai himself requires a portrait of his grandfather, Genghis. The spread of the Mongol Empire is told with frequent reference to Marco Polo. At one point the author asks, "But how reliable was Marco Polo?" He doesn't provide an answer though other writers have pointed out Marco's inability to resist describing places he never visited. The same is not true of this author and modern Fukuoka which he describes at length.

James Delgado is a marine archaeologist and that defines the viewpoint of his book. From time to time his account lurches back to the 21st Century to describe museums he has visited. The research is exhaustive but the presentation is muddled: a collection of loosely related essays rather than a narrative that would justify the "greatest naval disaster" subtitle.

Other academics may find it interesting but it is hard work for the layman.
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5.0 out of 5 stars marine disasters 6 Feb 2013
It is unfortunate that the author uses an obscure spelling for the grandson of Genghis - the accepted spelling is Kublai not Khubilai.
The book which is well written and researched recounts Kublais failings as a naval commander even though he was a brilliant general and ccreared the greatest and largest empire ever recorded.
The author details activities leading up to the naval attacks on Japan in 1274 and 1281 when in the latter attack he lost hundreds of ships and thousands of men.
Archeological research indicates the 1281 fleet sank near Takashima due to either or both- the ships poor design (flat bottom) or from a typhoon (kamikaze).
Much further work is necessary to solve the puzzle of Kublais lost ships.
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Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thrilling account of how archaeology is still writing history 13 April 2009
By M. Chiu - Published on Amazon.com
An excellent book that uses the topic of Khubilai Khan's legendary armada to shed light on the history of Asia before the 13th century. As a marine archaeologist, Delgado worked with the team who unearthed real evidence of the Khan's navy still buried off the coasts of Japan. To help readers understand his findings, he provides concise but a highly readable account of Asian history leading up to the invasion of Japan in 13th century. He also advances an alternate theory of why the invasion failed; although at this point there seems to be insufficient archaeological evidence to know for sure. My only disappointment was that the book was too short and didn't go into sufficient detail. Supposedly the largest naval invasion force in history (before D-Day), Khubilai Khan's lost fleet is one of the extraordinary events that shaped world history, whose secrets are yet to be fully revealed.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars For those with an interest, fascinating. 10 Oct 2009
By stephen thorpe - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Well written, engaging and thoroughly well researched. It's accessible for those with even a limited interest in what did happen to those failed Mongol/Chinese attempts to invade Japan. The possible reasons put forward are carefully considered. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and recommend it to all.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Like Indiana Jones but with fins! 10 Feb 2010
By Ripple - Published on Amazon.com
When Mongol leader, Khubilai Khan, achieved what his Grandfather Genghis had failed to do in conquering China, he inherited the world's largest and most sophisticated navy. However, in attempting to utilise this to expand his empire further to Java, Vietnam and mainly Japan, he lost the entire armada in a few short years. New marine archeological evidence from Japan, ironically with the site discovered in the 1990s in the construction of new defences from the weather, has raised questions on the traditional view that the defeat of the two Japanese invasion forces of 1274 and particlularly 1281were solely due to the intervention of the weather and what Japanese culture claim was a Kamikaze (or divine wind) summoned by the Gods.

James Delgado's interest in this story was stimulated when he presented a series for National Geographic Independent Television's `'The Sea Hunters'` series. In many ways, it his eye for a journalistic-style story that helps him tell this fascinating history without getting too bogged down in the intricacies of complex maritime archeology or naval history.

I confess my knowledge of archeology goes little further than Indiana Jones and Lara Croft. But you sense that Delgado is aware of the effects of too much jargon and the complexities of archeology and naval terms, and what he tells is a gripping and highly readable account of history and its long term cultural implications.

In less able hands, this book could easily have failed. His scope is huge - a history of Chinese boat building, the Mongol expansion, 13th century Japan, the re-use of the Kamikaze term in World War 2, the Mongol expeditions to Japan and then Vietnam and Java, as well as the discovery of the `'smoking gun'` evidence for the Japanese battle in the late 1990s. All this is told in 178 pages (the rest of the book includes sources, an index and six pages of acknowledgements).

In truth it is still very early days in terms of the new evidence found - less than 1% of the area has been excavated and exploration has largely stopped now due to lack of funding. Partly, this is a call to arms and an attempt to raise public interest in the subject, but while it is clear that there was indeed a horrific storm, evidence suggests that the state of the fleet may have contributed to the devastating loss. It's a tantalising glimpse of what we can learn from the depths of the ocean.

I highly recommend this book. It's totally engaging and highly readable.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Niche history made interesting. 4 Oct 2009
By Paul Lawrence - Published on Amazon.com
This book certainly fills a gap in general knowledge for the armchair historian. Many of us know aspects about the Mongol empire - Genghis, Ogadei, Khubilai et al and the effects this great lineage of conquerors had on the planets history. And many of us know how that they were rulers of China and practically became Chinese over time. Not to mention the far more modern history of Japan and it's feeling of divine protection and the tragic consequences that had.

But the real story behind Mongol seaborne missions isn't covered nearly so much. Well, wait no longer. Written in a free flowing style with a great deal of easily read history regarding the Mongols in general and their gradual conquering of China the book explains in wonderful style the reasons and the manner in which the Mongols tried to extend their power. The initial attacks on Japan for economic reasons were totally unknown to me - the fact that the Mongols were fighting the Song dynasty of Southern China who got a lot of their taxes via trade with Japan was news to me and put the entire operation in perspective for me.

Without become too academic the author moves the story quite well and weaves the modern day archeological evidence into the narrative to back up his conclusions and give examples that allow the modern day reader to empathise with the leadership of both sides as well as the common fighting man. For that, I thank the author.

Overall a fine book on a niche subject area that gives succeeds in weaving history with modern day archeological work and gives credit where it is due to the team working on furthering the archeological work and as a scuba diver and having a very very minor maritime archeological qualification I found this fun to read though certainly the non diver will not feel left out in any way.

Now can someone please do a similar book on the Mongol seaborne attacks on other nations? Please!
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A pounding wave of brain-stimulating treasure 4 Feb 2012
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Crashing waves and turbulent winds drive back an imperialistic army from the shore of a primitive, tiny island. The island people gives credit to its wind gods, and begins to see themselves as an unstoppable, unreachable force. No, this plot isn't the latest Hollywood movie starring Brad Pitt, it's the actual events thought to have happened more than 700 years ago off the coast of feudal Japan. The great Khubilai Khan, grandson of Genghis Khan, and Emperor of Eurasia, tried, and failed, to conquer Japan ... twice. Both times it was rumored that a kamikaze or "divine wind" drove back the invading ships. In Khubilai Khan's Lost Fleet, James P. Delgado, executive director of the Institute of Nautical Archeology and co-host of National Geographic's The Sea Hunters, tries to bring this "divine wind" into question.
Delgado does a spectacular job summarizing all of Asia's history in a few hundred pages. He discusses Genghis' life, his wanton thirst for China, and the complete bloodlines that connect Khubilai to Genghis. He is significantly gifted in comparing Japan's interpretation of Khan's failure and how the name "kamikaze" came to be used in World War II. The book's weakest point is that for most of the historical overview, it reads like a text book. The end of the book adds more of a personal touch and that's when the book gets interesting. It's inspiring to see a handful of men and women come together, and discover one of history's greatest secrets.

*Originally published for San Francisco/Sacramento Book Review*
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