The weakest aspect of this book is that the graphic reproductions are of uniformly atrocious quality, like photocopies made from old public library machines from the 80s. The portrait of Genghiz Khan is so dark his facial features are almost obscured. It's really a shame when these exact portraits and a much better description of the (still disputed) history of his life itself can be found in the public space (eg Wikipedia) and my desktop color printer can do a better job of reproducing them. A major omission is the lack of battlefield maps and diagrams to accompany the otherwise adequate description of major battles. In addition, at least the paperback version is printed on thin, low quality paper. For a reprinted work over a decade old, this lack of quality seems to be the major drawback.
The work is primarily concerned with the impact of central Asian weapons and fighting styles on Indo-European civilizations (Romans, Franks, Goths, French, Poles) rather than "A Military History of Central Asia" per se, as subtitled. It would be more accurate if renamed "A Military History of the Impact of Central Asian Warfare on Medieval European Arms and Fighting Strategy". Hence, there is more text devoted to European knights, weapons and armor than the ones of Magyars, Avars, and Turko/Mongol states. It also gets sidetracked in this direction often. For example, the beginning of a chapter states: " This is not a detailed or even cursory discussion of the Crusades". This chapter on the Seljuks is then focuses completely on Crusader history and battles. Most of the action in the book thus takes place away from the "Steppe" that is a part of the title itself.
The book is also thin on modern scholarship, and relies too much on ancient accounts (Roman, Byzantine) rather than current debate and recently available post-Soviet sources on Mongol history. References are sparse, with entire chapters being based on only 2-3 sources. The focus is on obvious developments such as the mounted archers and stirrups, but fails to include organizational and cultural traits that lent themselves well to conquest versus administration on and off the field. I applaud using simple, direct language in describing historical events, but the line has to be drawn when it is written at the level and style of a high-school book report!
Lastly, the text is replete with factual and spelling errors. The Ottoman sultan that fought Timur Lenk is referred to as "Bayazet" and his moniker is spelled "Yildirin", whereas the accepted Western and Turkish versions of his name are Bayezid and Beyaz?t, respectively. His nickname, "Yildirim", means "thunderbolt" in modern Turkish and the spelling could be verified using any online dictionary. Perhaps this book is not representative of editing standards at Da Capo Books, but these sorts of errors and the continual reference to medieval ways of spelling the names of the personages might get in the way of enjoying the discourse. In addition to these small errors, I noted an egregious error about Gengiz Khan's family, a central theme of any book on Asian steppe warfare. On p. 131, the chapter opens with the sentence "Upon the death of Chinggis Khan in 1227, the office of Khagan, or Great Khan, went to his second-eldest son, Occodai, in accordance with his wishes". While it is true that Ögedei was Genghiz Khan's favorite and successor, it is universally accepted that he was the third oldest, after his brothers Jochi and Chagatai. Although there is some controversy as to the true father of Jochi since Temujin's wife had been held captive by the Merkits for two months during the purported time of conception, the Great Khan accorded Jochi the proper status of a firstborn (perhaps in deference to his first and favorite wife Börte) and all sources concur that Ögedei was the third-born son of Temujin and Börte.
This is the first book (out of >100) that I had to actually return to Amazon for a refund.
I still can't give it one star though, since I did learn one bit of useful information about the making of the famous curved Turkish/Mongol composite bow of wood, sinew and bone that set world distance records for centuries.