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khuto (albany, NY)

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Genghis Khan: And the Making of the Modern World
Genghis Khan: And the Making of the Modern World
by Jack Weatherford
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.99

28 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Read this, and Change your world, 17 Aug. 2007
This is not just a history, it is re-invention of our world. No one has told Genghis Khan 's story as effectively. Texts by other
historians like Paul Ratchnevsky may consult more primary sources [JW bases his work on the Secret History of the Mongols, Juvayni, and Rashid-ad-Din, Ratchnevsky consults some additional Chinese sources like the Shenwu qinzheng lu]. Texts such as Saunders may be more scholarly and are more nuanced in their conclusions, but this footnote-free story (notes are indexed to sentences only at the end) is eminently readable, and like Timothy May has said in a review, it is the kind of writing that, unlike "dusty monographs", can fire one's "love for history".

Writing with rare lyrical sensitivity, Weatherford brings across a dramatic narrative of the military conquests. The first part deals with Genghis Khan consolidating the tribes of Mongolia (Chapters 2-3). Most of the book (Chapters 4-8), deals with world conquest. Genghis Khan launched his series of conquests when in his late 40s, and within fifteen years (1212 to his death in 1227), he had conquered four times the territory of the Roman or Macedonian empires at their peak; after his death, it would be grow half as much larger.

However, the most interesting aspect of the book is its discussion of the impact of this large trade-friendly empire, lasting over 200 years, may have had (Chapter 9). Printing, firearms, the use of the compass in navigation, bowed instruments such as the violin, all came to Europe through Mongol interactions. Furthermore, processes such as codification of laws, lightning mobility in war (the inspiration for Nazi "blitzkrieg"), religious freedom, and participative government, all taken for granted today, were practiced in the Mongol Empire and may have influenced European thinking during the Renaissance that immediately followed the breakup of the empire.

Maybe he over-dramatizes things when saying: "Under the widespread influences from the paper and printing, gunpowder and firearms, and the spread of the navigational compass and other maritime equipment, Europeans experienced a Renaissance, literally a rebirth, but it was not the ancient world of Greece or Rome being reborn. It was the Mongol Empire, picked up, transferred, and adapted by the Europeans to their own needs and culture." But on the whole he presents overwhelming evidence of our debt to the Mongols, an aspect that was covered up during the Age of Enlightenment (Chapter 10 deals with this historiographical process).

I found the book extremely thought-provoking; it led me to read Ratchnevsky and I am now looking through Saunders. I also went to several online sources simply to verify the claims he makes; I found most of them well-corroborated. Reading this book was absolutely eye-opening. It has completely changed my world view.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 20, 2009 11:08 PM BST


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