Top positive review
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Accessible and Fun History
on 25 May 2011
Kublai Khan is perhaps one of the most influential men in history, but to many in the West, he is perhaps little more than a name. This is perhaps largely because of the complexity of understanding his story, given that it spans so many places and languages and perhaps because unlike Genghis, Kublai had limited direct interaction with the West. This is what makes John Man's book such a pleasure, he really opens up the history of Kublai Khan to lay readers and historians alike, and provides a very compelling read too.
The works appeal is found in the way that Man is able to avoid the pitfalls of writing a narrative history (namely that done badly it can be very dull) with a discussion of the geography and landscapes that the history covers (something many historians fail to engage with). The work takes us all the way through Kublai's life, with good digressions to provide background detail, with more thematic chapters thrown in toward the end. The book is fairly uncontroversial, though students of Japanese history may dislike the characterisation of Japan in the chapter covering the first Mongol Invasion, though this is balanced out by the view taken in the chapter covering the second invasion.
An interesting feature of Man's work is that he cross references his history with his own travels in China and his discussions with people he has met or are involved in certain sites, this may irritate some history purists; however what Man succeeds in doing is perhaps highlighting the efforts of current archaeologists to uncover more history. Certainly you would hope that someone reading the work may help archaeologists with funding for the marine archaeology in Imari Bay.
All in all, this was a really enjoyable read and certainly a good starting point for anyone with a general interest in Kublai Khan.