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on 31 October 2016
This book was written in two different perspectives/styles. One was like a typical history book, explaining an amazing and important historic era surrounding an infamous warrior and an amazingly colourful supporting cast chronologically. The other was the writer John Man conversing and travelling with experts of the era and the characters portrayed in visiting certain sights in modern day where things 'might have happened' during the medieval conquests..

The history chronologic part of the book is easy to review and enjoy. I am sure the author points out in some section that this is almost a simple digestion of the period he is describing and it is mostly about his travels which focuses around pre-birth/ youth of Genghis also following his death. It is a shame that these two sections which are probably the focus of the book in the eyes of the author, did not really appeal to me. They were okay - and he did create the imagery of the current day area and how he raised an opinion to why he believe it represented such things- was a greatly skill. Especially a section where he describes why Genghis may have had one of his last battle preparation villages in a now Barren area of China is so picture-esque and lightening that john Man makes his presumptions essentially very believable.

I have been reading a few books by historians such as Alison Weir and Ian Mortimer and although this book was enjoyable - I found it didn't seem as well researched and fleshed out as the aforementioned authors. It seemed like less references were reviewed prior to publication - with the majority of all statements being from the secret history (of the Mongols) - apparently this is an epic which is the Mongol's equivalent of the Iliad (TROY), Aeneid (ROME), Elig' Saga (ICELAND), The Romance of the Three Kingdoms (CHINA) - this point interested me so I my check out this text. The other texts he analysed seems unreliable-ish which the author comments is due to @ Genghis's death - truth and history were not known in aiding the empires continued prominence.

I do not regret I read this. In fact, I can almost recommend the way I have done things if people wish to get in to Genghis and the surrounding historical awesomeness.

I watched the film Mongol first (which features a great Japanese actor - who also played in the Audition, Visitor Q and Thor - as the general - Genghis himself) then I read this - and the way thing happened during his life - Which seems more human and honourable than you may be destined to think.. the Mongol's only obliterated races/ areas when they had been dishonoured and revenge was due - which makes it more human in the middle age... ps. the author explains middle age views and happenings well as if we are there. I would say this is a good way to approach the subject. I have to admit John Man is an Eastern Asia history expert an I have already expressed I wish to read more of his work.

I am interested to read other authors regarding this period - about Genghis, the empire, his Grandson Kublai Khan - especially to see if they view Genghis in the same legendary, god-esque like way of this book and the film (which I think I will watch again later) or if they seem him in the same light as Hitler and Edward I for his destruction of certain races. He didn't pull any punches - over 2,o00,000 people were annihilated and whole towns and places - look at the city Merv on Google. He is presented as honourable - never tortured anyone and any royals that they crossed who had to die - blood was not allowed to be shed. Parts of it seem more human that the same age in England or in the fictional Game of Thrones. Imagine Genghis with dragons. To close - good book. Maybe 3.5 is fairer. I will spend a lot of time this year researching this age. I have lots of fantasy book readers on my list. Read this - a lot of what happens fits right in Game Of Thrones, Stormlight Archive etc....

One scene from this stood out to me and although short was written amazing to hence the brutalness of the world at that era..... After Genghis was dead, one of his affiliates tortured someone who they thought was a witch. After starvation - she admitted she was so they sewed up all her orifices, put her in a rag and put her in to a river. Obviously if she was a witch she would have got away... She didn't.

Peace all. Hope you are well - James x
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on 29 April 2015
Genghis Khan, a name that polarizes opinion. To some he was the great unifier, a national hero. To others he was the founder of a great dynasty and to many he is the devil incarnate who destroyed great civilizations. Yet who was the man and why does his name still live on? What is it that he actually did and why does his memory still live on? John Man attempts to chart the life of Genghis and illuminate it for us.

This book takes us through the life of Genghis and also a modern day look at the life of the people of Mongolia as the author travels to and lives with the people of the steppe. Writing about Genghis is difficult as the Mongols and the various tribes of the steppe did not keep a written history at that point In time a written language was created in the later days of the Genghis's life Our sources therefore are either from other people who were not close to events, from people who the Mongols came into conflict with or from later histories written by the Mongols (The Secret History of the Mongols). This does of course make it harder for us to truly understand events as we have very few written primary sources, though there was a rich oral history to draw upon and of course, there is plenty of physical evidence of the Mongol's passing.

This is an engaging book. John Man looks at the life of Genghis at the many ups and downs he went through, born to a powerful chieftain, Genghis lost it all when his father died in his early years, forcing Genghis into poverty and eking out an existence. Family ties though would allow him to rise though along with advantageous friendship, though there were many setbacks along the way to his unification f the tribes. The author tries to bring an unbiased view to the subject, yet you do sense the author's appreciation of the subject. The look at present day Mongolia and how Genghis is viewed there as the father of the nation is insightful and gives us a flavor of how things were like back then.

In the end this is a good book about an interesting subject.
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on 31 July 2005
John Man's Genghis Khan is a chalenging and rewarding read. It will come as a bit of a jolt to readers used to reading popular biographies of more modern figures. This is a very different experience to reading about, say, Churchill or Kennedy. More modern subjects have a wealth of source material available to the historian, whose task becomes one of selection and condensation. Not so for a 13th century leader whose life was often deliberately shrowded in secrecy. Man's task is not to wade through volumes of material, but to actually find material. And he does a terrific job.
He has pieced together a rivetting account of Genghis Khan's life, from birth to death and beyond. He takes the reader on a journey in search of Genghis, through the steppes and deserts of Central Asia, into Europe, and to China.
One strength of this book is Man's depth of knowledge and experience. He has clearly spent a great deal of his life in Mongolia, has picked up the language and immersed himself in the culture of the Mongols. He still sees himself as an outsider, an indication of his great humility, but he is certainly not typical of many modern writers who adopt a subject only until their book is published. The scope of this book is truly impressive.
A word should also be made about the illustrations. The book has two sections of illustrations, and many seem to be photographs taken by Man himself. They add to the enjoyment and experience of the read, as do the several maps included in the text.
Another great strength of this book is in capturing the present day spirit and influence which Genghis still holds in Mongolia and beyond. There is a nice concluding chapter on Genghis's current place in international relations and how modern day leaders manipulate his image and legacy for geopolitical reasons.
Overall, this is not your average popular historical biography. I imagine the general reader, like me, doesn't dwell too much on 13th century Mongolia. But for a glimpse of the life, death and resurrection of one of history's greatest leaders, I can imagine no better treatment.
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on 29 July 2014
If you are expecting a conventional biography or history of Ghengis Khan _ as I was - you will be disappointed. This work is more a personal travelogue by the author as he explores present day Central Asia and uses the experience to muse on the historical Ghenghis through long asides and flashbacks. But a book that merely presented the known facts about this shadowy figure would be a very slim volume indeed. Man is a brilliant writer, and as I read on, I found myself becoming more and more engaged with the subject. Ghengis was a brutal, cruel, illiterate and uncultivated barbarian whose astonishing but brief impact erupted across half the known world in the 12th Century and that impact was almost entirely negative. Perhaps the best aspect of the book is the insight it gives into the reverence awarded by present day Mongolians and Chinese (who have adopted him as one of theirs) to this unappealing, long dead, war criminal. Man's personal experiences interleaved through the historical account could be a real irritation, but he handles his material so well, with assured prose, that everything works to make what is ultimately a fascinating and enjoyable narrative.
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on 3 October 2005
This book is quite unusual in terms of a historical non-fiction. It is a mix between historical fact and John Man's journey around Asia to better understand the lives of the Mongolian people and to better understand the environment that Genghis Khan would have lived in. This is quite an affective mix and coupled with the writers easy style does make this a much easier book to read.
Not that it is a particularly easy book to read however...
When I tried to think of a way of summing up how this is a tough book to read I struggled, I guess in no small part this is down to the subject matter we are dealing with. On the one hand Genghis was a liberator, a mouth piece of god, an inspiration to millions and a military genius to boot. On the other he was a butcher, a man who wreaked more havoc than any man before him and all but a few ahead of him. This juxtaposition for me was the toughest part of reading this book. How could I keep going when the author so clearly reveres "The Khan"? For example, Man compares the slaughter of Jews at Auschwitz to the Slaughter of Merv by the Mongols. In comparable scale he acquiesces they are the same in nature. However he mentions that Mongols aims were truly strategic rather xenophobic. Now at no point am I saying he agrees with the killings, he does however attempt to justify them.
There are other examples, in order to keep to the tradition of not spilling any blood of royalty when killing them, Man recounts a story told of a story of Prince Mstislav and his allies who are tied up and laid down on the ground, where they become the foundation for heavy wooden platform that is Subedai (One of Genghis' generals) dines upon with his allies whilst the prince suffocates to death. How very noble...
There are truly horrific examples of the brutality in which Genghis ruled, but also no short fall in examples of the high regard in which he held loyalty and bravery. John Man does bring out both sides of his life, coupled with this is the incredible journey that Man himself took around the wilds of Mongolia, this is a treat for the reader as it shows a political climate that although much changed is still in as much conflict as it has ever been in. This is a tough book to swallow but I firmly believe we shouldn't hide the past, he should understand it and hope it never happens again. I mean you never know, a man like Genghis Khan could be the leader the current world needs.
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on 6 December 2010
When I picked up this book, I had expected to read about the history of Genghis Khan. What you get instead is a mix of Genghis Khan's history and a travel book where he spend a lot of time talking about his travels in Mongolia.

If the title was 'My Travels through Mongolia and some search about Genghis Khan' then I might give it a 3 stars. I suspect he had the misleading title to sell more books.

Another grip I have with this is that the focus of the book is on himself rather than the subject. The book is filled with 'I found this..' and 'My belief is this...' and going off on stories that are really only interesting to himself. I simply skipped over pages and pages of side stories that has no interest to the reader - boring uninteresting facts he finds on his travels that he described as if it was the most interesting thing in the world.

It is all 'me me me', 'look how great I am', 'wow I am writing a book about Genghis Khan'. The point of researching is to find out more about Genghis Khan but rather he describes every bit of his research as if it were the end itself. The book felt padded as if he needed to filled it so he goes on about every little thing he did even if he had found nothing significant at the end of it.

To end on a positive note, there were many interesting little stories on Genghis and if you take the book as the author's travel book, it is an okay light reading. V lightweight as well and can be finished in a couple of hours.
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on 20 June 2015
Really enjoyed John Mans' book on Kublai Khan and loved reading about the intricate details behind some of Kublai's decision making. I didn't feel this book focused enough on Ghengis as a man, details are not readily available but I think John could have added more insight into how Genghis lived, rose to power and eventually forged the empire. Tantalising glimpses of the death and succession, invasion of Europe and mere mentions of Ogedai's reign were not enough to keep my voracious appetite sated! Aside from that I find his writing style exceptionally easy to read and would still recommend the book to anyone who wants to read about that period in time. Not as good as the Kublai book, but still very good. Atilla the Hun next for me!
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on 6 November 2013
I was expecting a more lively story of the life and times of Genghis Khan. Instead what I got was rather dull and dry in patches. Probably a worthy tome which scholars of the period might appreciate, but far too much of John Man's travels in the region for my taste. I wanted to read about Genghis the man, and contemporary life in Mongolia. I would estimate that less than ten percent of the book was on topic. If you are looking for a travel book giving a rough guide to present day Mongolia, with a few snippets of history interspersed this might be the book for you. Gave up three quarters of the way through. Sorry Mr Man, but I reckon the cover gives a very misleading idea of what to expect. It should have been a photo of you and your jeep.
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on 1 March 2004
Very well written history of Genghis Khan, intermingled with the author's travels and discoveries in Mongolia as he seeks to 'find the truth' and location of Genghis' birthplace and death.
Balances out and discusses fact and fiction/legend nicely and provides several interesting insights into the importance of Genghis in current Mongolian, and more interestingly, Chinese culture and folklore.
Only falls short on a few points - fails to continue and fully describe the eventual culmination of Genghis' legacy under his grandson Khublai and the disintegration of the empire in enough detail for my liking (although, granted, this is a book about Genghis as an individual). Also devotes a couple of slow-moving final chapters to his own attempts to find the Genghis burial site, and the spiritual legacy that remains. This tires somewhat at the end.
Overall - very good, contemporary, publication.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 19 November 2010
By the time of his death in 1227, Genghis Khan ruled an empire that stretched from the Caspian Sea to the Pacific Ocean. His empire was larger than either that of Rome, or Alexander the Great. To many Muslims, Russians, and Europeans, Genghis Khan is remembered as a murderer of millions. He is honoured in China as the founder of the Yuan dynasty, and in Mongolia he is revered as the father of the nation.

In this book John Man presents an overview of the history, and the mystery, surrounding Genghis Khan. This is accompanied by a personal travelogue from John Man's travel to Mongolia to find and visit Genghis-related sites. Searching for physical signs of Genghis Khan in Mongolia proved challenging, but provides an interesting view into life in this remote country.

I have mixed views about this book. John Man's enthusiasm for his subject is clear, and the book is easy to read but I wanted to read more about Genghis Khan's life, times and influences and less about John Man's travels and theories. The contemporary detail did add to the overall portrait of Genghis Khan by giving some sense of how he is viewed in Mongolia, and this will be important to some readers.

I wonder what sense Genghis Khan himself would make of his legacy: both fact and legend?

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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