Book Review: “Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World” by Jack Weatherford

Genghis Khan: and the Making of the Modern World Book Cover Genghis Khan: and the Making of the Modern World
J. McIver Weatherford
Biography & Autobiography
Three Rivers Press
2005
312

A re-evaluation of Genghis Khan's rise to power examines the reforms the conqueror instituted throughout his empire and his uniting of East and West, which set the foundation for the nation-states and economic systems of the modern era.

If you want to read this in Mongolian, go here.

Basically:

The Secret History of Mongols meets Pride & Prejudice

What’s it about? 

Genghis Khan has been known around the world as a bloodthirsty invader who killed millions of people. But this book shows that yes, his army went on rampage, but it was also a scare tactic that led to exaggeration by chroniclers; and he had some good principles, progressive policies, and did pivotal things that helped change the world for the better. So, yeah, Genghis was like Mr. Darcy of “Pride & Prejudice”.

My impression: 

From the get-go, the narrative challenges the preconceived notions about the Mongols, especially of Genghis Khan, in the West, where he’s seen as a bloodthirsty pagan orc. He encourages the reader to change this attitude by providing numerous interesting facts as arguments. The author not only picks the historical facts, but he also connects it them to present time realities.

And we are all Ms. Bennets for thinking him such a bad man.
And we are all Ms. Bennets for thinking him such a bad man.

The most interesting premise of this book was that Mongols upheld a regime in conquered lands which valued merits and allowed religious freedom and gender equality, among other basic rights, and stimulated the connection between East and West. What really blew my mind was that the subjects and the Western world admired the Mongols – evidenced by Geoffrey Chaucer – up until the Enlightenment and the times of Tamerlane, when our PR went to Tartarus.

It was also interesting to read about the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Empire, to learn about the kingdoms and lands that they corresponded with.

Main takeaways:

  1. There’s a place called Ikh Khorig in Burkhan Khaldun mountain of Khentii Province, which was suspected to be the burial site of Genghis Khan. During the communist times, the Soviets had deployed a military base there.
  2. Muslim nations in the Middle East received the harshest blow, and culturally and demographically lost the most from Mongol conquest. I really feel sorry for this…
  3. When Bat was subjugating the Rus, Subedei had a vision of conquering more of Europe, so he presented his plan at the khuraldai. His plan was denied by the board, as the European cities looked poor, plus the khan had died. The board at the khuraldai decided to withdraw the army from Europe.
  4. Europeans say “Hooray!” which was derived from the Mongol war cry “Hurrai”. (OK, the author wrote uuhai, but I understand his mistake.)
  5. Europeans wore tunics and Mongols were the first to introduce pants.
  6. Guyuk was a real life Joffrey, having almost all his Chagatai cousins executed after becoming a khagan.
  7. Guyuk cracked up when he heard the Pope Innocent’s letter to cease and desist, because Christianity was common in Mongolia, along with Buddhism and Islam.
  8. When William of Rubruck visited Mongolia with the Pope Innocent’s letter, Guyuk actually invited him to a religious debate, shattering his image of Mongols as heathens.
  9. Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales,” a crucial Middle English story, has an epic romance based on Genghis Khan (they misspelled his name as Cambyuskan though).
  10. It was starting from the era of the Enlightenment that historians started dissing Mongols as savages and demon hordes. Tamerlane’s brutal me-too conquest didn’t help either.

Quotes:

From every conquered city, the Mongols sent forth delegations to the other cities to tell them of the unprecedented horrors inflicted by the nearly supernatural abilities of Genghis Khan’s warriors… Each victory released a flood of new propaganda, and the belief in Genghis Khan’s invincibility spread. As absurd as the stories appeared from a reasoned distance and safety in time, they had a tremendous impact across Central Asia.

Traditional armies moved in long columns of men marching the same route with large supplies of food following them. By contrast, the Mongol army spread out over a vast area to provide sufficient pasture to animals and to maximize hunting opportunities for the soldiers.

About the Author:

Jack Weatherford was awarded the “Nairamdal” medal, the highest award for a foreigner, by the President of Mongolia. He’s been to Mongolia for quite some time and there’s a foundation under his name in Mongolia. He also wrote Secret History of the Mongol Queens and History of Money.

The reviewer, who had a chance to get a picture taken with him, is in Witness Protection Program.
The reviewer, who had a chance to get a picture taken with him, is in Witness Protection Program.

I had an opportunity to meet the author, Jack Weatherford, in 2012 when he talked about his book in Ulaanbaatar. The cafe where he made the speech was tiny and it had just rained outside, so the atmosphere was dank with a crowd of sweaty people. I hadn’t read his book back then, but I remember being impressed with the Q&A session. A lot of foreigners started their questions with “I came to Mongolia because of this book”.

Reception:

The book became a New York Times Bestseller for 2 weeks, and is credited as initiating the re-evaluation and revived interest of Mongol history. Judging by the following image, we think this book is also a mandatory reading for high school in the USA.

Capture2

Rating:

Five out of five. This should be read by anyone who wants to learn about the most (in)famous part of the Mongol’s history.

So what do you think? Do you want to read this book? You can buy it here:

Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World

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mm About Natso Baatarkhuu
Natso Baatarkhuu lives in Mongolia and writes in English. His works have appeared in Cracked.com and The UB Post, and he started this website. He dreams of publishing novels and selling screenplays someday.

mm

Natso Baatarkhuu

Natso Baatarkhuu lives in Mongolia and writes in English. His works have appeared in Cracked.com and The UB Post, and he started this website. He dreams of publishing novels and selling screenplays someday.

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