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Genghis Khan: His Conquests, His Empire, His Legacy

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A definitive and sweeping account of the life and times of the world's greatest conqueror -- Genghis Khan -- and the rise of the Mongol empire in the 13th century

Combining fast-paced accounts of battles with rich cultural background and the latest scholarship, Frank McLynn brings vividly to life the strange world of the Mongols and Genghis Khan's rise from boyhood outcast to world conqueror. McLynn provides the most accurate and absorbing account yet of one of the most powerful men ever to have ever lived.

704 pages, Hardcover

First published July 14, 2015

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About the author

Frank McLynn

54 books86 followers
Frank McLynn is an English author, biographer, historian and journalist. He is noted for critically acclaimed biographies of Napoleon Bonaparte, Robert Louis Stevenson, Carl Jung, Richard Francis Burton and Henry Morton Stanley.

McLynn was educated at Wadham College, Oxford and the University of London. He was Alistair Horne Research Fellow at St Antony's College, Oxford (1987–88) and was visiting professor in the Department of Literature at the University of Strathclyde (1996–2001) and professorial fellow at Goldsmiths College London (2000 - 2002) before becoming a full-time writer.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 121 reviews
Profile Image for Tim.
2,180 reviews211 followers
January 26, 2021
I despise stories like this, which is basically a narration of historical events instead of an action fused creation. 0 of 10 stars
Profile Image for Bryn Hammond.
Author 13 books355 followers
June 15, 2020
I have two main reasons for my harsh allotment of one star – a rating to be read as a ‘cannot recommend’ from me; not exactly ‘I hated it’, although I did become emotional on going through 8-10 newspaper reviews: these were written by book critics, not experts or fans of Mongol history, and they had nothing to judge by except their general impressions of the Mongols, preconceptions which the book, more or less, confirmed. Only one I saw, in the Asian Review of Books, asked a few of the right questions and began to interrogate the book.

My first reason is that it pays little attention to what David Morgan has called ‘the cultural turn’ in Mongol scholarship of the last twenty years (he reported on this in Nomads as Agents of Cultural Change). Even though McLynn has the begetter of the cultural turn, Thomas Allsen, in his extensive bibliography, this area, that is spoken of as a revolution in how we look at Mongols, doesn’t figure in his assessment of them in conclusion, and I feel that assessment is severely afflicted by its absence.

My second reason is that he comes to opinions about things and presents them as if they are matters of fact. I’ll use an example that did the circuit of the web, one he cites in interviews: that the Daoist master Qiu Chuji was a fraudster and Temujin, late in life, his gullible victim. That Qiu Chuji was a fraud is an opinion (you can find an alternate opinion in Wang Ping’s 2013 movie, An End to Killing or Kingdom of Conquerors – decent movie and even educational, to offset McLynn). But you can't in logic claim he set out to dupe a victim, when in the sources the guy is known for his frankness in the face of Genghis Khan, for dropping the bad news that he doesn’t have or know of a magic elixir, and contrary to rumour he is not 300 years old. Let’s not hear about gullible Mongols, either, because it’s a few of Temujin’s more educated Chinese advisers who recommended Qiu Chuji to him. That leads me to the observation that this Daoist adept behaved and believed no differently to others, and to call him a big fraud is to tarnish the lot of them, isn’t it? I think we need to accept more the strangenesses of medieval religions. Addendum: on Mongol religion he says, ‘shamanism was a classic instance of the mystifying and obfuscating role of religion’, which is rather judgemental too. This blanket dismissal, this failure to look at a religion in its own terms wouldn't wash in Religious Studies 101. I hope he's one who'd say the same of Western religions of the past; yet I have to notice he has been a biographer of only Western figures previously. Hobby Mongolists can do good work, but they need good attitudes.

On the personality of Genghis, he is very negative; probably as negative a description as I’ve read, even in old books that pre-date the 'cultural turn' and the great florescence of Mongol Studies since (again, the main books I mean are in his bibliography, but I can't see they have influenced his text). I admit his negative view doesn’t endear the book to me. It was disheartening to see one of those newspaper reviews conclude 'Genghis Khan doesn't deserve a biographer like McLynn'. He does. He does deserve a 'real' biographer, as distinct from a historian who doesn't specialize in biography. For a thirteenth-century figure and not someone from the letters era, he's rich in potential material. Don't blame the subject if you found the book unsatisfactory! Still, negativity and all, as long as readers understand they are getting one view… The book is told as story, and in a common popular-history style he writes as if questions are concluded. Behind that, at every turn he has to make decisions and judgements on the material. I wish this process were more transparent to the reader – that it was written with less certainty, that there were alternate views on offer. Such, I'd say, is the main difference between popular history and scholarly--although I have seen popular history written in an open-ended fashion too, presenting the evidence in a way that leaves the reader room to think.
Profile Image for Tosh.
163 reviews39 followers
June 5, 2017
3.5 stars

They come as though the sky were falling, and they disappear like a flash of lightning.

I got way more than I bargained for, but I enjoyed it.

There’s quite a bit about the khan, but this book really focuses on the whole picture of the khan’s armies, their campaigns and the countries they conquered. All good information in small doses, but the campaigns are overly detailed: providing army numbers for each battle, and digressing into long-winded explanations of the conquered countries. Of course, to fully understand why the Mongols were so successful (besides their impeccable organization, communications and clever tactics) it is necessary to understand the countries they set out to subsume, or in some instances completely annihilate. I just wish the author could have condensed some of the information. I will probably end up finding another book on the khan to compare eventually.
Profile Image for Anthony Taylor.
208 reviews41 followers
September 16, 2022
A Great Man in History?

I found this book very readable, informative and clear. It offers a straight forward narrative cradle to the grave, from Temujin to Genghis Khan. The book starts with the world Temujin, the son of a chief of a Mongol tribe, was born in, focusing on the steppe, Mongol culture and context of his early life. These are key elements to understanding how this man came to dominate the world and they are explained well. The Mongols attitude towards women, food, nomadism, animals, relationships and even bathing are all explained. These answer some of the questions of why the Mongols and Temujin himself became so successful.

Even as a young man his life was extremely eventful. From the early death by poisoning of his father, which cast him and his family into poverty, to the abduction and rape of his wife Borte, which bore him a step son Jochi. Temujin was also captured and imprisoned by a neighbouring tribe during a raid, but escaped thanks to a sympathetic guard helping him escape. McLynn explains that none of this had any lasting effect on Temujin, the future Genghis Khan as this was usual life on the Steppe. Eventually through war and genius Temujin emerged victorious in uniting the Mongol tribes. Around the time possibly a people of about 800,000. With this force he set his sights on the Jin Empire in northern China, first realising he would have to destroy the Tangut people as to have ‘no one to attack from behind’. And so from the world was slowly swallowed up and Temujin transformed into Genghis Khan, master of an empire from the Yellow to the Caspian Sea.

What I found fascinating is that Genghis was clearly a man of genius, a brilliant military strategist and of great foresight. Although as McLynn shows, historians are divided on whether this was the key to his success and state that it could have been due to other factors such as the climate. Surely this man was exception. What is striking that he also has much fortune. Most of his enemies where bogged down with factionalism and petty squabbling. Even only they focused on the threat and united the course of history would have changed forever. The Mongols so often faced forced far larger, but through their array of original tactics they were able to claim victory after victory. These included the false retreat to lure enemies away from their strong position (often miles) only to ambush and slaughter them, the use of dummies to fool the enemy on the numbers of Mongol warriors, the employment of smoke grenades and the use of speed to flank and encircle opponents. Genghis himself realised the importance of preserving his men and preferred to not get them killed unnecessarily. Some of the feats are incredible and the adaptability (such as learning siege warfare for later conquests) is like no other group in history.

Of course Genghis was also a man who caused on a low estimate, about 50 million deaths from Korea to Hungry. There is also an argument of whether the Mongols set Central Asia and Eastern Europe back centuries through the conquest, murder and destruction. They may also have brought the Black Death to Europe. They acted not in taking points, but destroying people. There more killed the better, the battles were famous for the Mongols relentless pursing a defeated foe days after the fight. Towns who did not surrender were raised to the ground and often the great Khan ordered all living beings (including animals) to be destroyed.

For me McLynn does a good job in explaining all of this, placing it into the context of their culture, religion and Genghis outlook. The relationship with his wives, concubines, brothers and sons are all explained. The big and important questions are tackled, such as why he was so successful and why it all fell apart after the death of his talented son Ogodei. Others have hated this book for reasons I cannot quote understand. Yeah f their are historical errors I apologise for not picking up on them. I found it overall, a very readable and great balance between popular history and academic study.
Profile Image for Brandon Forsyth.
899 reviews150 followers
July 15, 2015
Here's the thing: if you title this thing "Genghis Khan: The Man Who Conquered The World", you're setting up expectations in the reader that this book will be about the person. I get that ancient history and the people within it are hard to write about, for a variety of reasons, but just call it "Genghis Khan and the Mongols" if you can't craft a personal narrative out of the sources. As it stands, this book is a serviceable (if tedious) military history of the Mongols' movements throughout Asia, but the line I enjoyed the most in this book was, "the history of Genghis Khan and the Mongols can sometimes seem no more than an endless recital of massacres with pyramids of skulls."
Profile Image for Dmitri.
202 reviews157 followers
November 2, 2019
If you are looking for a straightforward bio of the Khan of Khans, you may need to look no further than this monument. I took it to Uzbekistan to help imagine the siege and reduction of Bukhara and Samarkand.

Genghis Khan spent the greater part of his career in​ Central Asia, leaving his top general Muqali to flail away at China and conquer the future territories of his grandson Kublai Khan.

It is all here, and it is more than a biography. It's a history really, and a jumping off point for further exploration. In addition to 500 pages of text, you get two appendices and a big bibliography.

I have never read a McLynn book before. I was put off by some of his mixed reviews, and his wide range of titles. How can anyone write that much on such disparate topics and still be taken seriously? Apart from the occasional grandiloquent word, the writing is clear and strong.
Profile Image for Liviu.
2,283 reviews641 followers
September 22, 2015
very readable flowing like a novel; while presenting the general (and generally well known facts) story and continuing a few decades beyond the death of Gengis with an outline of what happened with the Mongol Empire until its split in 4 essentially different states, the book is very clear and articulate without going into hyperbole or judgement; brutal and benefiting of temporary military superiority as well as of squabbling enemies in the west and a divided and weaker than usual Chinese colossus in the East, the quick rise of the Mongol empire is shown here in quite a lot of detail, but also it is shown clearly how such an empire could not have lasted for intrinsic reasons

the best of what I read or tried to on the subject and highly recommended
Profile Image for Natalie.
2,822 reviews139 followers
December 11, 2022
Oof. I think a lot combined to make this a less than enjoyable book for me.

1. I probably would've done better with a hard copy. This is one of those audiobooks that began with a 30 minute reading of a list of names and who they were. I skipped it. There was no way I was going to remember any of that while reading. Unfortunately it was a list that I desperately needed to refer back to. Even if the audiobook had included a PDF of that list it would've helped me. At least 50% of the time I had no clue who the author was talking about and how they related to Genghis.

2. Who, What, Where???? The author was constantly giving us a litany of clans/tribes/groups, listing many people within those various groups, and telling us how Genghis marched from east of such and such a river to south of so and so's borders just so he could attack x-person who was in big trouble because x-person wasn't getting along with y-person and now here comes Genghis to mess things up with the help of z-person. I legit had no idea what was happening most of the time because I had no context. I needed maps and to be able to reread. Another reason the audiobook was not a great choice.

3. On that note, WAY too much detail. I can only hear about the Mongols riding their horses so many times.

4. My own lack of knowledge. If I was reading a similar tale of conquering set in medieval Europe, I would probably understand it better because I already have some familiarity with the topic. As it is, I know very little about the history of Asian countries. It's a topic I'd like to study more. If I'd gone into this book with more background knowledge, I think I would've understood it better.

My favorite parts of the book were learning about the Mongol customs and beliefs. It was really fascinating and impressive how they survived in the rugged landscape.

If you are interested in the book I highly recommend choosing a physical book over the audiobook, or at least having a hard copy on hand while you listen. I was constantly zoning out because I couldn't follow what was happening. What I would like to do now is watch a documentary about Genghis Khan and the Mongols. I think that would help cement what I did glean from this book.
Profile Image for Deepak Fernandes.
12 reviews1 follower
October 27, 2017
The only drawback of this book is a lack of enough maps.

There are maps at the beginning, but this book goes into so much useful detail that it would have been better to have more maps. However, this could have increased the size of the book.

The author describes the background of the Mongol Empire incredibly well and his appendix on the Khwarezim and Qara-Khitai empires are worthy of books by themselves.

Reading this book is not for the light-hearted, but it is also not a dry scholarly tome. While it gives as much depth (if not more) as a scholarly tome, it is also deeply fulfilling in its analysis of individuals, empires, kingdoms. It gives you a feel of the fear that the Mongols produced and their lives.

Some other reviewers complained about the use of many "intellectual asides" and references, but I thought they were apt, not put in just to show off.

Overall I strongly recommend this book to any historian (professional or amateur) or a person who likes Lord of the Rings and other grand fantasy - which shows you that reality can be stranger than fiction!
Profile Image for Jakob.
118 reviews2 followers
December 20, 2018
A flawed writer takes on a supremely fascinating story.

The story of the mongol conquests is one of the most intriguing and beguiling in all of world history. So it is a small wonder that I swallowed this book in just a few days. It begins terrifically, painting the scene of the sacking of Baghdad, and all the horrors that went along with it. It also ends (kinda), with a conclusion chapter in which Mclynn discusses the various attitudes and takes there are on the Genghis and the mongols; from his impact on the rest of world history to how he should be viewed as a person.

In between these two bookends though, there are a lot of problems with this telling of the tale. Not that it is inocrrect, but that it is told in a way that decreases, rather than increases, our appreciation for this unique, horrifying, and amazing bloody tale.

For one, Mclynn gives the account of the raids and conquests and routes the mongols took to get there. All of them. Which in aggregate becomes minutea. "They took the route from the Kyber pass down to Khurasan and then doubled back and rode 500 miles to meet up with so and so and went on to such and such". It is amazing how much ground they covered and where they went and why, but how are we supposed to follow along with all this for hundreds of pages?

Hey Frank, you know what would have helped? MAPS. No one knows what to make of the route between one place in the desert of the Khwarezmian empire and some town that no longer exists if you don't show us.

Instead of recounting every time the mongols rode their horses, a better way of telling this tale is of painting the picture of some of the most important or impressive campaigns and conquests. It is doubly frustrating that the author is capable of this, which he shows in the introductory chapter.

I am no expert on the mongol horde but even I noticed some glaring omissions from this book. Like when the mongols come out of the caucasus mountains, there is a conglomerate of armies waiting for them. But he neglects to tell how they knew the mongols where going to be there. This, I know from the Hardcore History episodes has a definite answer, but if I had only read Mclynn's book on this subject, it would have remained a mystery. He also doesn't mention the Pope's amazing letter to the mongols, trying (and failing miserably) to explain christianity and convert the mongols. Instead we are bombared with more minutea of every raid on every city, which gets tedious since Mclynn seemingly loses interest in describing them. "After a ten-day siege, the town relented and asked for terms. The slaughter was complete". This, lightly paraphrased, is how Mclynn describes hundreds of instances of complete terror, mayhem, and military ingenuity.

He also has some obvious faults just as a writer. He loves to use french terms, just a little too much. I have some basic french so I understood most of it, but even I thought his overreliance on french phrases a tad ridiculous. There must be better ways of getting your thoughts across to an english-speaking audience.

He also repeatedly employs one of my pet peeves, using the term "quantum leap" to describe a big step forward. In actuality, a quantum leap is ridiculously, insanely small.

But my biggest critique of Mclynn's writing is that he doesn't want to paint the scene before our eyes. How did a mongol horde appearing before your town look like? What was the smell? For maybe the most frightening sights of the medieval period, he does a poor job of getting that across.

One thing I will say is he gives terrific accounts on the intrigues of the mongol higher-ups. who hated whom, who never forgot the slight from so-and-so.

All in all, this tale is too terrifying and horrific, and the figure of Genghis too brilliant and unique not to be fascinating, even when treated with such a poor understanding of what makes a good telling as this.
Profile Image for Casey Wheeler.
926 reviews39 followers
August 11, 2015
I received a pre-release e-copy of this book through NetGalley (publication date July 14, 2015) with the expectation that I will post a review on their site and others (my blog, Goodreads, Facebook, Google +, LinkedIn, Twitter, Amazon, etc.).

I requested this book because I am interested in Genghis Khan and I haven't read a biography on him in 50 years (junior high) which was mostly about the legend. This is the first book by Frank McLynn that I have read.

The book is well researched and very informative, but the author gets overly bogged down in the details making this a difficult read that requires a great deal of concentration. It does not have the readability of a Doris Kearns Goodwin or a H.W. Brands biograhpy.

I would recommend this book to someone who is interested in the minutia regarding the life of Genghis Khan. It is not for those who are looking for an engaging read.
Profile Image for Margaret Sankey.
Author 9 books208 followers
May 14, 2015
Another giant book, since McLynn rounds out what can be pieced together from the Secret History and outside accounts of the Mongols with fuller discussions of Mongol life--much of it reinforced by *anthropological* studies of still-nomadic Mongol herdspeople. The ecology of Mongol steppe maintenance and wildlife control, logistical abilities, family dynamics and economic arrangements, as he argues, turn out to be significant in understanding why the Mongols were able to shift so quickly--and so effectively--into governing a massive empire. McLynn gives credit to the women of the Khan's family, as well as those he was smart enough to promote or marry into his family, and offers a compelling narrative of the spectacular rise of one of the most influential and complex figures in world history (and always one of my favorite lecture subjects for POL 150).
Profile Image for KB.
195 reviews8 followers
October 3, 2016
Genghis Khan: The Man Who Conquered the World is historian Frank McLynn's mid-size biography covering the entire life of Genghis Khan and concluding with the conquest of Hungary and a very brief overview of the Mongol Empire until Mongke's death. Put together using an incredible amount of sources, the book is extremely informative but is often too detailed to be an enjoyable 'popular history' read.

I both liked and disliked the detail. I liked it in the sense that there was so much in here that I have never read anywhere else before. Even if it was just a small piece of information about a person or battle or event, you can't say McLynn didn't make good use of his sources. However, I thought a lot of it was overkill, too. He often spends so much time on background information or context that he loses the flow of the narrative. There are paragraphs on top of paragraphs in here that you could easily skip or skim.

And for all the detail in the book, the battles seemed to be lacking. I always felt that things were concluded far too quickly. Perhaps McLynn didn't want to get too repetitive, since with the Mongols there was constant warfare, or he didn't want to wander too far into academic history territory (as he states himself the book is intended to be popular history) with detailed troop movements and such. Regardless, I think the book needed more in this area.

Aside from my issues with the amount of detail included, my other gripe was with the writing. McLynn uses lots of 'big' words, as well as tons of turns of phrase and idioms. Here is just an example of what I'm talking about: scooped the pool, grant the boon, a storm in a teacup, rushed his fences, given up the ghost, turbid political bouillabaisse, dampest of damp squibs, last dregs from the cup of bitterness. He also manages to craft some pretty strange sentences. This is probably my favourite thing in the whole book: "perhaps Genghis's antennae were once again super sensitive..." What?

It honestly took me half the book to get into McLynn's style and then all of a sudden, I sort of began to appreciate and like the book. I found myself wondering how he would tackle a certain event and almost looked forward to what he had to say on certain topics. McLynn uses an impressive amount of sources, but this book is not only a synthesis of that information; he critiques, analyzes and interprets. That's what you want in a good history book. You need something more than someone merely relaying facts to you, even if it is popular history.

I also think McLynn was fair and realistic in how he portrayed the Mongols, whether collectively or as individuals. He does, however, end with this:
While the Mongols' military achievements were stupendous, they were otherwise totally parasitic. They were unoriginal, founded no new religions, produced no worthwhile cultural artefacts, developed no new crops or new technologies (though they transmitted existing ones), created no worthwhile painting, pottery, architecture or literature, and did not even bake bread...
So? The Mongol Empire was always about conquest, so yes, their military achievements were stupendous. I don't think it really matters that they didn't bake bread or write poetry we might still admire today. I don't know, it just seems like such a harsh conclusion to draw out of nowhere.

Antony Beevor immediately comes to mind when I think of someone who writes excellent histories but keeps them accessible to all readers. I don't think McLynn achieves that with this book. There is a ton of information here, and I can't imagine how difficult the task must have been to collect it all. But it's McLynn's writing and the excess of detail that I think prevents this from being good popular history. Don't get me wrong, I didn't dislike the book overall. You will learn a lot reading it, but it's not the most enjoyable book to read in order to gain that information.
Profile Image for M(^-__-^)M_ken_M(^-__-^)M.
347 reviews78 followers
June 7, 2019
Genghis Khan: His Conquests, His Empire, His Legacy
By Frank McLynn

This was an easy to follow story about his life, and heck what a life so much was crammed into his 65 years, a story of bloodshed and grief for anyone that got in his way, a force of nature an unstoppable tornado of death and destruction. By the time of his death his armies ruled with an iron fist from the Mediterranean sea to the Pacific ocean the largest single land mass empire the world has ever seen to date.

Technical issues faced by his soldiers was covered thouroughly given the book size but it was what interested me the most the research gone into, must have given Frank the patience of Methusla. Numbers always fascinates me the ratios of horses to camels sheep goats made sense so did figures on arrows bows riders and lances.

The complete ruthless intrigues between the clan leaders where assassination was a matter of course and common place, but Im pretty damm sure it wasn't, nothing would be forgotten and revenge will come eventually.

More of a mixture of historical facts and figures and some vivid imagination by Frank to imagine yourself galloping across wide open plains firing arrows into your enemies and living without remorse for killing hundreds of people at your own hand in the belief kill them before they do it to your people and the chance of fame plunder and sex.

Anyway loved it even if all the names of Genghis Kahn's lieutenant's was hard to keep up with. But regardless Genghis Kahn is a name history would never forget and his leagacy ripples down through to hundreds of millions of people through countless lands.
Profile Image for Lydia.
396 reviews8 followers
February 18, 2022
How did the author manage to make such an interesting topic so mind numbingly boring??

So much time was wasted on minute details of movements of troops that could have been condensed, the author put massive quotations in French with no translation offered in most chapters (so who knows what all that meant), and the manner in which it was written was in turns patronising and lengthy obfuscating of events which could have been explained concisely. Also the constant references to "this researcher" or "a better author" are meaningless: the average reader (ie me) is hardly going to be able to extrapolate a specific individual from this, so just mention them by name! Another issue seems to be the author presents his own judgement and opinions as irrefutable fact in all but the last chapter (which has some small discussion of other interpretations)

Came back to reading this after a 2 year pause and let me assure you it had not improved one bit.
789 reviews28 followers
August 15, 2015
Informative, but it can be a slog. Campaign after campaign after campaign gets wearying for the reader (at least for this reader). Early on isn't so bad as he intersperses chapters on military campaigns with other ones - a chapter on the Mongol legal code, a chapter on the personality of Genghis and his kids, etc. But then it's just campaign after campaign.

The book could use more maps. There are some in the front, but they are rather broad/basic. Given the level of detail given on the campaigns throughout the books, the maps are insufficient.
Profile Image for Steve.
986 reviews45 followers
Shelved as 'abandoned'
September 17, 2020
Got about 15% through this book. Way too deeply detailed for me, at least in this phase of my life. Maybe I’ll pick it up again someday, who knows...
Profile Image for Edoardo Albert.
Author 51 books140 followers
December 17, 2019
Having read Lionheart and Lackland, Frank McLynn's enthralling twin biography of Richard the Lionheart and his younger brother John, I was looking forward to his life of the world's greatest ever conqueror, Genghis Khan. But while McLynn brought Richard and John and a cast of other characters (particularly the psychotic troubadour Bertran de Born) vividly to life in Lionheart and Lackland, he never achieves the same synthesis of historical scholarship and storytelling verve in this book. Genghis Khan and his band of generals remain obstinately stuck on the page rather than entering the reader's imagination: ciphers with an astonishing propensity to slaughter vast numbers of people. Maybe the problem is the one Hannah Arendt identified: evil tends to banality, and after slaughtering the inhabitants of yet another city for having the temerity to resist the Mongol onslaught, it all becomes, for the reader, a little tedious. Also, given the vast areas conquered and the part that rapid rides across difficult geographies played in the Mongol conquest, the book's allergy to maps is really rather puzzling. Many a page describing how the horde rode here, there and on could have been rendered superfluous and more understandable with a map. Still, the book is a solid overview of the conquests of the Khan and his immediate descendants.
Profile Image for Benny.
172 reviews14 followers
August 6, 2022
This is another book in which my rating dissents from the majority of readers on Goodreads. As an aspiring Chinese history buff, the conflict between the Han sedentary agriculturalists south of the Yellow River and the nomadic tribes in the Mongolian steppes has always gripped me as a young reader of history texts. For the most part, I have been reading about Mongolic tribes from Chinese sources. Refreshingly, Frank McLynn covered this rise of Genghis Khan comprehensively(ie. not Sino-centric), from his conquests of the Jurchens and the Tanguts in China, to the annihilation of cities in Khwarezmia and the Islamic world. One knock on the book is the use of less common transliterations for some of the Chinese cities and Mongolian generals(eg. Qubilai Khan vs Kublai Khan). The spelling of Khan also flipped back and forth between the modern spelling Khan and Khagan, an archaic Mongolian pronunciation.
Profile Image for Andy Miller.
843 reviews57 followers
June 20, 2016
This biography of Genghis Khan describes both Khan's military campaigns and Mongol life at the time of his rise and during the time he ruled most of the known world. The author, Frank McLynn, describes the unlikely and self made rise and contrasts it with Alexander the Great inheriting his father's army and empire, Cesar expanding an already existing empire as opposed to creating it, Napoleon building upon on an existing French state and French revolution fervor--while Khan started as just one man in one of many tribes in the Mongol area with no known history of Mongol success and unity.
A surprising amount of the biography and Khan's life dealt with Khan's battles with other tribes before he became Khan; in many ways they were more difficult and challenging than his later world conquests, it also showed Khan's shrewdness, his divide and conquer tactics which included whenever possible fighting one rival tribe at a time. We also see how Khan cemented his victory; he dispersed defeated warriors (the ones he didn't execute) away from their homeland and from each other to minimize the possibility of future coalescing and revolt and he rewarded his soldiers with plunder, both in material treasures and in the abduction and rape of women from other tribes
After Khan unified Mongolia he turned his attention to conquering neighboring countries including simultaneous wars against a divided China and a present day Iran whose ruler did not enjoy the full support of its people. Khan lead the campaign into Persia while his generals went to China. The Mongols took advantages of the weaknesses of both, often forming alliances with different parts of China while attacking another, especially the Jin empire and in Persia Khan encouraged defections from opposing armies
McLynn describes the brutality of the Mongol conquests. While they would sometimes spare cities and armies who offered no resistance but instead gave tribute, if there was any resistance the Mongols were unsparing in their brutality. Into a battle an opponent would offer terms of surrender which the Mongols would accept and following the surrender the Mongols would ignore their promise of terms and butcher entire populations, sparing only the artisans and skilled craftsmen to be sent to different corners of the Mongol empire and of course attractive women who were raped and then enslaved and taken as concubines.
The book continues with conquests of Russia, Hungary, Poland and other portions of present day Europe and describes Khan's strategy for preserving the empire which includes the need for never ending conquest to obtain additional spoils for the ever increasing number of Khan's commanders and allies.
McLynn ends with what he describes as a balanced summary of Khan's life including his brutality in battle (thought put in context with comparable treatment by other armies of the time) with the "progressive" aspects of Mongol life in Khan's time; religious tolerance, allowing for cultural diversity, the treatment of Mongol woman which included numerous positions of leadership. I am somewhat unconvinced by this balance. There were many cities conquered by Khan that did not practice similar brutality and did not seek conquest by others, his murder of surrendered armies and cities was not widely practiced elsewhere, Khan was motivated by his concern of insufficient numbers of Mongols which lead to a genocidal reduction of potential enemies. Similarly, his religious tolerance resulted from his indifference to religion and a motivation to use it to obtain cooperation from conquered peoples. While Mongol woman may have treated with equality not seen in contemporary and even later societies, it has to be considered in light of the treatment of non Mongol woman who served as rape victims and enslaved concubines and ways of exacting revenge and deterring future opposition. But credit to McLynn, my somewhat different conclusions come only because McLynn wrote such a thorough, detailed biography that gives the reader the information to make its own decsions
Profile Image for Paul.
219 reviews2 followers
September 3, 2017
I’ve always had a soft spot for Genghis. He always seemed like a man who did not understand the word no, who simply did not know how to give up, who would take what he wanted, preferably when he wanted, but if not, he would come back later and take it. Apart from the basic knowledge, one of my earliest experiences of Genghis was in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, not a classic historical study, but a film that did make me think about figures of the past that I would love to meet if I had the chance.
Next up was Conn Iggulden’s Conqueror series, a fictional series of Genghis’s life, although largely based on fact, it gave me a much broader understanding of Genghis, although from what I remember, and correct me if I’m wrong Conn, painted him in an entirely flattering light.
But I heard rumours, I saw odd excerpts of his more dastardly actions, the mass killings and destruction of cities, he was, they claimed, terrible. A cruel despot who sated his blood lust with an orgy of death.

The Man Who Conquered The World is a detailed, richly painted narrative of Genghis’s life. From his early days of Temujin to the ruler of the biggest empire in the world.
The sheer number of names to remember means as a casual reader it can be difficult to keep up, there is a list of names at the beginning, and although I started flicking back to it at first, I soon gave up and lost myself in the endless stream of people, going back only occasionally if someone popped up who seemed of interest.

If you can put up with his tendency to use elaborate terms when more simple ones would suffice, which irritated me a lot more than I thought it would, McLynn’s book contains an abundance of information, set down in an informative if not mostly entertaining way. He details the sources of his information, pointing out where they are likely to be accurate or biased and the reasons for this, and where there is no information available, his assumptions seem well founded and reasonable.

Genghis took a fractured nomadic people and united them into an unstoppable war machine that conquered and subsumed entire populations, separating the artists from everyone else, but absorbing the existing administration into the Mongol whole. The initial struggle to besiege Chinese cities was remedied by learning from and incorporating Chinese siege tactics and machines into the Mongol arsenal. From the beginning, his inclination to promote based on merit rather than heritage set him apart from the other Khans, including his childhood friend Jamuga, and also built him up an incredible group of generals and leaders, as well as administrators and vassals.

Chinqai’s administrative genius was twofold. First, he had to solve problems caused by the Mongol’s ignorance of sedentary populations. The Mongols were nomads and warriors and had no one trained for the task of administration. Nor were they linguists, and in their raw state they knew nothing of a money economy. They therefore had to depend on literate, multilingual members of the very nations they had conquered. Like the British in the nineteenth century, they had to rule vast numbers with a tiny bureaucratic force and like them depended on quislings and converts to the Mongol vision of global conquest.

After his ascendancy to Genghis Khan, Genghis built his empire on reward, knowing if he kept his army and his subjects in booty they were less likely to rebel or scheme against him. It was the main reason for the ever increasing expansion, and the main reason why, at times he massacred populations, it removed the risk of attack once his army had moved on, deeper into what was at the time, enemy territory, and also reduced the administrative burden on the relatively small native Mongol population. Cold? yes, Calculated? Certainly, but here was a man whose vision was black and white, there was little room for grey, and if there was, it wasn’t tolerated for long.

For me, perhaps the greatest achievement of Genghis was the promotion of the those who showed talent, regardless of where they came from. He was a great reader of men, and had no racial or religious prejudice. Effectively delegating the conquest of China to his favourite general Muqali, while taking his sons to conquer central Asia and the middle east, and sending Subedei and Jebe on a great raid that introduced Europe to the Mongols.

Subedei may have been the master strategist but there is no reason to dissent from the view that Jebe was ‘probably the greatest cavalry general in the history of the world’. Eight hundred years later the scale of his achievement with Subedei on their great raid is still astonishing. In three years the two captains and their men rode 5,500 miles – history’s longest cavalry raid – won seven major battles (always against superior numbers) and several minor engagements and skirmishes, sacked scores of cities and revealed the world of Russia and eastern Europe to Genghis. Subedei made sure that this would be no evanescent achievement by leaving behind him a whole cadre of spies and secret agents who would keep the Mongols informed of all future developments in the West.

These generals were given great power and responsibility by Genghis, and although he could be paranoid and capricious, he rewarded handsomely those who served him well. There were times when some were rewarded perhaps more than they should have been and others, inexplicably not given the rewards they deserved. There were other flaws of course, Genghis was by no means perfect, and there were a few he indulged a little too much or for a little too long, particularly his family. Although he was furious with them if they did not do as instructed or rebelled against him, in some cases they were given leeway to repeat their transgressions two or three times.

Despite his abilities as a tactician, leader and strategist, his detail on organisation of his army, down to the night guards that protected him as he slept, the operation of the army, that could be split in two but regroup in less than a day, McLynn posits that potentially the ‘Mongol’ empire or conquest was likely to fail, in that they had to always expand and conquer due to their nomadic lifestyle and Genghis’s reward system. Eventually they would have run out of territory to conquer or would have had to become sedentary, giving up the nomadic lifestyle which had given them their tactical advantage. After his death, the empire was divided between his sons, which went on to cause civil war as, growing up in a world where the strongest take what they want, they jostled for the top position.

So, after reading a good 500 pages, is my soft spot still there? Yes. Genghis was someone who had vision, and an unwavering belief in what he wanted, and felt, he was meant to, achieve. Ultimately he achieved it all, at great cost to those in his way, but to great reward for those that aided him. McLynn’s book does well to reveal the man behind the legend.
(blog review here)
Profile Image for Chronics.
59 reviews4 followers
August 14, 2018
Frank McLynnn chronicles the life of Genghis from his early years as Temujin to his conquests as Genghis. The level of detail, for anyone who doesn't already know the chronology of Genghis's life, turns this into a genuine page-turner that almost seems like a fictional medieval fantasy.

Starting with a little historical background about Mongolia, which is essential to understanding the environment into which Genghis was born, McLynn proceeds with the story of his early years, fraternal power struggles and rise to power within Mongolia. There is a particularly interesting subplot around what would be called his "blood brother" Jamuga. The second half of this biography focuses on the expansion of the Mongolian empire into China and central Asia, detailing the military aspects (which seems to be the author's expert field) as well the bureaucratic necessities and social changes that inevitably occur with such rapid expansion.

The number of battles is staggering and at times their is an air of monotony but it would be pretty difficult to totally avoid this. The author also seems to have an affinity to referencing other historic characters and battles that many readers will simply not know about, added to his persistent use of phrases such as "guerre a outrance", "in terrorem", "casus belli" etc with no explanation of what the phrases mean can become a bit tiresome (if like me you are not a foreign language expert) and there are at least a few of these in every chapter. Some of the conclusions he makes are either inaccurate or unproven, a prime example being that Genghis may have died from cancer caused by falling of his horse. In summary, this is a thoroughly researched book which I greatly enjoyed and would recommend to anyone wanting to learn about the life of Genghis and his immediate successors.
728 reviews7 followers
May 24, 2016
A full recounting of the time- less than a hundred years in the 13th century- when Genghis Khan and his son Ogodei conquered much of Asia and Europe. The secrets of their military success were; speed of attack, superior intelligence of the opposition and an ability to improvise. They loved the use of the feigned retreat. They taught themselves siegecraft in order to attack walled cities and had rudimentary explosives when no one else did. McLynn believes the Mongols produced three generals who are among the greatest strategists of all time and that the extension of the empire into Europe was never planned but rather circumstantial it started with a grudge Genghis had with a Central Asian potentate and carried on from there. China was always the main prize for the Mongols. Author does very well to make interesting what could have been a blizzard of names, dates and battles.
Profile Image for Daniel.
933 reviews4 followers
September 11, 2017
An interesting subject made a bit dry by plodding writing. That with the authors tendency to regurgitate huge amounts of names be it tribes or people and then only reference them on one or more occasions made the book a bid of a bore. There were also a few factual assertions that were just plain wrong, though to be honest I didn't even denote them because I was pretty bored at that point. As someone who loves this particular time period and subject matter I cant recommend this book to any but the most completest of people. The author did do a yeoman's job of the chronology of the Mongol conquest and had a few interested asides here and there, this did not however make up for the writing style.
January 12, 2021
Although clearly well researched and containing some well written sections, this book suffers from trying to do too many things. What start out as brief detours to provide context too often turn into lengthy discussions jumping backwards and forward in time on the history and politics of individuals and nations throughout Europe and Asia, reducing Genghis Khan to a bit player for large chunks of a book bearing his name.
Alternately reading as a biography of Genghis Khan, a history of Mongolian conquests and a critique of other historians' work on the subject, the book would have been much more illuminating and readable if the author had committed to any one of the three.
Profile Image for Prasanna.
83 reviews18 followers
December 27, 2015
The author gives you a detailed view of the harsh Mongol terrain and their culture. Their heavy dependence on erratic weather conditions and difficult life as nomads. The author also talks about significant actions and happenings in the surrounding kingdoms and the political situation which helps paint a complete picture of the Mongolian world in the early 13th century. ~ http://bookreviews.infoversant.com/ge...
Profile Image for Stewart Cotterill.
199 reviews3 followers
September 24, 2017
Rather than say I finished this book I'm having to say I'm finished with this book. It is, so far, the only book I've ever not finished, and that's saying something considering I read Madam Bovery for a book club meeting.

This is not an entry level book for those who are interested in the life of Genghis Khan. For those who are more familiar with him and the Mongol works then this book could be for you.

I really did try to read this book and managed 276 pages, but I've been defeated!
Profile Image for Joseph Spuckler.
1,510 reviews22 followers
October 8, 2020
Genghis Khan: His Conquests, His Empire, His Legacy by Frank McLynn is a detailed history of Asia's most famous ruler. McLynn is a British author, biographer, historian and journalist. He is noted for critically acclaimed biographies of Napoleon Bonaparte, Robert Louis Stevenson, Carl Jung, Richard Francis Burton and Henry Morton Stanley. He was Alistair Horne Research Fellow at St Antony's College, Oxford (1987–88) and was visiting professor in the Department of Literature at the University of Strathclyde (1996–2001) and professorial fellow at Goldsmiths College London (2000–2002) before becoming a full-time writer

There is hardly a person who has not heard the name Genghis Khan. The Mongols have been a namesake to rock bands and biker gangs. They both invoke powerful images of violence, discipline, empire, and military conquest. He was a man that lived eight hundred years ago but has one of the most detailed histories of the period. This is the second biography and history of the Mongols I have read and at 704 pages, it was much shorter than the other biography I read. There is certainly not a lack of information on Genghis Khan.

Like Ivan IV of Russia and Machiavelli, their negative information in common culture far exceeds any positive information. The truth of the matter is different. Although the Mongols under Genghis Khan were responsible for many massacres, they had rules. For example, they highly valued diplomatic emissaries and to kill one was a great insult. They openly accepted and valued new religions in their lands. However, the killing of all the residents of the city over ten years old, except for select artisans and harem women is true. Genghis Khan did deploy a “surrender or die” ultimatum to cities. Those that did not surrender were destroyed. Those that did surrender and came to a tribute agreement were left alone. Gaining land without losing warriors was always preferred. Trade became important too with the agreement with the Venetians and bringing the Silk Road under Mongol control.

Genghis Khan cover the life of Temujin from his birth to his rise to Khan of all Khans. The road was not easy it is a story of alliances, friendships, and conquests in small steps. It is also a story of creating a society under laws and codes and balancing that with dictatorial rule. One of his first tasks as Khan was to set up a civil government and military. Genghis Khan used meritocracy to fill in the ranks. It was not uncommon for shepherds to become military leaders based on experience. Many rules of the society were practical for people living on the steppes. Rules around running water were interesting in what was considered polluting it. Water had an almost supernatural quality to it for the people of the steppes. A wide variety of “crimes” carried the death penalty on the steppes including polluting running water, slaughtering animals in an improper way, assisting an escaped slave, adultery, and horse thievery.

The author offers some interesting information on the way the westward expansion stopped. Having conquered the east to the Pacific Ocean, the westward expansion stopped in Europe. There are many theories discussed in the book on why the Mongols did not continue, but one strikes me as the most interesting. The Mongols were practical people. They lived and conquered on the steppes, it was their universe. The forests of Europe to them would be considered a wasteland to them. The land was not useful to their way of life and they saw no reason to fight for it. That, however, is only one of many theories.

McLynn gives a very detailed, but very readable history of Genghis Khan and the Mongol Empire. The book contains information on troops, captured, treasures, military tactics, and information that seems to come from government records on the numbers of animals, economic, and even environmental information. The history cover Temujin life and the empire through Kublai Khan and the final conquest of China. Very well worth the read for the historical insight and an understanding of the people.
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