Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World

Rate this book
La biografía definitiva del fundador del imperio más grande de la historia. En veinticinco años, Gengis Kan y sus ejércitos mongoles conquistaron más que los romanos en cuatro siglos, y fundaron el imperio más extenso que el ser humano ha visto nunca. Nacido Temuyín, un paria de las estepas, el hombre destinado a hacer historia como Gran Kan de los mongoles conquistó todos los territorios sobre los que posó la vista: desde Georgia y Armenia hasta Corea. Gengis Kan se erigió como un líder inesperadamente moderno: abolió las torturas, garantizó la libertad religiosa y destruyó los sistemas feudales basados en el privilegio aristocrático. Cuando nació, con un coágulo de sangre en la mano, su madre predijo que aquel niño cambiaría el rumbo del mundo, y así fue: Gengis Kan unificó a todas las tribus mongolas de las estepas y transformó su modo de vida; creó el ejército más eficaz del medievo, abrió rutas comerciales que conectaron el mundo conocido y fundó un imperio que se extendía desde Europa hasta Asia oriental. Sus sucesores fueron reyes, kanes y emperadores en China, India y Rusia, y su legado fue imperecedero. Desde los inicios de la vida de Gengis Kan y su ascenso y transformación del mundo tribal de las estepas hasta la explosión civilizadora del Imperio mongol, este brillante ensayo de Jack Weatherford, antropólogo especialista en historia mongola, nos cuenta la épica historia de cómo se forjó el mundo moderno.

312 pages, Paperback

First published March 16, 2004

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Jack Weatherford

19 books576 followers
Jack McIver Weatherford is the former DeWitt Wallace Professor of anthropology at Macalester College in Minnesota. He is best known for his 2004 book, Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World. His other books include The History of Money; Indian Givers: How the Indians of the Americas Transformed the World; and The Secret History of the Mongol Queens: How the Daughters of Genghis Khan Rescued His Empire.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
27,700 (39%)
4 stars
26,208 (36%)
3 stars
11,754 (16%)
2 stars
3,086 (4%)
1 star
2,192 (3%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 3,720 reviews
Profile Image for Lee Broderick.
Author 4 books70 followers
July 18, 2014
This gets two stars instead of one because it's very well written. Factually, however, it's abysmal.

If you want a light, easy and entertaining read, you won't be disappointed. If you'd like to learn about Mongolian history however, I can only urge you not to read this book. A better bet would be the eminently more reliable, but still readable The Mongols by David Morgan.

It suffers from many of the faults common to revisionist history - starting out with a good point but over-exaggerating to the point of wilful ignorance of available evidence. What makes that particularly irritating in this instance is that it's not entirely necessary. Ghengis Khan was not a blood-thirsty barbarian, few scholars would dispute that these days. By the same token, Jack Weatherford is not a historian.

Edit: I'm taking away one of the stars: its factual innacuracies are dangerous and should outweigh any entertainment value that the book has.
Profile Image for Dem.
1,190 reviews1,131 followers
March 3, 2018
Having listened a couple of years kago to the 5 Star captivating and detailed podcast by Funjokyk Dan Carlin - HardCore HistroyWrath of the KhansWrath of the Khans (Hardcore History, #43-47) by Dan Carlin I became fascinated with Genghis Khan and when this book came up on my recommendation feed in GoodReads I decided to revisit this period in history

The Mongols existed during the 13th and 14th centuries and was the largest contiguous land empire in history. They were experienced rulers way ahead of their time not only in in military terms but also in trade and agriculture and without doubt have played a major part in making of the modern world. They were ruthless beyond belief and left devastation in their wake where ever they conquered. This is a very well researched account that explores the sheer domination of Genghis Khan and the Mongol Empire of 1000 years ago.
This book does in my opinion however tend to learn towards painting a more favourable picture of how great the Mongols were and the positive aspects of their reign and this is extremely interesting too as they are believed to be responsible for the making of the modern world with the introduction of paper currency, improvements lin trade and agriculture and the tolerance of allowing their subjects to practice different religions as long as they prayed for the ruling families.

While I enjoyed this book I do highly recommend Dan Carlin and his Wrath of the Khans podcast for its meticulous research but above all the way he brings history to life in a manner I have never encountered before and encourages the listener to think outside the box.
Enjoyed this book as its interesting, easy to read, factual and even if you don't have an interest in history I think this account will intrigue and fascinate any reader. I always love when a book teaches the reader new things.
Profile Image for Debbie W..
763 reviews570 followers
May 21, 2023
Why I chose to read this book:
1. I purchased it a few years ago after reading a fascinating book review in a magazine; and,
2. I thought it would make a fine ending to my "Nonfiction Month" in May 2022!

1.a well-researched book about Genghis Khan and his descendants - some information surprised me! I thought that Mr. Khan was a ruthless, barbaric man with a penchant for horrific torture, but author Jack Weatherford skillfully debunks this myth through extensive research...
"Genghis Khan would be more accurately described as a destroyer of cities than a slayer of people, because he often razed entire cities for strategic reasons in addition to revenge or to provoke fear."
Instead, Weatherford consistently demonstrates Genghis Khan's outstanding leadership skills and achievements which have been largely overshadowed throughout history by his nasty reputation...
"Civilizations that had once been separate worlds unto themselves and largely unknown to one another, had become part of a single intercontinental system of communication, commerce, technology, and politics.";
2. not only does Weatherford describe the Mongol's rise to power, he also outlines how and why it eventually collapsed;
3. along with a "Selected Bibliography" and pages of footnotes, I especially appreciated the very helpful inclusion of a family tree and various maps;
4. this book is written as a biographical/historical narrative, which I found to be an uncomplicated read (albeit a long one for various personal reasons); and,
5. as a female reader, I was most gratified that Weatherford included a chapter about the Mongol women in Genghis Khan's family by describing their roles as regents (Note: Weatherford has also authored a book specifically about these women titled The Secret History of the Mongol Queens: How the Daughters of Genghis Khan Rescued His Empire).

1. I caught some minor grammatical errors (blame the teacher in me!); and,
2. maybe it was just me, but sometimes I felt that Weatherford contradicted himself. For example, to say that Khan didn't impose the Mongol lifestyle on conquered people, but instead that he "applied innovative techniques" to these defeated nations, well, that sounds the same thing to me - one word just sounds like a nicer version than the other.

Overall, this is a MUST READ for history fans, especially of ancient Asia!
Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,564 reviews35 followers
February 12, 2021
Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World, Jack Weatherford

Illustrator: S. Badral, Cover artist: Stapleton collection/Corbis, Country: United States, Language: English, Genre: History/ Biography, Publisher: Crown and Three Rivers Press, Publication date: 2004, Media type: Print, Pages: 312, ISBN: 0-609-80964-4

Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World (2004) is a history book written by Jack Weatherford, Dewitt Wallace Professor of Anthropology at Macalester College.

It is a narrative of the rise and influence of Genghis Khan and his successors, and their influence on European civilization. Weatherford provides a different slant on Genghis Khan than has been typical in most Western accounts, attributing positive cultural effects to his rule.

The book suggests that the western depiction of the Mongols as savages who destroyed civilization was due to the Mongols' approach to dealing with the competing leadership classes.

The Mongols practiced killing the ruling classes in order to subdue the general population, a technique used by other cultures as well.

Survivors of the upper classes wrote the histories and expressed resentment of Mongol brutality toward them. Weatherford explores the Mongol treatment of the general population (peasants, tradesmen, merchants) under Mongol rule.

He suggests their rule was less burdensome than that of European nobility due to lighter taxes, tolerance of local customs and religions, more rational administration, and universal education for boys.

تاریخ نخستین خوانش روز یازدهم ماه فوریه سال 2021میلادی

عنوان: چنگیزخان و بنای جهان نوین (چکیده کتاب)؛ نویسنده: جک وردرفورد؛ مترجم فاطمه قراگزلی؛ تهران: انتشارات قافیه‏‫، ‏‫1398؛ در 28ص؛ موضوع بیوگرافی چنگیز خان مغول از نویسندگان ایالات متحده آمریکا - سده 21م

این کتاب نشان میدهد، که تصویر غربیها از مغولها، به عنوان وحشیانی که تمدن را، نابود کردند، ناشی از رویکرد مغولها، در برخورد با طبقات رهبری رقیب خویش بوده؛ مغولان کشتار طبقات حاکم را، انجام میدادند، تا مردمان آن دیار را، تحت سلطه ی خود درآورند، روشی که فرهنگهای دیگر نیز، از آن سود میبردند، و میبرند؛ بازماندگان طبقات بالا هستند که، تاریخ را نوشته اند و مینویسند، و از توحش مغول، نسبت به خود، ابراز کینه کرده اند و میکنند؛ «ودرفورد» رفتار مغولان را، با مردمان (دهقانان، بازرگانان، و تاجران) تحت سلطه ی مغولها، بررسی میکنند؛ ایشان اظهار میدارند؛ که به دلیل مالیات سبکتر، تحمل آداب و رسوم، و آیینهای محلی، و اداره کردن منطقیتر حکومت، حکمرانی مغولها، بهتر از اشراف اروپا، بوده است

نویسنده، شخصیت «چنگیزخان مغول»، جنگ‌ها، و کشور‌گشایی‌های او را، از زاویه ‌ای متفاوت، مورد بررسی قرار داده، و تأثیرات مثبت او را، بر آینده، و شکل‌گیری همین دنیای مدرن، شرح می‌دهد؛ همواره در تاریخ، شنیده و خوانده ‌ایم، که «چنگیز‌خان» و قوم مغول، غارت‌گر، و خون‌ریز بوده اند، و در هر کجا، که پای بگذاشته ‌اند، جز ویرانی، و مصیبت، اثر دیگری از خود، بر جای نگذاشته اند؛ بسیاری از ما، همواره پدیده‌ ها را، سیاه یا سفید می‌بینیم؛ آدم‌ها، یا خوبند و یا بد، یا دوست هستند، و یا دشمن، یا دانا، و یا نادانند؛ اما رنگی، به ‌نام خاکستری نیز، وجود دارد؛ آنچه در این کتاب، می‌خوانید، شرح اثر گذاری‌های «چنگیزخان»، بر جهان دیروز، و امروز است؛ از نظر نویسنده، کشور گشایی‌های «چنگیز‌خان»، همواره با نبوغ او، در عرصه‌ های گوناگون، همراه بوده، و بر گسترش علم و فناوری در جهان، تأثیر به ‌سزایی بگذاشته است؛ «جک ودرفورد»، تاریخ پژوه «آمریکایی»، در این کتاب، «چنگیز خان» را، به‌ عنوان یکی از عوامل پدید آمدن بسیاری از زیرساخت‌های اجتماعی، اقتصادی، علمی و...؛ در جهان؛ و سبب دگرگونی مسیر تاریخ، معرفی می‌کنند؛ ارتش «چنگیزخان»، با کمتر از یکصد هزار سرباز، در مدت بیست و پنج سال، امپراطوری بسیار پهناور، و مقتدری را، شکل دادند؛ توانایی‌های گسترده، و نبوغ ویژه ‌ای که، رهبر مغول‌ها داشت، سبب ایجاد یک نظم نوین جهانی، و گسترش قانونمندی، در جهان شد؛ «چنگیز خان» قانون را، بر رأی، و نظر خود، ارجح می‌دانست؛ «ودرفورد»، با استناد بر منابع، و شواهد تاریخی، نشان می‌دهد، که حکومت مغول‌ها، چگونه مرز‌های خلاقیت، علم و دانش، فناوری، و آزادی بیان، و اندیشه را، جا‌بجا کردند؛

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 23/11/1399هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
Profile Image for George.
60 reviews46 followers
March 11, 2017
"Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World" by Jack Weatherford is both an account of the life and empire of Genghis Khan (1162-1227) and, unfortunately, a series of unsubstantiated claims about the empire's positive contributions to the world.

I wanted to like this book but, the more I read, the more I was bothered by what seem to me to be unsubstantiated and "over the top" claims by the author. Since I know little about Asian history, I can only assume that the first part of the book is a fairly conventional account of the life and conquests of Genghis Kahn. However, from about the end of the first part of the book to its conclusion, I can say that Weatherford fails to provide evidence for several major claims he makes about world history.

Weatherford never mentions that the Empire of Genghis Khan and his sons and grandsons killed 30 to 40 million people.

Weatherford also downplays the fact that the Mongols brought slaughter, destruction, and misery to cities and villages from the Pacific Ocean to Eastern Europe and the Middle East for about one hundred years.

When Weatherford does mention some Mongol atrocity, he usually precedes or follows its description with a description of a worse atrocity committed by some European. And when he does mention a Mongol atrocity, many times he tries to give some rationalization for it. For example, Weatherford blames one of Genghis Kahn's daughter-in-laws for the decision to kill every man, woman, and child in a certain city - and to amass their severed heads into three corresponding piles.

According to Weatherford, the Mongols are "victims" of a smear campaign started by the Enlightenment Europeans. He doesn't seem to consider that the Europeans may have remembered their ancestors being burned alive in churches by the Mongol invaders. According to Weatherford, the Europeans should be grateful: "Although never ruled by the Mongols, in many ways, Europe gained the most from their world system."

Weatherford's main thesis/claim is that by improving the East-West trade routes across Asia, the Mongolian empire enabled the Europeans to benefit from the advanced culture of China much sooner than they would have without the Mongols.

I think it could be argued that the world would have been better off without the Mongol Empire and the 30 to 40 million deaths and destruction - and with a Europe that discovered Chinese technology a couple of centuries later.

Weatherford seems to have bought into Genghis Khan's propaganda that he wanted to unite the whole world in one empire under the Eternal Blue Sky.

I'll finish this review with a quote from the book that I think fairly summarizes Weatherford's thesis:

"In conquering their empire, not only had the Mongols revolutionized warfare, they also created the nucleus of the universal culture and world system. This new global culture continued to grow long after the demise of the Mongol Empire, and through continued development over the coming centuries, it became the foundation for the modern world system with the original Mongol emphasis on free commerce, open communication, shared knowledge, secular politics, religious coexistence, international law, and diplomatic immunity."

I do not recommend this book. I'm giving it two out of five stars rather than one star because I assume it provides the conventional account of Genghis Kahn and the Mongol Empire.

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars


Narrated by: Jonathan Davis, Jack Weatherford
Length: 14 hours and 19 minutes
Unabridged Audiobook
Release Date: 2010-02-16
Publisher: Audible Studios
Profile Image for Mike.
502 reviews378 followers
October 29, 2018
So while I rated this at three stars I don't want you to think this is not a good book or that you shouldn't pick it up. It is actually a rather good introductory book about Genghis Khan and the Mongols. It does a wonderful job discussing Genghis's early life (an area that I knew little about) and showed how the traumas of his youth (which were legion) influenced the man and empire builder he became. It was rather illuminating in that regard, even as it related the story of the Mongols I was already familiar with.
The tragedies his family endured seemed to have instilled in him a profound determination to defy the strict caste structure of the steppes, to take charge of his fate, and to rely on alliances with trusted associates, rather than his family or tribe, as his primary base of support.
My issue with the book was more due to it not holding up the promise of the title. It is clear that Weatherford has a great passion for Mongolian history but I fear he bit off more than he could chew with his title. I will certainly concede that the Mongolian Empire was unique for its time. The Mongols were always a minority where they ruled so they could not use the traditional tool of Empire building, the fist of the army, as their only strategy. Instead they had to adapt to the people they conquered and look everywhere they could for innovative means of preserving their power and influence.
Whether in their policy of religious tolerance, devising a universal alphabet, maintaining relay stations, playing games, or printing almanacs, money, or astronomy charts, the rulers of the Mongol Empire displayed a persistent universalism. Because they had no system of their own to impose upon their subjects, they were willing to adopt and combine systems from everywhere.


Without deep cultural preferences in these areas, the Mongols implemented pragmatic rather than ideological solutions. They searched for what worked best; and when they found it, they spread it to other countries. They did not have to worry whether their astronomy agreed with the precepts of the Bible, that their standards of writing followed the classical principles taught by the mandarins of China, or that Muslim imams disapproved of their printing and painting. The Mongols had the power, at least temporarily, to impose new international systems of technology, agriculture, and knowledge that superseded the predilections or prejudices of any single civilization; and in so doing, they broke the monopoly on thought exercised by local elites.
This universalist and pragmatic approach certainly generated qualities that we find in today's modern world: religious tolerance, secular governance, emphasis on technological achievement, paper money, state support of long distance trade, etc. But these qualities did not have any sort of lasting impact on the world. Because of their universalist outlook and light (for the times) footprint on their conquered populations the Mongol Empire left little in the way of lasting cultural achievements. Many were merely absorbed into the local culture even as Mongol Dynasties continued to rule. Their legacy was written by the people they conquered (China) or threatened (Europe) and that history did their legacy no favors.

All the trappings we now see as modern for the most part perished with the various successor Kingdoms. The Mongols may have shown hints of what the Modern World would becomes but they by no means set the world onto this path to modernity. In my opinion the book doesn't even make an effort to support its thesis, devolving more into a general history of the Mongols than offering some convincing through story of how they contributed to making the Modern world.

So don't approach this book expecting some grand theory of history with the Mongols providing some pivotal trans-civilizational transformation as I did. Instead, approach it as a really good, if broad, examination of how the Mongolian Empire came to be, was sustained, and ultimately shattered. In that light it is a good gateway book to deeper dives into the fascinating and unique Mongolian Empire.
Profile Image for Amina.
408 reviews155 followers
August 31, 2022
Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World is a book that needs to be an added supplemental reading for introductory world history courses. Although the author, Jack Weatherford, has a passionate lifelong commitment and obvious bias to the story of the Mongols, it still opened my eyes to all the accomplishments of the Mongols and their primary leader.

This book explores in great detail the rise and influence of Genghis Khan, as well as his successors over Europeans and much of the world. Weatherford provides a new-founded stance that leans towards all that Genghis Khan and his family did to improve nations. From creating a unified currency, to trade, to implementing education, as well as acquiring innovative agricultural inventions, the Mongols fought to be a world power. Moreover, it is interesting to learn that the Mongols were open to all religions and generally Genghis Khan had the idea that each nation he conquered would be free to practice religion as they saw fit.

According to Weatherford's lifelong commitment to the study of Mongols, Genghis Khan was in fact a human rights activist as well as a conquerer of lands, bringing together people that would otherwise have had no correspondence, ie Europe, Asia, and the Middle east.

The book takes a positive angle on a man that, in the majority of history books has only been seen as a gruesome and savage tyrant. One can argue that it is read through the lens of a non-western viewpoint. It examines the Secret History, which are stories of the Mongols that have until recently been hidden from public view. Weatherford does touch upon the brutal stance of many of the Mongol warriors, but he leaves the impression that Genghis was above the power struggle. He was said to have wanted to live a life humbly and not dwell on power and wealth to define him.

This book may be a part of revisionist history, but it also seems to be very well researched and thought provoking. Weatherford does touch upon the savagery of the Mongolians, but he does not dwell on this, which makes his argument all the more compelling.

It is quite disheartening to read some of the outlandish claims made by historians concerning the Mongols. Many of their opinions on Mongolian nomadic lifestyle were in sharp contrast to classic European style. There were also many claims made about their appearance, relating it to that of children with Down syndrome, which was absolutely abhorrent to read. The offensive and misleading idea that children with Down syndrome were referred to as Mongoloid.

Reading some of the more atrocious ideas about Genghis Khan and the rebuttals were definitely eye-opening.

Whether everything is perfectly proven is hard to say, yet I was moved by this biography and give it 5/5 stars.
Profile Image for Max.
347 reviews337 followers
June 29, 2016
Weatherford relates the remarkable story of Genghis Khan as told in The Secret History of the Mongols. Born in 1162, Genghis Khan grew up an uneducated outcast on the Asian steppes. He learned through harsh experience to be an astute judge of people, to be self-reliant and to be completely ruthless. He set his own traditions. He valued loyalty first followed by competence. Lineage and social standing did not matter. He was a great organizer and quick study, taking the best ideas from each society he conquered and weaving them into an unstoppable strategy for conquest. He conscripted anyone of value into his army or his capable administrative organization. Those left behind had to pay homage or be killed. While he consulted with his compatriots, he did not tolerate dissension from anyone. He disdained torture, but killed without compunction. Weatherford is clearly enamored with his subject as he lauds Genghis Khan’s resourcefulness while treating his mass killings and wholesale destruction matter-of-factly.

Genghis Khan forever changed the world. Prior to his reign, Europe, China and India were all isolated from each other. The Muslim (Arab, Turkic, and Persian) realm was the most advanced in literacy, education and in trade. What limited commerce existed between West and East went through the Middle East and made its way from tribe to tribe along the Silk Road south of the Mongol homeland. Genghis Khan would bring the world, its goods, ideas and technologies, together.

Genghis Khan’s original name was Temujin. After a tough childhood, he was able to take over the leadership of his own tribe. Then he started aligning with or defeating nearby tribes. This included the Tatar tribe, thus causing some Europeans later to refer to the Mongols as Tartars. In 1206 he adopted the name Genghis Khan, ruling a group of tribes that would be known as the Mongols. He constantly refined his strategies, adopting the weapons and tactics of his enemies as needed. He offered his adversaries the chance to submit before attacking. Many of them became his allies. Unlike the Europeans who killed of all the commoners and saved the nobility for ransom, Genghis Khan killed all the aristocrats and conscripted the commoners. His army grew. So did his administrative staff. Genghis Khan valued highly those with skills and they were welcomed.

In 1215 Genghis Khan defeated the important Jurched tribe sacking their capital in what is now Beijing. This victory gave him control of northern China and brought him in direct contact with the Sung dynasty in coastal and southern China. He did not take on the Sung because he was uncomfortable with the terrain and the humid hot climate. He headed west instead following the plains he felt at home in. In 1221 he defeated the large powerful Khwarezm Empire bringing him most of Central Asia and up against Russia and Europe.

After Genghis Khan’s death in 1227, his empire was split among his sons. One would occupy the role of Great Khan retaining central authority. Two major campaigns were launched, one against the Sung dynasty in China and one against Europe. The Chinese campaign weakened the Sung dynasty and took some outlying areas but failed in its goal to take China. However, the Mongols were very successful slaughtering European armies while advancing to the outskirts of Vienna in 1241 where the plains ended. Here the Mongols stopped. They had been taking in far less booty than in prior campaigns against the richer Asian societies. However the Mongols struck a deal with Genoese traders in Crimea selling Slavic prisoners for gold. The Genoese sold many of the prisoners to the Sultan of Egypt who used them in his army that would in twenty years defeat the Mongols.

After the indulgent and reckless rule of two of Genghis Khan’s progeny and years of infighting, Mongke Khan, one of Genghis Khan’s grandsons, became the Great Khan in 1251. Mongke, the last of the Great Khans, authorized two campaigns, one against the Moslem strongholds in the Middle East and the other against the Sung dynasty. In 1258 Mongke’s brother Hulegu accomplished what the crusaders never could. He victoriously entered Baghdad deposing the Caliph whose line had ruled for 500 years. Hulegu’s expansion would reach its limits when his army lost to the Egyptian Mamluk slave army in 1260. Following Mongke’s death in 1259 and after a prior tepid start, Mongke’s brother Kublai defeated the Sung in 1271. Kublai established the Yuan dynasty creating a new united China with all the territory it has today. Kublai would become increasingly preoccupied with food, drink and song. The Yuan dynasty would begin to decay, surviving another 100 years.

In 1293 the Mongol Empire reached its maximum extent. There were four separate Mongol domains. The Yuan dynasty ruled China, Tibet and Mongolia. The Ilkhanate consisted of Iraq, Iran and adjacent areas. The Golden Horde included southern Russia and Eastern Europe. The Chagatai Khanate occupied Central Asia connecting the other three. The Mongol empire although now broken into four distinct entities, stretched from Korea to Baghdad, from Viet Nam to Bulgaria. Each khanate was ruled by the decedent of an illiterate reject who a hundred years earlier roamed the hills between Siberia and the Gobi Desert.

In the early part of the 14th century, the khanates prospered. The Mongol trade links that connected China, India, the Middle East and Europe facilitated the infusion of new goods and ideas. But something sinister was also along for the ride, the plague, starting in China in 1331. China lost half its population in the next twenty years. The plague spread along the Mongol trade routes reaching Europe by 1347 which would lose a third of its people in the epidemic. Trade came to a halt. The khanates isolated themselves. Cut off from each other, eventually the Mongol leaders would be displaced or absorbed into local cultures. The Ming rebels took over in China in 1368 and built walls to keep others out and themselves in. They abandoned the sea trade Kublai Khan had started, stranding Chinese in ports around Asia. Only the Chagatai Khanate preserved Mongol traditions. In 1370 Tamerlane took over Chagatai. He fancied himself a descendant of Genghis Khan who would reestablish the Great Khan’s empire. Tamerlane went on to create his own Central Asian and Middle Eastern empire, but it quickly disintegrated after he died in 1405.

Today when the promise and the threat of globalization are top concerns, it is fascinating to read about how it all started. 800 years ago an itinerant animal herder from one of the remotest corners of the globe rose to create the largest contiguous empire the world has ever known. In so doing he brought together for the first time the developed cultures of the world. The new technology and ideas that had come from Asia to Europe over the past two centuries would pave the way for the Renaissance. The desire to reestablish trade with China is what drove Columbus to look for a route west. Since communications with China had ceased over 100 years before his voyage, he thought the Great Khans still ruled there. The drive towards greater economic integration would march forever forward, albeit with interruptions.

Weatherford, although clearly pro-Mongol biased, makes some compelling arguments about how much the modern world owes to the Mongol empire. His short history is easy to follow and full of interesting tidbits to keep the reader engaged. He provides a different perspective, not looking at the Mongols through the lens of the West. If any of this strikes your interest, then you should give Weatherford’s book a try.
Profile Image for Max Berendsen.
121 reviews72 followers
January 28, 2022
Despite being a bit biased in favor of the Mongols, this is a great introductory work for readers interested in Genghis Khan and the history of the Mongol Empire in general.

The book consists of two parts. Part one is a quite short, yet very informative biography of Genghis Khan from his early youth as a hunter on the steppe to his rule as emperor. Part two consists of the development of the Mongol Empire after his death. Focussing on the conquests of Russia, the Middle East and China. Furthermore it tells the story of Kubilai Khan's shaping of a new China, the eventual disintegration of the Mongol Empire and above all the influence which the Mongol Empire continues to exert over the world we live in today.

Being less then 300 pages long, this book still supplies the reader with all different kinds of general and niche knowledge on the Mongol world in a highly informative and entertaining way.
Profile Image for Sean Chick.
Author 5 books1,048 followers
June 22, 2020
This was a very depressing book. It confirms my belief that for people morality is less important than if someone is on your "team." For Weatherford, Genghis Khan is team globalization, so the book is really a long-form apologia for mass murder and conquest.

Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World is based on two pillars. One is the idea that the Mongols created the modern ethos of free trade, one world government, religious toleration, feminism (sort of), and learning. The other is that by comparison, the west was backward and savage, and our Renaissance was really less about Greek culture than it was about Mongol achievements. This would have been news to Thomas More.

Since the book was written during the peak optimism about globalization, it does not go much into why the Mongol experiment collapsed outside of blaming the plague. While it is a fair point, I offer one much more at odds with our philosophy of toleration: the Mongols had no unifying culture. Their ability to adapt to their surroundings was commendable and brilliant, but also their undoing. They were perpetual outsiders, rejected by the cultures they had conquered by blood and sword. This is not to say they did not leave a mark, but one is shocked by the rapidity of the collapse of their dynasties once under pressure. Apparently all the innovations Weatherford praises were not enough to prop them up; indeed he blames it on Mongols turning their backs on such tolerant wisdom. Yet, consider how our ethos of globalization is already fraying under pressure. A globalized ethos has no center. It is not tied to the history and culture of a people. When it fails, people lose faith fast and have their revenge. As it was with the Yuan Dynasty so it will likely be with the European Union.

Weatherford also takes a paradoxical approach to western civilization. On the one hand the west today is very much "Mongol" in its philosophy, yet he spares no moment to point out the superiority of the Mongol system to Europe, with anecdotal asides about torture in Europe and discussions of various racist ideas. I have my doubts here, considering that in discussing non-Mongol topics he is very error prone, such as the history of Baghdad and Soviet military tactics. Indeed, Muslin hatred for the Mongols is glossed over, either because he did not deem it important enough to study or it would be more politically incorrect than instead hitting academia's favorite whipping boy: Western Civilization. When Europeans do bad things, it is terrible (his passage on Louis IX is the book's low point) but when the Mongols torture people he usually says something like "they had it coming" or mentions it was just part of Mongol culture. May I say the same about witch burning and Jewish persecution? Are they not cultural? More to the point, the idea that Genghis Khan is the wellspring of contemporary ideas on rights is farcical. John Locke does not cite the great Khan anymore than Olympe de Gouges, David Hume, or a dozen other thinkers.

Weatherford downplays the devastation, particularly the sack of Baghdad. In doing so he excuses mass murder, rape, and conquest that mostly had no cause outside of greed and power. Temujin was a fascinating man, a great general, and even a law-giver on par with Solon. I find it hard to make him a hero of modernity unless we feel mass-death is fine so long as the peace is good. Next time you wonder why a person can defend Adolf Hitler, just keep in mind this book was published, became a bestseller, and received accolades. I have no doubt in the future this will be taught as an example of contemporary scholarly errors, much the way American historians constantly beat up the Dunning School which portrayed Reconstruction's attempt at racial justice as a tragedy.

Genghis Khan's men murdered millions and laid waste to some of the greatest cities of the era. They were tolerant in peace (although this is likely overstated) but could not create lasting dynasties. By 1350, the heirs of the great Khan only ruled in Russia and central Asia, which were areas more culturally attuned to their ways. One might say Chinese and Persian decline was due to turning away from the Mongol ethos, but more likely it was decades of war in which whole libraries were burned and populations eradicated. As even Weatherford briefly concedes, Europe gained the benefits of Mongol conquest without having to go through the violent meat-grinder suffered by China, Persia, and Russia. And the people of China, Persia, and Russia never forgot the experience.

So why two stars and not one? Weatherford is a fine writer. He is perceptive in explaining the ins and outs of Mongol politics and warfare. The chapter on Khublai Khan was excellent. I at least enjoyed reading this book even if I found it insufficient.
Profile Image for Jamie Smith.
495 reviews79 followers
June 14, 2020
The rise of Genghis Khan, the spread of his immense empire, the surprisingly farsighted policies he implemented, the intrigues of his successors, and the way Europe and Asia were changed in their wake make for an interesting book with lots of colorful characters and dramatic events. Genghis’s rise from an orphaned nobody dependent on the good will of others to absolute command of the largest empire in history is a remarkable story, a combination of intelligence, boldness, guile, and ruthlessness, and no doubt a good deal of luck as well.

He seems in many way to be almost an admirable character. Almost. That is, if you can overlook the dead bodies, the millions of people slaughtered from China to Hungary, from Russia to Iraq, entire cities laid waste and their populations put to the sword. And not just once or twice, but everywhere the Mongols went, because they viewed terror as a cheap alternative to combat. Kill everyone who attempts to oppose you and eventually you can scare the rest into surrendering, but you have to kill a lot of people for everyone else to decide that surrender and slavery is a better option than putting up a fight. By some estimates they killed 5% of the earth’s population at that time, and they left vast stretches depopulated. With a record like that, it’s hard to think of them as the good guys.

Mongolia was not a large place, and it was thinly populated since it takes a lot of territory to support a pastoralist lifestyle. As a result, after the first conquests actual Mongolians were a minority in the armies, which contained large numbers of affiliated troops, some from conquered peoples, some from allied nations, and some specialists, such as doctors, engineers, and siege warfare experts, from China and the West.

Their success depended on equal parts mobility, ferocity, superior equipment, and strategy. As a nation on horseback, they could move far faster than infantry-based armies, and their soldiers were trained from childhood to ride, shoot, and fight. They used the fearsome compound bow, which was lethal at longer ranges than the weapons of their opponents, and they could shoot behind themselves as accurately as they could shoot ahead. They also had a sophisticated communications system that allowed them to coordinate vast bodies of troops, and used it to avoid direct encounters and wherever possible sweep around their opponents’ flanks.

It helped that the armies they fought were poorly trained and equipped and badly led. For instance, in Russia the local nobles were so jealous of each other that they refused to name an overall commander; they attacked piecemeal and were destroyed piecemeal. In Hungary the nobles held back their troops even as the Mongols were at their doorstep to try to get additional concessions from the king. The Holy Roman emperor was at war with the pope, and was willing to let western civilization burn rather than accept a compromise. When the Mongols attacked Baghdad the caliph was so certain that the armies of Islam would come to his aid that he did not order the walls be repaired until literally the day before the city was attacked. In both their invasions of Europe and the Middle East, the only thing that stopped the Mongols was news of the death of the great khan, and the need for their leaders to return home to elect a new one. Had that not happened nothing would have stopped them from conquering all of Europe and the Middle East.

The empire they created, for those who were able to avoid death or slavery, was remarkable for its time. At a time when you could still get burned at the stake in Europe for minor theological disagreements, the Mongols tolerated all religions, so long as they obeyed the law. There was far more equality than anywhere else in the world, and they promoted polices that enhanced agriculture, trade, and education. It is hard to tell whether these policies were the result of far sighted political thinking, or if they just didn’t care about things like religions or personal freedoms, so long as the economy remained strong and the people loyal. In any case, within a few generations of Genghis’s death the empire was broken up into smaller kingdoms ruled by lesser khans, and the freedoms were gradually revoked.

The Mongol empire remains one of the greatest episodes of human history, and helped open up the world for trade and the exchange of ideas. Whether the price paid in blood for its success was worth it is up to the historians to debate, but this book is a fine introduction for anyone interested in this subject.
Profile Image for Vaishali.
1,042 reviews273 followers
January 13, 2022
A book 17 years in the making, packed with mind-numbing superlatives & spiced with a bit of the author's cheerleading. The latter aside, Genghis Khan's statistics stand on their own… and will thrill and bewilder you. Alexander? Caesar? Light-weights next to this titan... and it's not even close.

Massive Mongol Moments :

"In 25 years, the Mongol army subjugated more lands and people than the Romans had conquered in 400 years.”

“In American terms, the accomplishments of Genghis Khan might be understood if the United States… had been founded by one of its illiterate slaves who… liberated America from foreign rule… created an alphabet, wrote the constitution, established universal religious freedom… marched an army from Canada to Brazil… in a free-trade zone… On every level and from every perspective, the scale and scope… challenge the limits of imagination and tax the resources of scholarly explanation.”

“His entry into Bukhara followed the successful conclusion of possibly the most audacious surprise attack in military history. While one part of his army took the direct route from Mongolia to attack the sultan’s border cities head-on, he had secretly pulled and pushed another division of warriors over a distance longer than any army had every covered - 2000 miles… to appear deep behind enemy lines, where least expected.”

“… The Mongol military consisted entirely of cavalry, armed riders without a marching infantry… so they rarely fought… in hand-to-hand combat. The breath or odor of the enemy carried a part of his soul, and thus warriors sought to avoid the contamination…”

“…The Mongols easily rode and even fought on frozen lakes and rivers… the Volga and the Danube became highways for the Mongols, allowing them to ride their horses right up to the city walls during the season… Europeans least prepared for…”

“(Khan) ordered each man to set 5 camp fires every night on the hills where his army had camped. From a distance the small army appeared much larger, since they seemed to have ‘more fires than stars in the sky.’ “

“Khan’s first new law reportedly forbade the kidnapping of women, almost certainly a reaction to the kidnapping of his wife Borte… He forbade the selling of women into marriage. For the same reasons, he outlawed adultery…”

“He instituted a massive lost-and-found system that continued to grow as his empire spread. Any person who found such goods, money, or animals and did not turn them in… would be treated as a thief; the penalty for theft was execution.”

“In probably the first law of its kind anywhere in the world, Genghis Khan decreed complete and total religious freedom for everyone… To promote all religions, Genghis Khan exempted religious leaders and their property from taxation and all types of public service… he later extended the same tax exemptions to a range of professionals… including undertakers, doctors, lawyers, teachers, and scholars.”

“The Chinese noted with surprise and disgust the ability of the Mongol warriors to survive on little food and water for long periods… Each Mongol unit of 1000 traveled with its own medical unit, usually composed of Chinese doctors.”

“… Genghis Khan never asked his men to die for him… he waged war with this strategic purpose in mind: to preserve Mongol life… Unlike other generals… in history who easily ordered hundreds of thousands of soldiers to their death, Genghis Khan would never willingly sacrifice a single one…”

“The Mongols did not find honor in fighting; they found honor in winning. They had a single goal in every campaign : total victory.”

“While Europe, China, and India had only attained the level of regional civilizations, the Muslims came closest to having a world-class civilization with more sophisticated commerce, technology, and general learning, but because they ranked so high above the rest of the world, they had the farthest to fall. The Mongol invasion caused more damage here than anywhere else…”

“By August 1221… Mongol officials sent their Korean subjects a demand for 100,000 sheets of their famous paper. The volume of paper shows how rapidly Mongol record-keeping was increasing as the size of the empire grew…”

“The Mongols did not torture, mutilate, or maim… By comparison with the terrifying acts of civilized armies of the era, the Mongols did not inspire fear by the ferocity or cruelty of their acts so much as by the speed and efficiency with which they conquered…”

“Genghis Khan would be more accurately described as a destroyer of cities than a slayer of people, because he often razed entire cities… In a massive and highly successful effort to reshape the flow of trade across Eurasia, he destroyed cities on the less important or more inaccessible routes to funnel commerce… that his army could more easily supervise and control. To stop trade through an area, he demolished cities down to their very foundations.”

“Because bullion and coins proved bulky to transport, the Mongols created a system of paper money exchanges that made trade much easier and safer.”

“The Mongols planted trees along the sides of roads to shade the travelers in summer…”

“The Mongol army would fight campaigns that would stretch out over a distance of 5000 miles and more than 100 degrees latitude, a feat unmatched by any army until World War II…”

“Preparation for the campaign toward Europe required 2 years… The Mongols sent in small squads to probe enemy defenses and… identify valleys and plains that would best feed sheep or goats and.. cattle and horses. Where the natural grassland seemed inadequate, the Mongols opened up farmland… by sending in… soldiers to burn villages and farm settlements… Without farmers to plow and plant the land, it reverted to grassland before the main Mongol army arrived.”

“… A cadre of Mongol census takers followed the army to record the number of people, animals, and products seized… Then they sent thousands of prisoners to transport the goods back to Karakorum (the Mongol capital).”

“Because of ‘the enormous wickedness of the Jews’, Christians accused them of bringing the wrath of the Mongols… From York to Rome, angry Christian crowds attacked the Jewish quarters… set fire to Jewish homes and massacred the residents.”

“… In the mere 14 years since the death of Genghis Khan, all four of his sons had died… Khan’s grandsons raced home to continue their battles against each other in the quest to become the next Great Khan.”

“The European cities produced little loot… Disappointed with the material reward of their invasion and eager to show some profit, the Mongol officers struck a deal with the Italian merchants of Crimea… This began a long and lucrative relationship between the Mongols and the merchants of Venice and Genoa.”

“While the Mongol men stayed busy on the battlefield conquering foreign countries, women managed the empire.”

“On July 22, 1246… the first envoy arrived in the Mongol court from western Europe… (He) required nearly a year to cross Europe… Once in the Mongol transport system, however, (he) covered… 3000 miles in a mere 106 days...”

“The Mongols loved competitions of all sorts, and they organized debates among rival religions the same way they organized wrestling matches.”

“The Mongol army had accomplished in 2 years what the European Crusaders… had failed to do in 2 centuries of sustained effort. They had conquered the heart of the Arab world. No other non-Muslim troops would conquer Baghdad or Iraq again… until 2003.”

“Khubilai Khan’s genius derived from his recognition that he could not conquer all of China by mere force… He built a Chinese capital, took Chinese names, created a Chinese dynasty, and set up a Chinese administration. He won control of China by appearing to be more Chinese than the Chinese…”

“During the Mongol era, the whole complex of the Forbidden City was filled with gers (yurts), where members of the court often preferred to live, sleep, and eat… While Khubilai and his successors maintained public lives as Chinese emperors, behind the walls of the Forbidden City they continued to live as steppe Mongols.”

“…The Mongols reduced by nearly half the number of capital offenses in China - from 233 to 135. Khubilai Khan rarely allowed the use of execution for those offenses that remained… At the same time that the Mongols were moving to limit the use of torture, both church and state in Europe passed laws to expand its usage to an even greater variety of crimes for which there need be no evidence. Unlike the variety of bloody forms of torture such as stretching on a rack… crushed by a great wheel… impaled on spikes… various forms of burning… Mongols limited it to beating with a cane.”

“Criminals, and often their entire families, had to sign documents acknowledging receipt of the sentence… To preserve the record of the event, fingerprints were taken…”

“… A diverse set of administrators… included Tibetans, Armenians, Khitan, Arabs, Tajiks, Uighurs, Tangut, Turks, Persians, and Europeans. The Mongols staffed each office with an ethnic quota… so that each official was surrounded by men of a different culture or religion.”

“The record of the Mongol dynasty lists 20,166 public schools created during Khubilai Khan’s reign.”

“Mongol authorities distributed an early type of combined passport and credit card… Depending on which metal was used and the symbols… illiterate people could ascertain the importance of the traveler and thereby render the appropriate level of service.”

“As ruler… in Persia, Hulegu still had 25,000 households of silk workers in China under his brother Khubilai… Each lineage in the Mongol ruling family demanded its appropriate shares of astronomers, doctors, weavers, miners, and acrobats. Khubilai owned farms in Persia and Iraq… Clerics traveled throughout the empire checking on the goods in one place and verifying accounts in another. The Mongols in Persia supplied their kinsman in China with spices, steel, jewels, pearls, and textiles, while the Mongol court in China sent porcelains and medicines to Persia.”

“The failed invasions of Japan and Java taught the Mongols much about shipbuilding… In the first years, Mongols moved some 3000 tons by ship, but by 1329 it had grown to 210,000 tons.”

“… As early as 1226… Genghis Khan… allowed the Genoese to maintain a trading station at the port of Kaffa… To protect these stations on land and sea, the Mongols hunted down pirates…. A commercial handbook published in 1340 (by) the Florentine merchant Francesco Balducci Pegolotti stressed that the routes to Mongol Cathay were “perfectly safe, whether by day or by night.”

“By responding to the needs of a universal market, the Mongol workshops in China eventually were producing… images of the Madonna and the Christ Child carved in ivory for export to Europe.”

“Mongol authorities had specific instructions from the central government to seek out astronomers… in each newly conquered land… These included Jamal ad-Din, who was one of the most brilliant astronomers of the era; he brought with him the blueprints for major astronomical devices and new means of scientific measurement unknown in China.”

“The number of books in print increased so dramatically that their price fell constantly throughout the era of Mongol rule. Presses throughout the Mongol empire were soon printing agricultural pamphlets, almanacs, scriptures, laws, histories, medical treatises, new mathematical theories, songs, and poetry in many different languages.”

Profile Image for Lara.
20 reviews
February 22, 2011
This might be my favorite book of all time. It's as fascinating as a history book or biography can get while also being a terrific read. From the first page, you are immersed in understanding how an illiterate steppe warrior became ruler of an empire larger than Africa. Perhaps most enticing to me are the ways in which the survival strategies of steppe nomads influenced the ethics of rulership and the cunning development of military tactics. I recommend this book to anyone with a sense of curiosity, whether you typically enjoy reading history or not.
Profile Image for Heidi The Reader.
1,389 reviews1,470 followers
August 31, 2021
"Fate did not hand Genghis Khan his destiny; he made it for himself." pg 9, ebook

Author Jack Weatherford follows the Mongol empire from Genghis Khan to his grandson, Khubilai, and on to the distant descendants and faded glory of a once-great kingdom.

The early years of Genghis Khan's life were the most interesting part of this book. However, this history relies on a single text, The Secret History of the Mongols, which was written in code, filled with exaggerations and inflated numbers (perhaps as propaganda) and still has not been thoroughly interpreted.

So, Genghis Khan, the historical personage, remains a shadowy figure. On the other hand, Weatherford opines that Genghis Khan's empire had long lasting effects even to the present day.

"Seemingly every aspect of European life- technology, warfare, clothing, commerce, food, art, literature, and music- changed during the Renaissance as a result of the Mongol influence." pg 14

Because the Mongols subjugated so many people, they controlled huge areas of the world and facilitated trade among different kingdoms. Weatherford writes that the Mongols didn't press their culture upon the peoples they conquered (like the Romans) but adopted and adapted pragmatic customs and manners of civilization from everybody they ran into.

This diversity made the empire strong. For a little while.

But as the years passed, Genghis Khan's descendants began to suffocate under the weight of this sprawling empire. They squabbled among themselves and spent lavishly on entertainment and comfort.

Their social policies weren't as open as their patriarch's. Notably, some of the rulers began to torture and abase their enemies, something that was not practiced during Genghis Khan's time according to Weatherford.

Plague further divided the empire as the world's populations decreased and trade faltered. The empire's ending wasn't a clear cut cessation, but more of a slow descent into darkness.

As a student of history, I was fascinated by the relatively recent disappearance of Genghis Khan's Spirit Banner, a ceremonial spear with strands of horse hair braided atop it. It was a potent symbol of the Mongol's strength and leadership.

"Somewhere in the 1960s, eight centuries after the birth of Genghis Khan, his sulde, the Spirit Banner that he had carried across Eurasia, disappeared from where the Communist authorities had kept it. ... others hope that just perhaps the sulde lies forgotten in some dusty basement or bricked-up room from which it will, one day, be brought out to lead and inspire the Mongols once again." pg 199, ebook

Rather like the Arc of the Covenant at the end of an Indiana Jones movie.

Genghis Khan arguably wasn't the only conqueror whose empire shaped the modern world, but Weatherford has convinced me that he's one of the big ones.

Recommended for readers who love history, particularly Mongol military history, as this book is heavy on that.
Profile Image for saïd.
6,317 reviews976 followers
April 19, 2023
Do you ever get the urge to learn more about a ridiculous conspiracy theory like, for example, “the Holocaust was faked” or “the Holodomor was faked” or—well, I think you’re seeing the trend here—simply because you don’t understand why someone would genuinely believe something like that? Genocide denialism is fascinating from a sociological perspective, but less so from the perspective of someone in an academic field trying to combat misinformation.

Jack Weatherford is an anthropologist, not an historian, and certainly not an academic with any sort of speciality in Mongolian history. To be fair, neither am I; however, unlike Weatherford (apparently), I am capable of actually checking sources rather than cherry-picking them to support a predetermined opinion.

Estimates vary as to the actual death toll of Chinggis Khaan’s rule, but the most conservative estimate is four million deaths, and the average settles somewhere between 40–60 million. This destruction on such a broad and unprecedented scale, accounting for around 11% of the total global population at the time, resulted in massive demographic changes, drastic population decline, and physical changes to the landscape as a result of famine, warfare, mass relocation, and technological advancement. For example, the population census of 1195 CE recorded around 50 million people in Northern China, which dropped drastically to only 8.5 million in the Mongol census of 1235 (although a certain percentage of these deaths can be attributed to plague, it bears remembering that the Mongol armies deliberately spread disease as a form of warfare, and were one of the driving forces behind the spread of the Black Death). Overall, Chinggis Khaan’s conquest was marked by widespread and wholesale devastation, mass murder, and obliteration of entire populations. The final military campaign led by the Khaan, the second attack on the Western Xia (西夏), was marked by such widespread and total annihilation of the Western Xia that the historical record of the Western Xia has been almost entirely wiped clean, despite a flourishing empire with over three million people at its peak. Military campaigns under Chinggis Khaan’s rule killed up to three-fourths of the population in the Iranian Plateau, some 10–15 million people, with some historians estimating that Iran’s population did not reach its pre-Mongol levels until the mid-twentieth century. Indeed, the Mongolian invasions of Iran marked the beginning of a two-century period known in Iran and surrounding areas as the Mongol catastrophe. During the conquest of Khwarezmia, the Khaan’s forces destroyed the cities of Bukhara, Samarkand, Herāt, Ṭūs, and Neyshābūr, killing their entire urban populations. Some historians estimate that the population of Persia decreased by 90% as a result of Mongolian invasion. Around 50% of the population of Kievan Rus’ (roughly equivalent to modern Ukraine) died during the Mongol invasion of Rus’; similarly, around 50% of the population of Hungary—roughly one million people—died during the Mongol invasion of Europe. The Mongol armies’ destruction of aqueducts and agricultural systems in Iran and Iraq obliterated thousands of years’ worth of effort in irrigation and drainage infrastructure, as well as destroying crops and ruining arable land, likely leading to more deaths due to famine than the actual battles proper. Historian John Man wrote of the Khaan’s destruction of the Western Xia, “There is a case to be made that this was the first ever recorded example of attempted genocide. It was certainly very successful ethnocide.”

After reading the above paragraph, you might be surprised to learn that some of the things Weatherford attributes to Chinggis Khaan’s rule include “unprecedented religious tolerance,” “low level of discrimination toward other races,” “low level of meddling with local customs and culture,” “building of roads to support trade,” “reduction of the use of torture in the penal system,” “first culture to promote universal literacy,” and “belief in diplomatic immunity for ambassadors/envoys,” as well as other things such as the first international postal system, the first widespread use of paper money, and the invention of the credit card (no, really). I do not know if, looking at the hard evidence, I would say that Chinggis Khaan’s rule was notable for its “unprecedented religious tolerance” (he taxed Daoists heavily and slaughtered Muslims by the millions), “low level of discrimination toward other races” (he wiped out the entirety of the Western Xia population), “low level of meddling with local customs and culture” (he destroyed “local customs and culture”), or “reduction of the use of torture”... full stop.

None of this is to discount the advances, be they technological, sociological, or cultural, of the Mongols, nor of Chinggis Khaan himself. There were, I’m sure, many positives to Mongolian rule, particularly if you were Mongolian. The pop-culture version of Chinggis Khaan as a blood-thirsty barbaric warrior with no higher thought in his head is not one shared by the vast majority of historians, who recognise the Khaan as a complex and deeply flawed individual (the genocide is a major downside, gotta say!) who cannot be analysed in the same vein as one would analyse a modern figure. But the way Weatherford engages with the historical evidence is nothing short of dangerously misleading. Some 0.5% of the global population at minimum can claim direct descendance from Chinggis Khaan or his armies almost exclusively due to gang rapes and forced marriages of native women, a fact which Weatherford denies. He also avoids the topic of the immense slave trade (the Khaan had a policy of “annihilation or subjugation,” often magnanimously “allowing” cities to choose whether to surrender “willingly” to him and be enslaved, or continue resisting and be slaughtered) controlled by the Mongol armies—enslavement directly responsible for many of the greatest Mongolian achievements. Furthermore, Weatherford’s historicity is shaky at best and willingly deceptive at worst: he repeatedly and predominantly cites from The Secret History of the Mongols, which is little better than citing from Herodotus, and arguably worse.

Chinggis Khaan was undeniably an intelligent and resourceful man. His accomplishments, although they came at the cost of millions of lives, were undeniably extraordinary. But purposefully ignoring the negative aspects of the effect his life had on the entirety of the world in order to propel a misguided and inaccurate historical narrative is nothing short of disgusting. Chinggis Khaan can be viewed as more than only a blood-thirsty monster or only a benevolent force for good. But purposefully obscuring the fact that he was responsible for millions upon millions of deaths and untold destruction of homes, crops, art, religious symbols, infrastructure, transportation, communication, and culture is—again—disgusting. It’s the exact sort of thing that the Khaan, himself a great fan of utilising political propaganda to his advantage, would have done. It disgusts me.

On the plus side, according to one study, the destruction of so many cities and people under Chinggis Khaan’s rule could have removed up to 700 million tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere by allowing regrowth of forests on previously populated and cultivated land (after he slaughtered or enslaved the inhabitants, of course), so maybe he was actually 100% a good guy after all?!

Much to think about.
Profile Image for Ken Brandt.
Author 1 book62 followers
March 16, 2021
Riveting History on a Giant Scale. This well documented, thoughtful, very informative, page-turner is not only a great biography of Genghis Khan and many of his relatives, but also a great history of the Mongols and the nations they conquered. As it says on the book jacket: “The name Genghis Khan often conjures the image of a relentless, bloodthirsty barbarian on horseback leading a ruthless band of nomadic warriors in the looting of the civilized world. But the surprising truth is that Genghis Khan was a visionary leader whose conquests joined backward Europe with the flourishing cultures of Asia to trigger a global awakening, an unprecedented explosion of technologies, trade, and ideas.”

Jack Weatherford’s “Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World” provides the well written expected military history and the equally well written, but unexpected economic, political, and cultural history of the Mongol conquests and rule.

On the military side: “Genghis Khan developed revolutionary military strategies and weapons that emphasized rapid attack and siege warfare, which he then brilliantly used to overwhelm opposing armies in Asia, break the back of the Islamic world, and render the armored knights of Europe obsolete. Under Genghis Khan the Mongol army never numbered more then 100,000 warriors, yet they subjugated more lands and peoples than the Romans conquered in four hundred. With an empire that stretched from Siberia to India, from Vietnam to Hungary, and from Korea to the Balkans, the Mongols dramatically redrew the map of the globe, connecting disparate kingdoms into a new world order.”

On the economic, political, and cultural side: “contrary to popular wisdom… the Mongols… possessed a genius for progressive and benevolent rule…. Genghis Khan… was the first leader in many conquered countries to put the power of law above his own power, encourage religious freedom, create public schools, grant diplomatic immunity, abolish torture, and institute free trade. The Mongols introduced the first international paper currency and postal system and developed and spread revolutionary technologies like printing, the cannon, compass, and abacus. They took local foods and products like lemons, carrots, noodles, tea, rugs, playing cards and pants and turned them into staples of life around the world.”

Even the Acknowledgment section is interesting, with its description and stories about how everyday modern Mongols were excited to help with the authors research with gifts, by being guides and guardians, demonstrating nomadic life, and by sharing songs that had been handed down for many generations.

An excellent biography and history.
Profile Image for Rachel (TheShadesofOrange).
2,206 reviews3,222 followers
December 25, 2022
4.0 stars
I rarely read non fiction because I tend to find this dry but narrative was gripping. I have a rudimentary understanding of history (just high school classes) so I learned a lot through this book. I highly recommend the Audible version because Johnathan Davis is a great narrative.
Profile Image for Jamie.
63 reviews17 followers
May 28, 2007
This is a pretty radical book, and like most revisionist history it goes a little bit overboard with it's thesis: Genghis Khan wasn't a bloodthirsty barbarian, he was the greatest civilizing influence the world has ever seen, bringing peace of rule of law wherever he went!

In addition to the amazing personal details presented about Genghis Khan and his early life as an outcast from one of the most obscure fringe nomadic tribes of Mongolia to, well, King of the World, the book does make a fascinating and convincing case for how the Mongols were able to break past entrenched and provincial ways of thinking to create a world view. Also how they made their massive empire a meritocracy.

In his effort to save Genghis Khan's image from evil conquerer to good guy he does seem to skip or gloss over a lot of the raping and pillaging that must have happened. Not that I really want to know the gory details, but what's a detailed biography of Genghis Khan without talking about the gore?
Profile Image for Michael Finocchiaro.
Author 3 books5,633 followers
February 9, 2017
I enjoyed this book by Weatherford on the incredible Genghis Khan. I had no idea how much influence he had on the modern world: the first global currency from the Mediterranean to the Pacific, the first intercontinental mail service, and a religion-free state. It was surprising to learn that this last principle was one which Genghis held very dear. There was one fascinating episode where a group of Islamic heretical extremists called the Assassins (in fact the English word "assassin" takes its origin from this group) were running rampant in Persia killing anyone who opposed their reading of the Qu'ran (sound familiar?). When Genghis rolled in, he told them his usual ultimatum, you can believe whatever you want as long as you bow down to me as your supreme ruler, otherwise, well, I'll slaughter all of you. Naturally, they called his bluff, and also, naturally, he slaughtered every last one of them. Unfortunately, when he died, his successors poorly managed the empire and eventually took a much less tolerant view of religion which has unfortunately continued until our time.
It was also interesting to note that torture and censorship were also unknown under the Great Khan. He simply would kill anyone who did not vow their fealty to them, but once they did, they had probably more liberty than any people currently living in that same massive swath of land from Turkey to China. He was a prodigious sexaholic (studies have recently shown that 8% of Asian males have some of his DNA!) and party animal, but an extremely capable leader who was never beaten on the battlefield. His rapid horsemen in their frightening leather amor would overwhelm and terrify everyone across Eurasia during his lifetime.
Another fascinating aspect was that it was thanks to Khan that the plague reached Europe. Originally, a local virus which the Mongols had grown resistance to, when he moved across Asia and towards Europe, the plague was swept along with him with the dire consequences in Europe (30-60% of the population wiped out completely) and even made it to America in the 19th and 20th centuries. (This is an interesting side-note and could lead the reader of this review to also read Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel which also discusses this phenomenon and which I reviewed on GR elsewhere.)
Highly readable and fascinating, I highly recommend this book to those who are interested in how events of the 14th C in Asia had an impact on subsequent history.
Profile Image for Becky.
1,384 reviews1,650 followers
June 27, 2018
3.5 Stars, really.

I listened to this audiobook last night, and I found it to be pretty interesting and humanizing to a person that is usually given a pretty bad rap in high school history classes. Usually we're taught that he was a ruthless conqueror who killed hundreds of thousands, millions? Lots of people. But never anything about the man, the person, he is aside from that. How did he grow up to be this man, and why?

This is the story that this book seeks to tell. And it is a fascinating one... but I can't help but feel that maybe it's a bit... embellished. Weatherford references the Secret History of the Mongols quite a lot, and a quick Google of this tells me that, much like the Bible, it was written well after the fact, by authors unknown, and has been translated and retranslated... so... Not sure how much stock I really put in that.

I also think that this author tends to try to modernize Genghis a bit... too much. He portrays him as someone who, because of an early life betrayal by extended family, went against the social and cultural norms of his period and instead of putting all weight and meaning behind family, he instead put that into those who supported him. He didn't believe that family was the most important, because his had betrayed him, so he basically made his own family from those who were loyal, but unrelated by blood or marriage. If you supported him, you were golden. If not, you were dead. Easy peasy.

Weatherford portrays Genghis as a beneficent ruler... as long as you didn't cross him. If you joined with him, converted, as it were, then you were treated as equals, allowed to live and be as free as someone under the rule of a brutal dictator who brooks no insubordination can be. But if you refuse, you die.

And he was quite good at making people die. Genghis might say...

I will say that even if half of what was in this book was true, that he had a very interesting and eventful life. I am not sorry that I read this, but I just wonder really how accurate it is.

Profile Image for Miglė.
Author 13 books396 followers
October 18, 2020
Turiu silpnybę senovės karvedžių biografijoms ir baisiai džiaugiausi, skaitydama šią knygą apie Čingischaną. Dabar ir jums biškį papasakosiu.

Vaikystėje Temudžinas (t.y. Čingischanas) susirado draugą, vardu Džamucha. Užtvirtindami savo draugystę, jiedu gerdavo vienas kito kraują, taip dalindamiesi savo siela, "sakydavo vienas kitam nepamirštamus žodžius ir valgė nežinomą maistą, kurio negalima suvirškinti". Pasiūliau šitą draugei, su kuria ėjome vakarieniauti - ir panašu, kad išties valgėme maistą, kurio negalima suvirškinti, nes kitą dieną abiems sustojo skrandis. Tiesa, viena kitos kraujo negėrėme, kas gal ir gerai, nes vėliau Džamucha ir Temudžinas tapo priešais, o į jų konfliktą buvo įtrauktos visos stepių gentys. Kodėl jie susipyko? Džamucha save laikė pranašesniu, nes buvo iš Balto Kaulo giminės, ir į Juodo Kaulo Temudžiną žiūrėjo iš aukšto. Kaip gražu visi tie pavadinimai, šakės.

Mongolai buvo prietaringi, bet ir praktiški - todėl šamanai kovos metu veikė kaip propagandos įrankis. Jei tavo pusėje būdavo vienas ar daugiau šamanų, kurie prieš tai buvo teisingai išpranašavę kovos baigtį, dalis priešo kariuomenės žmonių galėjo pabėgti ar net prisijungti prie tavosios. Norėdamas tapti mongolų valdovu Temudžinas apdairiai suinvestavo į kelis pasižymėjusius šamanus, kurie prieš mūšį mušė būgnus ir pan., o dar ir lyti pradėjo, tai priešai buvo visiškai įbauginti. Tiesa, paskui vienas iš tų šamanų, Tebas Tengeri, tapęs įtakingas ėmė kiršinti Čingischano sūnus ir norėjo perimti valdžią, bet Čingischano motina jį išaiškino ir Čingischanas su broliu nužudė klastingąjį šamaną. Bet ir tai pagarbiai, nepraliejant kraujo (mongolai baisiai nekentė kraujo, o jo praliejimą laikė didžiausia įmanoma panieka) - perlaužė jam stuburą ir paliko mirti. Dar mažą palapinytę virš jo, paraližiuoto, pastatė prieš išvykdami. Rimtai.

Sykį Čingischanas buvo sužeistas strėle į kaklą, tuomet visą naktį vienas geriausių jo karvedžių (vadinamų "keturiais Temudžino šunimis") čiulpė Čingischano kraują jam iš kaklo ir rydavo, kad kiti nesuprastų, kiek kraujo vadas praranda. Paskui, nebesugebėdamas ryti, pradėjo spjauti, už ką ryte Čingischanas jį apibarė. Bet vis tiek buvo dėkingas, nes jam užsimanius airako (fermentuoto kumelės pieno) tas pats karvedys išėjo į priešų stovyklą ieškoti, o kad jo neparištų, ėjo išsirengęs nuogai. Mat mongolai, pasirodo, nuogumo taip pat labai nepakentė, ir pamatę nuogą žmogų iškart sukdavo akis į šoną.

Karo stovyklas mongolai įsirengdavo labai plačiai, mažomis grupelėmis išsiskirstydavę po visą lauką. Įsakymus perduodavo iš lūpų į lūpas, o kad neužmirštų ir neiškraipytų, sueiliuodavo juos ir dainuodavo pagal iš anksto žinomas melodijas. Poetiška? Dar ir kaip! Apskritai Čingischanas pertvarkė visą visuomenę, karyboje nevengdavo naudoti gudrybių ir perimdavo kiek įmaoma daugiau išradimų iš užkariautų tautų.

Kai ėmė veržtis į musulmonų kraštus, pastebėjo, kad anie ne tik turtingi, bet ir raštingi. Vienas arabas taip vaizdingai ir perdėdamas aprašė neišpasakytus mongolų žiaurumus, kad tai sužinojęs Čingischanas iškart pasiuntė žinią į Korėją, kad atsiųstų 100 000 lapų popieriaus. Tada juos išdalino raštingiems arabams, kad dar daugiau rašytų apie mongolų žiaurumą. Tik jau nepamažinkit, sakė, rašykit, kokie mūsų veidai baisūs ir kaip vieną miestą po kito verčiam pelenais ir nėra nuo mūsų išsigelbėjimo. Paskleiskit kuo plačiau šią žinią, štai, pavyzdžiui, gal ir to, ir ano miesto gyventojus reikėtų įspėti. Čingischanui tokia propaganda labai tiko, nes prieš užimdamas miestą visada leisdavo pasiuntinį su siūlymu pasiduoti geruoju, o jei išties pasiduodavo, įtraukdavo miestą į savo imperiją ir suteikdavo jo gyventojams visas teises. Tik turtingiausius ir kilmingiausius nužudydavo.

Betyrinėdami Europą mongolai į Riazanės miestą kaip pasiuntinę leido moterį - apskritai su lyčių lygybe pas mongolus buvo vienareikšmiškai geresnė situacija negu bet kurioje jų nukariautoje sėslioje civilizacijoje. Moterys dalyvaudavo karo reikaluose, priimdavo sprendimus, valdė kaip regentės, o paties Čingischano motina turėjo savo kariuomenės dalinį. Riazanės gyventojams tačiau pamačius pasiuntinę moterį visai užtrumpino - pamanė, kad ji ragana, ir atsisakė su ja kalbėtis. Užsibarikadavo už miesto sienų ir laukia. Ok, mėgstat sienas? - tarė mongolai ir pastatė kitą sieną aplink Riazanės sieną. Nuo jos mėtė granatas ir pan. į miestą ir greitai jį užėmė.

Europiečiai apskritai nesuprato, iš kur atsirado mongolai ir ko jie nori. Sykį kažkam pavyko sučiupti vieną mongolų karį, nuėmė šalmą - o tas, pasirodo, britas, pabėgęs į Mongoliją ieškoti religinės tolerancijos. Negalėdami išsiaiškinti mongolų tikslų europiečiai vis galvojo, ką čia apkaltinti dėl šio siaubingų žmonių antplūdžio ir apkaltino... Teisingai, žydus.

Čingischano laikais mongolai neturėjo jokių miestų, nes o tai kur arkliai ganysis? Bet po jo mirties imperiją paveldėjęs sūnus Ugedėjus nusprendė įsteigti sostinę. Atsivežė kinų architektų, šovė strėlę į rytus ir į vakarus, kur jos nukrito, liepė pastatyti rytinį ir vakarinį rūmų sparnus, nu, ir vidurį ten kažkaip užpildyti. Vis dėlto turėdamas rūmus Ugedėjus nelabai žinojo, ką su jais daryti, tai naudojo daugiau kaip sandėlius, o pats sėdėdavo kieme ir gerdavo iki sąmonės netekimo. Dar pastatė maldos namus visų religijų atstovams ir rengdavo jų diskusijas. Mongolai šiaip mėgo visokias varžytuves, religinės diskusijos jiems irgi būdavo pramoga, kad būtų į ką pažiūrėti plempiant airaką. Tuo tarpu religijų atstovai, nepratę diskutuoti neturėdami valdžios užnugario, ilgainiui pritrūkdavo argumentų. Krikščionys imdavo giedoti, musulmonai - garsiai cituoti Koraną, o budistai - demonstratyviai medituoti. O mongolams kad linksma!

O iš kur gi visa tai žinome? - paklausite jūs, nes esate protingi. Bene pagrindinis šaltinis apie Čingischano gyvenimą buvo "Slaptoji mongolų istorija", parašyta netrukus po Čingischano mirties, o iššifruota ne taip ir seniai. Taigi jei tiksliai taip ir nebuvo, Čingischano amžininkai norėjo, kad taip būtų buvę, kas jau savaime informatyvu apie jį suformavusią kultūrą.

Labai pagauliai parašyta ir sklandžiai išversta knyga, bet... Kas nutiko su kalbos redakcija? Kažkodėl liko visai nemažai rašybos ar sintaksės klaidų:( Įsitraukus skaitant visai nepasistebi, bet kai imi fotkinti kurią knygos vietą, kad nusiųstum draugams, vis kas nors išlenda. Na, bet negadina tas šaukštas deguto šio airako statinės.
Profile Image for Alice Poon.
Author 5 books280 followers
February 8, 2022
This book gives me a whole new perspective on 13th and 14th century world history. It also helps me understand a little more about the Yuan Dynasty in Chinese history (e.g. I learned that it was probably the outbreak of the bubonic plague that led the Mongolian rulers to become paranoid and begin to alienate and repress the Chinese population whom they believed to have been the source of the horrible pestilence).

I'm really glad that I found this non-fiction title after having read Urgunge Onon's "The Secret History of the Mongols: The Life and Times of Chinggis Khan". The latter is supposedly an English translation from the original text written in Mongolian in the 13th century about Genghis Khan's life by someone close to him, and contains mostly dialogues and descriptive passages. Using that original document as a basis, Weatherford gives a far more coherent and illuminating account of all the life episodes set in historical context, while shedding light on the enormous proximate impact and far-reaching influence that this formidable leader's actions and, to a greater or lesser extent, those of his successors, had on human history.

The simple flowing style of writing makes this book an easy read. It is interesting as it is educational.
Profile Image for Sud666.
1,977 reviews161 followers
June 2, 2022
An excellent study on the Mongols. Weatherford does much to try and rehabilitate the Mongol image. This is not to imply that he absolves them of their penchant for raiding, conquering, and pillaging their neighbors, but that he provides context for their actions. He also shows the profound effect the Mongols had on a variety of new modes of government and economics to provide a baseline for the future of how Modern nations operate.

Starting with the history and background of Temujin and his rise to become Genghis Khan (Great Khan, or Kahn or Khans). He looks at how he changed the formations of the Mongols and built his empire.

Then it looks at the campaigns of Ghenghis' sons and their operations in the Middle East and Europe. Followed by the analysis of Kublai Khan's domination of China.

Throughout we are introduced to many concepts that the Mongols fostered-from true religious freedom for the conquered, postal service, and use of sophisticated forms of imperial rule that were often copied or influenced later nations from Asia to Europe.

It follows the decline and fall of the Mongol empire and ascribes it, accurately it seems, to the onset of the Black Death and the disruptions caused by the Plague saw to the ruination of the Mongol empires.

A superb and very readable history of the Mongols. Full of interesting information and tidbits that make it a pleasure to read. His insights and different view, well explained, also were enlightening. A very different look at the Mongols and those who used their name (Tamerlane-who is actually responsible for the pyramid of skulls attributed to Genghis) and shifted the blame onto Mongols themselves and the later 1700 and 1800's Western efforts to brand them and the term "Mongol" to become a perjorative term.

Highly recommended.

Profile Image for Ross Blocher.
432 reviews1,387 followers
July 18, 2019
This is the fun of books: I didn't have any specific, overweening desire to learn about Genghis Khan, but saw this available in an Audible 2-for-1 deal and thought, "Sure! I could stand to know more about him." 14 hours, 20 minutes later and I'm really glad I did: Genghis Khan had an out-sized influence on the modern world, and a surprising amount of information is (an is not) known about him. Jack Weatherford has done an admirable job of assembling it in one place. It was fascinating to learn more about Genghis Khan's life, conquests and innovations.

While speaking of audio about Genghis Khan's life, I'll also recommend Dar Carlin's Hardcore History series, Wrath of the Khans . Carlin does such an amazing job of vividly painting the past in such a way that an innovation in technology or warfare is seared upon your brain. Weatherford's book will give you an understanding of all aspects of the famous warrior's life, but Carlin will put you in the trenches.

One note that comes up a lot when discussing Genghis Khan is how to pronounce his name. I was taught in school to call him "GANG-iss Con", but both the above works call him "JANG-iss Con", which has now inserted itself as my default pronunciation. This is closer to the pronunciation of the time, which would have been something more like "Chinggis Han" (with a guttural "h"). Either way, that name is an honorific meaning "universal ruler": he was actually born by the name of Temüjin in the early 1160s. Weatherford tells us the story of the kidnapping Temüjin's mother, how he was born with a blood clot clutched in his hand, and other details that are ascribed to "The Secret History". As he explains later, this volume has a particularly interesting history. Written after Khan's death in 1227, The Secret History of the Mongols is the oldest work of the Mongolian language and has been closely protected for centuries, though the earliest extant versions are Chinese character translations. Only within the past century has its message been translated back into Mongolian and now into English.

It would take a long time to recount all the details with any fidelity, but Temüjin is raised in a nomadic society that is fairly brutal. He doesn't come from any of the esteemed houses of his time, but manages to build power in a series of increasing conquests that consolidates the Mongol population under his rule by 1206. Some of the stories of people being boiled and competing leaders being slaughtered at meals and heads being dragged from horse's tales reminded me of Game of Thrones (the reminding should go the opposite direction). And yet, Genghis Khan as a ruler instituted many progressive reforms. Kidnapping women was now a punishable offense, centralized paper money became normalized, a new Mongolian script incorporated sounds from conquered countries, government records were printed (long before Gutenberg), and all religions were tolerated.

What the Mongol army under Genghis Khan is famous for is its military conquests and massive expansion into the largest contiguous empire of all time. Khan was a brilliant tactician, and the book details various innovations both technological and psychological. Genghis and the descendants who continued his campaign (the book also details the rules of Ögedei Khan, Kublai Khan, Timur and others) made effective use of siege warfare, catapults and trebuchets, and knew exactly how to strike fear into their enemies by appearing all at once and out of nowhere, only to retreat before a counterattack could be launched. Alternately, they might give the impression that they were retreating, luring the opposing force to follow them, only to tire them out and overwhelm them with fresh horses and troops. His army effectively ended the age of walled cities, rendering them ineffective against such assaults.

The Mongols are also known from the poor taste they left in the mouth of the conquered, and Weatherford has a lot of interesting information to share about how they were depicted and smeared by the Europeans and other civilizations that encountered them. There's a fascinating history behind the term "Tartars", for example: the Tatars were just one of the groups incorporated into the Mongol army and the extra "r" came from the similarity to the Greek word for hell, Tartarus. Later, even in the US, there were eugenicists who theorized that genetic deformations were atavistic returns of "Mongoloid" features.

While the Mongols were not known for inserting their own art or architecture (the conquerers continued to live primarily and nomadically in tents, and there were no artistic depictions of Genghis Khan even for decades after his death), they did much to establish trade between other civilizations, and did build many (literal) bridges that lasted beyond their empire. So much of European, Chinese, Russian and Indian history, culture, dress, cuisine, and military practice are directly indebted to the Mongolian conquests and established trade routes.

That's probably enough for this review... I'll just tease that there are some really cool stories specifically around Genghis Khan's death and burial: particularly how the Russians went out of their way to discourage his veneration even into the 20th century (and perhaps still). This is a very thorough, but engaging, volume that is well worth reading or having read to you.
Profile Image for Indra.
132 reviews196 followers
January 30, 2011
To the Young Mongols:
Never forget the Mongolian scholars
who were willing to sacrifice their lives to preserve your history.

Энэ ном надад их таалагдсан. Монголчуудын ахуй амьдралыг сайн дүрсэлсэн, үйл явдлуудыг олон талаас тайлбарласан, ер нь бодит байдалтай их л дөхөм юм шиг санагдав. Бас бидний олж хардаггүй зүйлсийг өөр өнцөгөөс харж бичсэн байсан. Бүх хүмүүст уншихыг зөвлөж байна. Уйтгартай түүхийн ном шиг санагдахгүй гэдгийг амлая (эхний 2 хэсэгт таны мэддэг юм гарах болохоор уйдаж магадгүй, гэвч тэдгээрийг чинь улам их мэдээллээр баяжуулж бичсэн байгаа).

I gave 5 stars not because I'm mongolian but it WAS amazing. I won't say biased things here. The author explained the subject from different point of views by quoting many chronologists. After all, everyone should get rid of their stereotypes that Genghis Khan was a barbarian/monster/murderer/etc.

Profile Image for Bryn Hammond.
Author 13 books356 followers
August 5, 2016
Jack Weatherford is a cultural anthropologist whose speciality is tribal peoples. He has written several books I value -- 'Indian Givers', 'Savages and Civilization', 'Native Roots'. He brings to this one on the Mongols a knowledge and understanding of tribal cultures -- that in fact is rare in historians. I feel Weatherford can tell you things 'straight' historians can't, on the Mongols -- because of his areas of study.

It's true that his account of Temujin's life is an interpreted one -- the way fiction interprets -- and you can either be with or against his guesses. The life story of Temujin isn't 'straight' history in that sense. But again, it is informed by his anthropology... I even thought, too evidently so by his work on Native Americans. Nevertheless, he has more ground than most for his guesses, and you know what you have before you is a narrative with speculation.

The latter parts of the book trace ideas about and influence of the Mongols in Europe. This has much you won't easily find elsewhere -- this has things not often said, things unthought of. His claims can be bold, but I think we need boldness here. Better to go too far, when you open up new thought (also my attitude to Christopher Beckwith, Empires of the Silk Road). He explores us on the Mongols. For instance, he traces the history of our medical usage of the word 'mongol'. Even today people say this for Down's syndrome children (I've heard them. She was a friend, and I didn't howl in her face).

With this book Weatherford brought a sympathetic history on 'Genghis' and the Mongols to the bestseller lists, one that argues against our prejudices. That's an achievement. I'd rather see people read this than a few old historians (or not so old) who lack his background in the study of the world's tribal peoples, and lack the equipment on cultures to interpret facts and events. That's what history by an anthropologist can give you. Historians underestimate the differences, and when they make assumptions about 'why this behaviour', they think what people from their own culture might do. I've found this a fault in history, that you need to correct with anthropology, to get to the truth of the past.

To give an example: I have low-starred David Morgan's book that is thought of as the standard history on the Mongols. Not simply because it is outdated -- I think it was always poor history, because he is so distant from his subject. It's an outsider's history that does not even seek an inside view, therefore cannot give insight. More concretely, Morgan does not look for a cultural explanation, for a reason that made sense to a Mongol. I hope this explains why I believe people are better off with Weatherford.

I'll just add that he's been given Mongolia's highest award for foreigners, the Order of the Polar Star, and the President's Friendship Medal. Mongolia even has a new 'Weatherford Prize' for historiography.

I see in the bio on his old college page that his scholarly mission has been to follow in the tradition of Ibn Khaldun, who in the 14th century analysed history in terms of tribal versus civilized societies and values. Ibn Khaldun must have been one of the most original historians who ever lived and his ideas still challenge, are still in contention - and if you ask me, demand more of our attention. That's why we need a Jack Weatherford.
Profile Image for Barbara K..
429 reviews87 followers
Shelved as 'dnf'
May 7, 2023
There's nothing wrong with this book. I simply decided, after listening to 4 hours (with another 10 to go), that I had learned all that I would ever want to know about Genghis Khan. By this point the author had convinced me that Genghis was an innovative warrior and leader, and that he had done much to connect the four corners of Asia, spreading technologies and products from one area to another and in a sense, "making the modern world".

I think it's fair to say that my limited interest in the subject collided with the author's enthusiasm for reporting on every known detail of Genghis' life.
Profile Image for Lisa (Harmonybites).
1,834 reviews341 followers
August 18, 2012
This is a very entertaining, thought-provoking and well-written book. The relatively low rating reflects my lingering skepticism. The back of the book itself calls it "revisionist history" and Weatherford is not a historian, but an anthropologist. Although to give him his due, he was part of a team that helped translate The Secret History of the Mongols and explored the Mongolian homeland once it was no longer restricted in the wake of the breakup of the Soviet Empire. No doubt the image of the Mongolians merit another look and some corrections from the simplistic view of them as the "quintessential, bloodthirsty barbarians." Yet even within his sympathetic, nearly hero-worshiping account, one can find glimmers of the reasons for the view of Genghis Khan as a great destroyer. Though Weatherford disputes the numbers, contending the Mongols didn't have the numbers and resources to make it possible, he noted that the more conservative estimates of historians count 15 million dead in five years caused by Genghis' invasion of Central Asia--and Weatherford does admit Genghis was a destroyer of city after city in search of loot. The very word "slave" comes from the mass enslavement of slavic peoples by the Mongols who then sold them to the Turks. Weatherford even admits Genghis' Mongols made little contribution to civilization per se--what he claims for them is that they made the modern world because they were "unrivaled cultural carriers." As he put it:

The Mongols made no technological breakthroughs, founded no new religions, wrote few books or dramas, and gave the world no new crops or methods of agriculture. Their own craftsmen didn't weave cloth, cast metal, make pottery, or even bake bread: They manufactured neither porcelain nor pottery, painted no pictures, and built no buildings. Yet, as their army conquered culture after culture, they collected and passed on those skills from one civilization to the next.

Weatherford claims that this transfusion of culture and trade led to the "Mongol Global Awakening" and to the European Renaissance. I'm skeptical frankly of anyone that claims any one reason for the reawakening of the West, or any one source whether a rediscovery of Greek and Roman antiquity, infusion of Islamic learning through the Crusades or Mongolians transmitting Chinese civilization Westward. Nevertheless, I have to thank Weatherford for giving me a fresh perspective into this medieval empire and its possible contributions.
Profile Image for Z. Aroosha Dehghan.
257 reviews33 followers
July 31, 2022
نکات جالبی از زندگی چنگیزخان داشت که نمی‌دونستم
کاش ترجمه هم بشه که افراد بیشتری بتونن استفاده کنن.
Profile Image for Hesamul Haque.
78 reviews63 followers
February 10, 2017
I never really thought history can be so much interesting. What past is there behind us! How did we come so far! What happened during those times when there was no exposure!
Reading about Genghis Khan was a marvelous time spent with the book. He had a very rough childhood and his father died when he was very young leaving his mother alone with his brothers to take care.
Undoubtedly, he was extremely intelligent and also a military genius. He used psychlogy during wars. His enemies used to fear him and because of that they found better to surrender than to be attacked. Nobody in the history has ever conquered as vast empire as Genghis Khan did. He truly was the greatest leader the world has ever known. He had the recognition of the skills of others, people or soldiers were promoted on the basis of their work or skills they possesed not by their cast. In those times Genghis khan was very much tolerant about different religions being practised, there was a freedom to practise any religoin. In those times he allowed their women to rule the empire while they were busy in fighting.
After his death, his grandson Kublai Khan expanded the empire who I believe had qualities of Genghis Khan. Where others found not much use of paper note, he found that system valuabe.
History is inspiring, history is unfair, history is painful, history is filled determination and vision of the goal.
Having also read the biography of Alexander the great it is still not justifiable rank anybody on the basis of their leadership. They both respected women, they both were focused to destroy their enemies but not their families, they both cared for others...

Jawaharlal Nehru wrote to his daughter Indira, who would herself grow up to become prime minister of India, it would be foolish not to recognize the greatness of Europe. But it would be equally foolish to forget the greatness of Asia.
Nehru depicted Genghis Khan as a part of an ancient struggle of Asian people against European domination. He described Genghis Khan as a cautious and middle-aged man and every big thing he did was preceded by thought and preparation, they won great victories on the field of battle because of their discipline and their organzation. And above all it was due to the brilliant captainship of Genghis Khan. He also concluded that Genghis Khan without doubt, the greatest military genius and leader in history. Alexander and Ceaser seem petty before him.
I couldn't agree more!
Displaying 1 - 30 of 3,720 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.