Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World

Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World - coverGenghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford is on the one-hand a post-revisionist biography of the world’s most successful conqueror, and on the other a social, political and economic history of the impact of the Mongol Empire on the world. Spanning nearly eight centuries of time and thousands of miles of area, Weatherford has his work cut out for him. All things considered, he does an excellent job

I greatly appreciated two aspects of the book. First was the historiographical analysis of how Genghis Khan has been perceived through time by historians, many of whom are descendants of the people conquered by Genghis Khan and his offspring. It is this that has lead to a wholly negative view of the Mongols. Weatherford argues that we in the West have the French philosopher Montesquieu to thank for our cultural recollection of the Mongols as “barbarians at the gate”. When examining history as far back as Genghis, it is important to amend the Churchillian maxim that “history is written by the victors”. History is written by the survivors.

The second aspect of the book I appreciated was Jack Weatherford’s hands-on approach to history. Although he mostly relied on The Secret History of the Mongols for details of the Great Khan’s life, he took it upon himself to go to the locales in Mongolia and along the Silk Road that were important to the development of Genghis and his ancestors. In the introduction Weatherford states: “Books can lie, but places never do.” Anyone who has ever been on a battlefield tour, I am sure would confirm that.

Overall I recommend this book. At least in the English-speaking world, I think it will extract Genghis Khan out of a grudge-ridden history, and hopefully spark a new round of examination. Genghis Khan was obviously an important historical figure, influencing much of his contemporary world and the world that came after it. What needs to be cleared up is how he was an influence. The Mongols were not merely a bloodthirsty horde, an early Yellow Peril. There are many subtle ways in which Genghis Khan and his ancestors influenced us. Read the book to find out more.

ADDENDUM: I have been wanting to read this book ever since watching the authour in this CSPAN video, which I also recommend. I listened to the audiobook, which had an okay narrator. If you have time to read, get the book. If not, the audio will do in a pinch. Lastly, want to see Younghusband and Roy of Mutantfrog.com in Mongolian garb? Of course you do!

About Younghusband

Sir Francis Edward Younghusband (1863-1942) was a British explorer, army officer, military-political officer, and foreign correspondent born in India who led expeditions into Manchuria, Kashgar, and Tibet. He three times tried and failed to scale Mt. Everest and journeyed from China to India, crossing the Gobi desert and the Mustagh Pass (alt. c.19,000 ft/5,791 m) of the Karakoram mountain range in modern day Pakistan. Convinced of Russian designs on British interests in India, Younghusband proactively engaged in the nineteenth century spying and conflict over Central Asia between the British and the Russians known as the Great Game. "Younghusband" is a Canadian who has spent a number of years bouncing back and forth between his home country and Japan. Fluent in Japanese and English with experience in numerous other languages from Spanish to Georgian, Younghusband has travelled throughout Asia. He graduated with an MA from the War Studies Department at the Royal Military College of Canada, where he focussed on the Japanese oil industry and energy security issues. He has recently returned to Canada from Japan, and is working in the technology sector.
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6 Responses to Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World

  1. Whit says:

    It is a great book! It’s certainly not the popularized image of Genghis Khan (which usually incorporates Tamerlane’s or someone else’s doings) we often see in films or were erroneously taught in school. One of the observations I really enjoy, and that you hit upon above, is the difference in histories between groups with a positive view (Armenians, Georgians) of Genghis and those with a more negative one (Russians, Arabs). Differing experiences offer differing narratives, often embellished or fictitious. Granted some of the stories worked in favor of Genghis in terms of psychological warfare.

  2. Jing says:

    I remember reading this years ago. Absolutely terrible book from a nomadic fetishist. Some of his logical leaps could bridge the Grand Canyon, such as his nonsensical comparison between the military tactics of the 13th century Mongols and the Wehrmacht. I recall one particular passage that was one long apologia claiming that the Mongols were not the bloodthirsty savages they were while the very next sentence went on to describe a thoroughly savage method of disembowelment that the Mongols favored and how this was much more civilized than the punishments of their sedentary counterparts.

    Really the entire book comes off as Dances with Mongols.

  3. Chirol says:

    I read this several years ago after listening to an interview with the author. It was very well done and I found it surprising how big of an influence the mongols were on the modern world. Who knew they invented passports, for example?

    In lighter yet semi-serious thoughts, I wonder whether the US should withdraw from Iraq/Afghanistan, close some of its bases and just fund the Mongols. If they could wipe out everything from China through Persia to Russia again, all our problems would be solved =)

  4. Younghusband says:

    @Jing: Weatherford does come with an agenda, no denying that. He is trying to overturn centuries of bad PR in a single volume. It is pretty obvious in the text, and I don’t think he is fooling anybody. I like your comment about “Dances with Mongols” but it is not as terrible as you make it out to be. He doesn’t ignore or whitewash the “bad stuff” the Mongols did. What he does do is highlight the innovations of the Mongol Empire, innovations that a modern day “progressive” society like ours cherish. This is re-revisionist history, and only the first book in a newly renewed discourse of Mongol historiography. It is a book that cannot be dismissed out of hand.

  5. wufiave;;o says:

    I cannot say much about the book. But when I took a class on the Mongols (which i sadly had to drop due to course load) one of the teachers first warning was that this book was baloni.

  6. Aceface says:

    Read in the Japanese translation.Bad book.However,one should note that most of the supposed massacres conducted by the Mongols are written by their enemies.