Khan and the Making of the Modern World by
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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. In Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World,
Jack Weatherford, the only Western scholar ever to be allowed into the Mongols "Great
Taboo" - Genghis Khan's homeland and forbidden burial site - tracks the
astonishing story of Genghis Khan and his descendants, and their conquest and
transformation of the world.
Fighting his way to power on the remote steppes of Mongolia, Genghis Khan developed
revolutionary military strategies and weaponry 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 than
100,000 warriors, yet it subjugated more lands and people in twenty-five years
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.
But contrary to popular wisdom, Weatherford reveals that the Mongols were not
just masters of conquest, but possessed a genius for progressive and benevolent
rule. On every level and from any perspective, the scale and scope of Genghis
Khan's accomplishments challenge the limits of imagination. Genghis Khan was
an innovative leader, the first ruler 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 trade routes he created became lucrative pathways for commerce, but also
for ideas, technologies, and expertise that transformed the way people lived.
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. The Mongols were the architects of a new way of life at
a pivotal time in history.
In Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World,
Jack Weatherford resurrects the true history of Genghis Khan, from the story
of his relentless rise through Mongol tribal culture to the waging of his devastatingly
successful wars and the explosion of civilization that the Mongol Empire unleashed.
This dazzling work of revisionist history doesn't just paint an unprecedented
portrait of a great leader and his legacy, but challenges us to reconsider how
the modern world was made.
from its inapt title (Genghis Khan
dies rather early on in this account
and many of the battles are led
by his numerous offspring) this
book is a successful account of
the century of turmoil brought
to the world by a then little-known
nation of itinerant hunters. In
researching this book, Weatherford
And Civilization: Who Will Survive?), a professor of anthropology at
Macalaster College, traveled thousands of miles, many on horseback, tracing Genghis
Khan's steps into places unseen by Westerners since the khan's death and employing
what he calls an "archeology of movement." Weatherford knows the story of the
medieval Mongol conquests is gripping enough not to need superfluous embellishments
personalities and the wars they waged provide plenty of color and suspense. In
just 25 years, in a manner that inspired the blitzkrieg, the Mongols conquered
more lands and people than the Romans had in over 400 years. Without pausing
for too many digressions, Weatherford's brisk description of the Mongol military
campaign and its revolutionary aspects analyzes the rout of imperial China, a
siege of Baghdad and the razing of numerous European castles. On a smaller scale,
Weatherford also devotes much attention to dismantling our notions of Genghis
Khan as a brute. By his telling, the great general was a secular but faithful
Christian, a progressive free trader, a regretful failed parent and a loving
if polygamous husband. With appreciative descriptions of the sometimes tender
tyrant, this chronicle supplies just enough personal and world history to satisfy
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When the Mongols, led by Genghis Khan, exploded out of the central Asian steppes
in the early thirteenth century, they began the acquisition of the largest land
empire in history. Eventually, the Mongol Empire extended from the Pacific to
the Mediterranean and from northern Siberia to Southeast Asia. Yet the West focuses
primarily on Mongol savagery. In his revisionist history of the empire, anthropology
professor Weatherford uses the so-called Secret History, a long-suppressed
Mongol text, to balance the scales. He certainly makes some telling points. The
Mongols unified disparate lands, maintained and even expanded east-west trade
routes, and made possible eventual contact between Europe and East Asia. Although
Mongol rulers were not innovators, Weatherford convincingly asserts that, like
the Romans, they effectively used the talents of their subject peoples. Unfortunately,
Weatherford is prone to exaggeration. He too easily accepts unverifiable legends
as facts, and he gives the Mongols unwarranted credit for fostering the European
Enlightenment. Still, this is a well-written and usually credible work that provides
a necessary reassessment of the legacy of this vast empire. Jay Freeman
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