It's amazing to meet up with a character as compelling as Genghis Khan as described in this work. I wavered between wanting to go back in time and meet him, and being thankful that I couldn't.
The Mongols were a bloodthirsty horde that ravaged Europe and Asia under one of the most vicious conquerors of all time, Genghis Khan. WRONG!
This book is an eye-opening account of the significance of the Mongol culture to the development of the modern world. The author places newly discovered documents in context that drastically changes our perception of the Mongols and why it was that Geoffrey Chaucer, who lived closest to the time of Genghis Khan wrote so admiringly of him and his civilizing effects on the nations he conquered while Voltaire and other later writers shaped our nearly universally held view of them as a flood of terror rising in the East and flowing outward to drown in blood India, Korea, Persia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Russia, China and more. In some important ways, Genghis Khan and his people were more modern, less savage than their European contemporaries. Certainly their sense of social justice was more developed. This is a book with the potential to change your understanding of the development of per-Renaissance Europe and the role of the Mongols in preparing Europe for that great intellectual, artistic and moral flowering.
Te author also makes clear the continuing impact of Genghis Khan and his descendants in modern international relations, European customs, and language including words we use every day. I founf myself often thinking with wonder at a new revelation, "I never would have thought of that".
I did not know the contribution this group brought to society
It kept moving and provided a lot of information
out of the past came today
wish i had a map
Tell us about yourself!
I know that in a very real sense it is impossible to do an “objective” history, that most everything is “revisionist” in that it gets filtered through the mind and values of the author. Still, some histories are arguably more accurate or meaningful than others. The better histories seem to me to do things like being transparent about agendas and underlying assumptions, do a good job with providing detail and strong arguments for the claims, and/or present multiple views for the reader to consider.
If a new reading of a given history fits nicely with the contemporary zeitgeist it's more likely to leave the reader feeling interested and validated. Weak arguments leap out at us more clearly when they go against how we see the world, while it's very easy to gloss over weak arguments when they fit our worldview.
So when I see weak arguments or inconsistencies that seem like they would play well with, for example, the current academic zeitgeist I start loosing trust that what I'm learning is accurate or meaningful. I wondered whether it would be the case with this book after reading some reviews of this book that noted that the author seemed to minimize the brutality of Genghis Khan.
I've listened to almost half of the book, and I think I'm going to stop now. The writing is good and the content is interesting. I didn't already know much about Genghis Khan, so it's not as if the author's arguments went against pre-existing ideas I have about him.
Was Genghis Khan a bad, brutal man, or was he simply an effective ruler from a barbaric time? That's an interesting question, and the author clearly comes down in favor of the latter.
As the author talks about religion/gods, he argued that Khan didn't rely on religious ideas to enthrone himself as a leader, yet in the rest of the book he cites many moments that seem to be powerful counterarguments to that idea. The Genghis of this book was much more practical and his leadership was more about tearing down the 1% and empowering the 99%. The author writes approvingly of Genghis' tolerance of religions, though he is most often above the foolishness and folly of them. When the author does focus on Christianity and Islam, guess which one is described as the stupidest, and which was really pretty awesome (I mean after taking into account that it's still a religion). I'll give you hint: which version would modern academia be most open to?
Religion aside, the narrative about Genghis Khan seems to be: “Sure he did some bad things, but who didn't back then? He occasionally was a barbaric badass, but most often he had either good intentions or understandable ones. I mean a guy can only be provoked so much before he has to go open a can of whoopass on the aristocratic one percent. And hey, the trains always ran on time, and his people really appreciated that about him, you know, the ones that weren't dead.”
He reviewed quite a bit of wartime cruelty from western civilization (e.g,. Germans flinging live children via catapults against a city's walls) in order to contrast it with Genghis Khan's methods. He writes:
“By comparison with the terrifying acts of the 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 and their seemingly total distain for the lives of the rich and powerful. . . .”
I find myself wondering if that is meaningful comparison. Genghis, is seems, is a noble savage who contrasts sharply with the dramatically flawed western civilizations.
Would the idea that western civilizations were much more cruel in war than Genghis Khan stand up to an objective review? It seems the author is taking the worst examples of evil and cruelty and comparing it to what he presents as necessary and fitting war practices of Genghis Khan. Maybe if the author compared the worst of Khan's army with the worst of the armies of western societies it would seem like a meaningful comparison.
I think I'm right in losing confidence in the meaningfulness of this history or I wouldn't write all of this, but I should acknowledge two things. First, I may be overestimating the amount of bias due to my own values and world views. Second, whether it fits with current sociopolitical views that are in vogue or not, it may still be accurate or meaningful. Maybe this work of scholarship meaningfully balances out other histories of Genghis Khan that fail to appreciate the complexities of his motivations.
I would have to say that it was the fact that I really didn't know anything about Genghis Khan outside of Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventures. That was the reason I got the book, because I realized that I knew nothing about one of the greatest figures in history. I'm glad that I didn't know anything about him going in because I was able to formulate my own opinion.
The man's ideology created the civilized world 800 years before the civilized world did.
Davis didn't kill the history lesson by trying to do voices. I really enjoyed his performance. It didn't put me to sleep like some history narrators have.
I don't know if it moved me as much as tore me in two different directions. Genghis Khan was responsible for a lot of war and death, and it can be really hard to like a guy that was responsible for so that much death. As an example of his ruthlessness: During one battle that took place during his conquest of the West, his son was killed by an arrow shot by one of the towns people. He turned to his son's wife, who was with them at the time, and told her that she can exact whatever revenge she wanted on the city's people. She decided to make three massive pyramids that consisted of heads: one for the men, one for the women, and one for the children. She had every person in the city killed and then proceeded to order the death of every single animal in the city as well. Her reasons were that she wanted to leave the city as devoid of life as her husband now was. Thats ruthlessness.
However, Genghis Khan was a simple man. He gave almost every city he came across the choice: submit to my rule and law and I will treat you as my sons and daughters, you will live in total religious freedom and you will be part of a great unified nation, or, I will destroy your army to the last man and force you to submit to me. But you kind of have to remind yourself that every nation was created by conquest; even the good old US of A.
His vision for the Mongolian Nation was utterly amazing for the times. He was granting total freedom to rule themselves (he even let their kings stay on their thrones in most cases). He granted religious freedom at a time when people were being burned at the stake and being thrown on the rack in Europe. He was a man of great integrity; as long as you didn't try and screw him he pretty much left you alone as long as you payed your taxes and followed the law.
His ideology paved the way for Kublai Khan to later create the most advanced civilization the world had ever seen (and in some ways it still is to this day). These guys didn't mess around and they almost never used torture (they saw it as pointless since the tortured would eventually confess to anything), and they were swift to hold people to the law (which was probably the best justice system ever created). They Mongol Nation was the center for educational advancement since everybody (Mongol, Christian, Indian, Chinese, Middle Eastern, Russian, etc.) shared their knowledge and worked together to advance it. It was amazing what they accomplished once they were united, and in such little time. Novel idea isn't it?
Read this book. If you think Genghis Khan was just a murdering conquerer, then give Weatherford a chance to change your mind. This man (Genghis Khan) was a genius and a visionary.
THE BOOK: Very enlightening examination of the often-overlooked but incredibly influential Mongol Empire, beginning with Genghis Khan. It's hard to overstate how much the ideas, societal structures, and yes, conquests, of Khan and his heirs influenced modernity.
A few samples - - 1) he introduced the idea of freedom of religion, and fostered religious tolerance in every land he conquered, 2) there is a strong case to be made that the expansive commercial routes he opened both directly and indirectly brought about the European Renaissance, and 3) Kublai Khan unified China from what was previously a divided land of warring dynasties.
Weatherford does a great job of shedding light on all of this (and much more), but does so in slightly wooden narrative that, while definitely interesting, also drags a bit in spots.
THE NARRATOR: Jonathan Davis' voice is pleasant enough, but the performance was uneven, sometimes flat when drama was needed, and (more often) melodramatic when restraint was needed.
Read this book. The information and insights will startle you. It did me. It altered much of what I thought I already understood. Well researched and written, this book has become one of my favorites.
I am an eclectic person who loves to learn.
It was very interesting to hear more about Genghis Khan's childhood and youth. The customs of the Steppe people was well covered. The author takes a positive stance on Genghis Khan's war campaign. Interesting perspective. Overall a good listen. I have read a lot about Genghis Khan and this book covered a lot of the material I had to find in several books.
This is a very entertaining well researched biography of one of the most important men in history. The influence Genghis Khan had on history and shaping the civilized world is without peer. He literally conquered and reformed Europe and Asia. Read this book whether you like history or just a wonderfully entertaining well researched book.
To others listening to this book - the Introduction, read by the author, is actually the last chapter of part 2. Why? I don't know.
If you want to better understand the book listen to the last chapter of Part 2 first, then go back and listen to the rest. The 'introduction' explains how the author ended up writing the book and explains the origins of "The Secret Histories" which only because available recently and upon which a lot of the information in the book is based.
Other than that anomaly, the book is good. The narrator is good and the content is great. It spends the first half of the book looking a Genghis Khan, the next 1/3 looking at his decedents and how they eventually failed the great empire he built and the last big looking at how the Mongols have been viewed since then (fairly favourably until the 18th - 19th century when they suddenly became the boogey man to Europe).