In this epic saga, which ranges from Austria to the Mongolian Steppe, historian and travel writer James Palmer has brought to light the gripping life story of a madman whose actions foreshadowed the most grotesque excesses of the 20th century.
©2009 James Palmer; (P)2009 Audible, Inc.
"[A] fascinating portrait of an appalling man - and of the zeitgeist that shaped him." (Publishers Weekly)
This is a fascinating book about a character I had never heard of. The story itself is so odd the while reading this book I felt like I was actually reading some strange fantasy novel instead of history. What made me realize that it was history was the fact that there were only villans in this story, there are no heroes here.
For those of us in the west who are taught nothing about this part of the world and little at all about this period of history it is truly eye opening. Palmer lays out a great deal of information to bring the background of this story to life. His own knowledge of the area helps to illuminate many parts of the book. His wit is the typically dry British style. He paints a vivid picture of Tibetan/Mongolian buddhism. His portrait is honest, painfully so with those of us only familiar with the Hollywood version.
The stories of brutality by all sides in this story is enough to make one’s hair stand on end. With the fall and the discrediting of communism it is now possible to air the truth about what happened in much of the world that suffered under its tyranny. The epilogue of the book, which covers the period of Mongolia after the communist takeover, shows the extreme brutality and cultural rape that accompanied that system.
The book is well written and the topic is fascinating. As a historian I regret that there is not more source material on this subject. This is not the fault of the author, rather it is the simple absence of much reliable original material on this subject. The only warning that I will give is that many types of brutality were committed by all sides and you will here about it.
Stefan Rudnicki does an excellent job of narrating the book. It was a lot of fun to listen to.
Sericulturalist and horticulturalist, mad scientist and earth oven baker.
Despite the sketchy reviews, I decided to buy this book, since I am interested in the subject matter. There is precious little verifiable information about The Baron, he was one of those crazy historical figures that inspired much speculation and many stories. If one views this book as an interesting account of the possible adventures of a minor historical figure, one still might enjoy the work. Not the best narrator in the world, but the recording quality is fine. All in all, decent entertainment for those folks interested in Russia and Central Asia. Caveat, some Buddhists might find the way the author deals with Buddhism a little patronizing.
I found this to be an interesting book, and as one who lives and works in Outer Mongolia, it brought to light some essential history. The author did a good job on his research, and writes in a way that captivates interest in not only the main character of the book, but also a unique historical era in central Asia.
The only thing I found distracting was the way the reader of the book utilized accents. When reading direct quotes from various historical figures, the reader would take on some kind of strange sounding Germanic accent. It was a tad distracting, if not annoying during those portions.
In spite of this, however, I do recommend this for anyone with any interest in Mongolian or Central Asian history.
This was a wonderful read for me. It is a refreshing treat to come across a telling of weight that offers the nonfiction reader a respite from of WW1 WW2 or the Cold War.
Taking place in that tumultuous time of the White Terror and the Red Menace in Russia, and located in an exotic setting to most, the author charts a logical and compelling course. He writes from a view point which focuses on the known facts and account while keeping the legend of his tale ever present for the reader to enjoy.
Although our protagonist is through and through an evil man we are allowed to follow his exploits without and overbearance of apology which I feel has become a vice of contemporary authors. The author conveys a comfort with his subject. Further accolades can be given to his attentiveness to sourcing his accounts and details with fluidity.
I never felt cheated of details from the setting nor overwhelmed with minutia.
A much deserved four star read.
Nthing I would not have already learnt by reading "setting the east ablaze" by Peter Hopkirk... Pompous
Actor/director/teacher. Split my time between Beijing and Seattle now. Listen to Audible on the subway and while driving. Love the reviews.
There is simply not enough source material available about the Baron to support a book this long. As a result, the narrative is exceedingly thin as the author works to pull disconnected references together into a coherent whole. By the end of the book we have heard everything there is to hear about the character, but we have also been subjected to long, discursive speculations about the philosophical, religious and political roots of his career. Historians are used to reading (and writing) this sort of thing. For the non-professional reader who is looking for the "story" of the man, the book is likely to prove boring and frustrating.
Ungern is a repulsive but fascinating character, and he operated in an extraordinary setting which will be largely unfamiliar to most readers. In my opinion, this writer was not up to the task of turning this rich but scanty material into a a satisfying and engaging book. I love history, but I was ready for it to be over hours before it was.
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