Reviews for Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World


Booklist Monthly Selections - #1 February 2004
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. ((Reviewed February 1, 2004)) Copyright 2004 Booklist Reviews.

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Kirkus Reviews 2003 December #1
"The Mongols swept across the globe as conquerors," writes the appreciative pop anthropologist-historian Weatherford (The History of Money, 1997, etc.), "but also as civilization's unrivaled cultural carriers."No business-secrets fluffery here, though Weatherford does credit Genghis Khan and company for seeking "not merely to conquer the world but to impose a global order based on free trade, a single international law, and a universal alphabet with which to write all the languages of the world." Not that the world was necessarily appreciative: the Mongols were renowned for, well, intemperance in war and peace, even if Weatherford does go rather lightly on the atrocities-and-butchery front. Instead, he accentuates the positive changes the Mongols, led by a visionary Genghis Khan, brought to the vast territories they conquered, if ever so briefly: the use of carpets, noodles, tea, playing cards, lemons, carrots, fabrics, and even a few words, including the cheer hurray. (Oh, yes, and flame throwers, too.) Why, then, has history remembered Genghis and his comrades so ungenerously? Whereas Geoffrey Chaucer considered him "so excellent a lord in all things," Genghis is a byword for all that is savage and terrible; the word "Mongol" figures, thanks to the pseudoscientific racism of the 19th century, as the root of "mongoloid," a condition attributed to genetic throwbacks to seed sown by Mongol invaders during their decades of ravaging Europe. (Bad science, that, but Dr. Down's son himself argued that imbeciles "derived from an earlier form of the Mongol stock and should be considered more 'pre-human, rather than human.' ") Weatherford's lively analysis restores the Mongols' reputation, and it takes some wonderful learned detours-into, for instance, the history of the so-called Secret History of the Mongols, which the Nazis raced to translate in the hope that it would help them conquer Russia, as only the Mongols had succeeded in doing.A horde-pleaser, well-written and full of surprises.Agency: Wallace Literary Agency Copyright Kirkus 2003 Kirkus/BPI Communications.

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2004 February #1
Apart 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 (Savages and Civilization), 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-the 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 any reader. (Mar. 23) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

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School Library Journal Reviews 2004 July
Adult/High School-An interesting, thought-provoking account of the conqueror's life and legacy. From his early years as the son of a widow abandoned by her clan, he showed remarkable ability as a charismatic leader and unifier. In 25 years, his army amassed a greater empire than the Romans had been able to achieve in 400. Whether judged on population or land area, it was twice as large as that of any other individual in history. This colorful retelling discusses many of the innovations that marked Khan's rule and contributed to his success. Although his name is now erroneously associated with terror and slaughter, he showed surprising restraint during a time when few others in power did. He allowed freedom of religion, encouraged free trade, developed a paper currency, and observed diplomatic immunity. As he encountered new cultures, he adopted or adapted their best practices, and constantly updated his military strategies. Although Khan's death occurs at the midpoint of this book, the tales of his survivors' exploits and the gradual fall of the Mongol dynasties are engaging and informative. Weatherford's efforts to credit Genghis Khan and his descendants with the ideas and innovations that created the Renaissance are a bit bewildering, but readers will be left with a new appreciation of a maligned culture, and a desire to learn more.-Kathy Tewell, Chantilly Regional Library, VA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

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