Simon Bolivar was one of history’s great characters. His revolutions across South America overthrew Spanish rule in six countries. His empire extended across the continent and was as large as that of Genghis Khan or Alexander the Great. Against all the odds, he was a Nietzchean superhuman, who with mainly inferior forces, defeated a strong European military power. He would race for battles across thousands of miles, often having to deal with the impossible geography of Latin America to do so. He was very sympathetic to the needs of the people, across all races and classes yet he had a vicious streak that was sometimes necessary to curb the power of his enemies and to protect his ideals. His military prowess as a general was unmatched yet he lacked the cut-throat political acuteness in order to rule his legacy in peace time. Bolivar’s romantic notions allowed the rise of caudillos who would nearly all turn against him by the end of his life. His life was semi-divine, mystical and has inspired many to this day yet his failure to govern successfully left him impoverished at the end of his life, seeking exile. perhaps he was too successful and took on too much? Perhaps he didn;t do enough and should have continued to liberate the whole continent? This book is interesting and well-written and gives a good insight into the life of a legendary character.
It only took me three days to read this relatively thin paperback. Genghis Khan had a huge role in history and there is rather a dearth of information on him, considering the massive scale of the Mongol Empire he created. At its peak, it ran from the Pacific in the East to the Mediterranean in the West, bigger than the Roman Empire and that carved by Alexander the Great. The author based his account primarily on new revelations prompted by his research team re-examining the Secret History of The Mongols, an ancient document which was very difficult to translate and had laid hidden for many years due to the political upheavals in the region. Genghis has a mixed reputation throughout history, with the likes of Chaucer elevating him and Voltaire and Montesquieu later deriding him. The Mongols uniquely placed world culture in a position to develop into what we now know, with international trade, religious tolerance and mass migration of peoples. The Mongols are perhaps looked down upon for not bequeathing us anything unique from their own culture, but rather amalgamating and developing existing ideas from the races and civilisations of other people’s they conquered. They practised some novel ideas for the time such as diplomatic immunity, not torturing prisoners, allowing all religions to flourish under the empire with an emphasis on secular law. The book covers the rise of Temujin from his downtrodden youth, to the height of his power and then looks at the maintenance of his legacy after his death, with the separation of the great Khanate into four primary regions. It is a great look at medieval history from an Asian perspective and has enlightened me about various subjects from that time and added to knowledge I already had on the Crusades, Marco Polo, the Black Death and The European Renaissance. The decline of the Empire was sudden and could only arise through a natural disaster which engulfed the whole world, in the Great Plague. What would have occurred had this devastating illness never erupted? The book was brief and precise and covered a vast array of topics though in my opinion for such a good subject matter, it could have been more expansive in volume. It has given me a taste for Genghis Khan and I shall try to dig out some more similar biographies on the great Steppes people.