Review: Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World

Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World
Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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.

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A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers by Xiaolu Guo

I studied Chinese language for a couple of years and am constantly on the lookout for books about China and its culture. When this jumped out at me from a charity shop bookshelf, at first I thought it was just another dictionary. But I read the back and thought that it would make a good present for my partner and as I had recently bought her the cult erotic tale, ‘Fifty Shades Of Grey’, I thought she could trump all her friends by encountering the Chinese version.
I decided that although I’m not a great lover of fiction and no virtually nothing at all about erotic fiction, because of the cultural aspect, I would give it a go myself. I immediately got drawn into the main character. I loved the way the book was presented. For a student of the Mandarin tongue I fully embraced the way the English was written, in a ‘Chinglish’ fashion, and many references were made to the linguistic differences between East and West. Sex in the Orient is often seen in the West as a taboo subject and it is certain that it is viewed in very different terms throughout the globe depending upon one’s culture. I was shocked in a way to hear this young Chinese girl talk so open about her sexual desires and experiences. It was a real eye-opener. Her journeys across Europe and her liasons were very much down to earth and frank, and to be honest very believable. She didn’t experience the Hollywood romances, other fictional writers may depict. Her boudoir was really rather more grounded in the reality of sex, with disappointment, less than perfect partners and a real animalistic edge to the carnal desire, which did seem rather shocking coming from a woman’s mouth, even if she was from the Orient.
The book wasn’t all about sex and I found the travel side of the tale very interesting. The clash of cultures, of civilisations, the differences between East and West were fully explored. Not since I read Montesquieu’s Persian Letters, have I read such a good description of how an alien immerses themselves in a totally foreign culture. For anyone who has travelled abroad, especially travelling solo, it is very easy to relate to the findings made in this book. It’s not the grandiose elements of travel that form the memories of the experience, it’s the little details, the trivial elements that make travel what it is. Here was a woman struggling with her own emotions, cast out on her own in a journey of self-discovery. I think she found herself on her journey and her story was really an interesting and very readable one. For any sinophiles this is a great read and for people who want to know more about Chinese cultures and perceptions especially from a sexual perspective, I would highly recommend this book.