Review: Kon-Tiki

Kon-Tiki by Thor Heyerdahl
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve been to Polynesia, and stood out on a deserted beach, staring out at the vastness of the Pacific, it is only natural to imagine how these people first arrived in such a remote location. Thor Heyerdahl, in living memory, in one of the greatest sea voyages of all time, also wondered this, and set in motion a fabulous journey to emulate the ancestors of the modern day Polynesians, by sailing on a traditional pae-pae or raft from his theorized seeding point of the race in Peru. Kon-Tiki was a pre-Incan King who escaping from battle defeat on mainland South America, headed off into the Pacific Ocean sunset, seeking new lands. Thor and his five Scandic compadres repeated this adventure, having thoroughly researched every detail of it. Their voyage was viewed by most experts as a complete suicide mission. This book narrates wonderfully the ship’s log, as they trundled along the empty oceans on a unique epic of discovery. From the sea creatures they encountered en route, to the sparseness of their abode, Heyerdahl records in graphic detail every aspect of their plight. It is a truly enlightening tale, which reads exceptionally well. It is a real page-turner, which grips you as the journey progresses and you genuinely can empathise with the men’s elation when they finally strike land and spend a few weeks partying with the natives, Polynesian style. It’s a happy tale and an amazing true story. A great read! Highly recommended.

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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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