Thankfully, the book I’m reviewing has a much better title than this post: “Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World”.
Jack Weatherford spins the remarkable tale of the original Great Khan, who pretty much started at zero and at his death ruled an empire larger than any in history. And what’s more amazing, he doesn’t seem like a total jerk. Rule of law, extending all the way up to the Khan himself? Check. Religious freedom for everyone? Check. Cultural sensitivity for and self-management of his conquered peoples? Check and check. No doubt Weatherford is putting his own pro-Genghis spin on the story, but there’s only so much spin you can put on this much detail.
I think it’s the religious tolerance that suprised me the most about the Mongol Empire. Here’s a quote, one of my favorites from the book, describing the end of a pan-ideological conference hosted by Genghis Khan:
No side semed to convince the other of anything. Finally, as the effects of the alcohol became stronger, the Christians gave up trying to persuade anyone with logical arguments, and resorted to singing. The Muslims, who did not sing, responded by loudly reciting the Koran in an effort to drown out the Christians, and the Buddhists retreated into silent mediation. At the end of the debate, unable to convert or kill one another, they concluded the way most Mongol celebrations concluded, with everyone simply too drunk to continue.
Another thing I found enjoyable about this book was the way it dovetailed with two others I’m working through. I read a great deal about the Mongol invasion of Persia from the Persian perspective in Bernard Lewis’s “The Middle East: A Brief History of the Last 2,000 Years”. Now I’ve seen the Mongol side of it. Similarly, the melancholy end of Gavin Menzies’s “1421: The Year China Discovered America” is the sudden decision of China to forego their navy and burn their boats, thus erasing from history their amazing accomplishments. Weatherford shows how that was a direct result of a backlash against Mongol rule.
Most of all, I feel like I have a better grounding in a distant, poorly understood (by Westerners, anyway), but dazzling episode in Asian history.