Genghis Khan was by far the greatest conqueror the world has ever known, whose empire stretched from the Pacific Ocean to central Europe, including all of China, the Middle East and Russia. So how did an illiterate nomad rise to such colossal power, eclipsing Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar and Napoleon? Credited by some with paving the way for the Renaissance, condemned by others for being the most heinous murderer in history, who was Genghis Khan?
His actual name was Temujin, and the story of his success is that of the Mongol people: a loose collection of fractious tribes who tended livestock, considered bathing taboo and possessed an unparallelled genius for horseback warfare. United under Genghis, a strategist of astonishing cunning and versatility, they could dominate any sedentary society they chose.
Combining fast-paced accounts of battles with rich cultural background and the latest scholarship, Frank McLynn brings vividly to life the strange world of the Mongols, describes Temujin’s rise from boyhood outcast to become Genghis Khan, and provides the most accurate and absorbing account yet of one of the most powerful men ever to have lived.
Prolific British historian and biographer McLynn (Captain Cook) seeks to determine how a seemingly insignificant nomadic tribe from the remote, arid, sub-Arctic steppe became world conquerors. He relies heavily on The Secret History of the Mongols, an enigmatic Mongol hagiography, and on contemporary Arab and Persian authors who had their own evident biases. "The history of Genghis Khan and the Mongols can sometimes seem no more than an endless recital of massacres with pyramids of skulls," McLynn writes, but he enlivens the litany of destruction with explorations of animal husbandry, traditional religion, and other anthropological topics sections that are often more interesting than those recounting military exploits. Mongol diplomatic strategy also bears recounting, particularly the drinking binges forced upon Song dynasty envoys. Although the author exhibits a great deal of sympathy for his subject, his opinions on the Mongol nation are not particularly positive: "While the Mongols' military achievements were stupendous, they were otherwise totally parasitic," he notes. They also "produced no cultural artefacts... and did not even bake bread; they essentially relied on the captive craftsmen and experts for everything." McLynn's work is sweepingly ambitious and persistently intriguing, even if it is not always clear how reliable his sources may be. Maps & illus.