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The Bloody White Baron: The Extraordinary Story of the Russian Nobleman Who Became the Last Khan of Mongolia

3.52  ·  Rating Details  ·  497 Ratings  ·  94 Reviews
In the history of the modern world, there have been few characters more sadistic, sinister, and deeply demented as Baron Ungern-Sternberg. An anti-Semitic fanatic with a penchant for Eastern mysticism and a hatred of communists, Baron Ungern-Sternberg took over Mongolia in 1920 with a ragtag force of White Russians, Siberians, Japanese, and native Mongolians. While torment ...more
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published March 20th 2008 by Faber & Faber (first published 2008)
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Community Reviews

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Hadrian


My name is surrounded by such hate and fear that no one can judge what is the truth and what is false, what is history and what is myth.
-Baron Roman von Ungern-Sternberg

This is a rollicking history about a forgotten section of a war in a distant corner of the earth, with entertaining digressions into Mongolian society, Buddhist mythology (Mongolian Buddhism is a far cry from Tibetan), and a biography of one of the strangest historical figures of the Russian Civil War.

Baron Roman von Ungern-Ster
...more
Steve
Dec 01, 2011 Steve rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, biography
It's OK, I guess. Palmer's actually a pretty colorful writer, but the problem with his subject, Baron Ungern-Sternberg, is that there's not a whole lot of reliable documentation on him as a person. There's little doubt that the Baron was a psychopath, but the Devil is in the lack of concrete details. The setting, post WW 1 Mongolia, is about as distant as it gets. Add in to that the murky murderous stew of competing powers (Red Russians, White Russians, Japanese, Chinese, Mongolians, soldiers of ...more
Adam
Jun 06, 2012 Adam rated it it was ok
I have always been interested in Mongolia, because of its remoteness from Europe, its inaccessibility, and its obscurity. Until recently, it was a country as impenetrable as, say, North Korea, but now that is no longer the case.

I never dreamt that I would ever treat Mongolian patients or would work with Mongolian dental assistants (many of them are dentists trained in Mongolia), but now I do!

So, when someone on Goodreads, having read my brief review of The Russian Fascists: Tragedy and Farce in
...more
Tim Pendry
The subject of this book is a vicious anti-semitic Baltic aristocrat, Baron Ungern-Sternberg, who briefly flared up as a murderous precursor of national socialist ethnic cleansing in Mongolia in the chaos of the post-revolutionary struggle for control of the Russian Empire.

As with the tale of Colonel Despard recently reviewed by us (another marginal figure in another empire at another time), an individual outlier from the norm is an opportunity to weave a story about a particular time and place
...more
Jerome
Dec 13, 2013 Jerome rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
You’ve probably never heard of the Baron Ungern-Sternberg. I came across a passing reference of him while reading The World on Fire: 1919 and the Battle with Bolshevism last year: something about him claiming to be a reincarnation of Genghis Khan, declaring that he would kill every Jew in Russia, making human torches out of his victims and vowing to make an avenue of gallows from Siberia to Europe.

My interest thus piqued, I looked for a biography of this guy and came across this. Palmer give us
...more
Kevin
Dec 21, 2011 Kevin rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Not quite what I expected. I thought this would be a biography of the Russian aristocrat (Baron Ungern-Sternberg) who would be the savior of Mongolia, the spiritual and military reincarnation of Genghis Khan. Maybe combined with a history of Mongolia in the post-Russian revolution period. It was a little of both of these, but much more of a military history of the White (anti-communist) Russians and Baron Ungern’s various battles, which just isn’t that interesting. The Baron seems to have been q ...more
DoctorM
I first read about Ungern-Sternberg in Peter Hopkirk's account of the Russian Civil War in Central Asia ("Setting the East Ablaze"), and I couldn't imagine why the Baron's story hadn't been filmed. It has everything--- armoured trains, ragtag armies moving across the steppe like something out of "Road Warrior", Mongol horsemen, Japanese mercenaries, eerie shamanic rituals, and a central figure whose madness and cruelty are...well, breathtaking. Ungern-Sternberg's story is a kind of dark, dark co ...more
Tamara
A good yarn, about an excellently demented, and extremely brutal corner of 20th century history. The Baron is a weird enough character and Palmer makes a seemingly honest attempt to get to the bottom of his personality and ideology, but this strikes me as the less interesting aspect of the book (as well as being a hopeless cause.) The history of the events themselves is more striking. From the dramatically named baroque killer train of the Russian civil war, which roamed Siberia, complete with b ...more
Christopher
Aug 07, 2013 Christopher rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, nonfiction
I read this before, but its such a real life 'Heart of Darkness/Apocaypse Now' in the Russian Civil War that I had to read it again. Still amazing. A meditation on all that far right/occultist merger stuff that today exists largely in center-left homeopathic whole foods shopper form. The Baron was a genuine madman with power, and thus its s true case study in when the insane may do as they please.
Brett Richardson
Apr 25, 2013 Brett Richardson rated it really liked it
The nexus of Mongolia lies at the heart of three revolutions and the subsequent civil wars, all happening in a small window of time from 1911 to 1949, which reshaped the modern world. The 1911 overthrow of the Qing Dynasty by Chinese revolutionaries (eventually culminating in the establishment of the Mao Zedong led People's Republic of China in 1949), the subsequent 1911 Mongolian revolt against their weakened Qing rulers, and the 1917 Bolshevik revolution against Nicholas II's Czarist autocracy ...more
Robert
Jan 26, 2013 Robert rated it really liked it
When it's done well, I love this type of lay history, well-sourced but written in a readable, non-academic way, and this book is an excellent example. It's a fascinating story about a truly bizarre historical character, a Russian aristocrat who became one of the last leaders of Mongolia prior to its being engulfed by the Russian revolution and becoming a Soviet satellite. Though a complete moral reprobate, Ungern-Sternberg is apparently still somewhat revered in Mongolia for having liberated the ...more
Nick Sweeney
May 13, 2015 Nick Sweeney rated it really liked it
Baron Roman Ungern von Sternberg was of Baltic German origin. It can be supposed that there had to be something in his upbringing that made him the man he became - boarding and military school - immune to laws other than the ones he made for himself. These varied: he was religious, but in a vague way, revered Russian Orthodoxy at a distance, revered Mongolian Buddhism with more interest, and yet admitted that he could only scratch the surface of it. His main causes were more anti- than pro-, so ...more
Kathryn
Mar 02, 2014 Kathryn rated it really liked it
The subtitle of the 2009 edition is a misnomer: "The Extraordinary Story of the Russian Nobleman Who Became the Last Khan of Mongolia." I think it was the publisher's ploy to get people to pick up the book. It worked for me (I was searching for Mongolian history books), and I feel a bit deceived. *Spoiler alert*: The Baron von Ungern-Sternberg was never a khan of Mongolia.

Otherwise, I really enjoyed the book. Palmer weaves together an incredible account of this fascinating madman who (can you be
...more
Bisser Dyankov
Jan 07, 2013 Bisser Dyankov rated it liked it
While the story itself is interesting, be sure to read all the notes and comments - they bring more insights of contemporary Mongolia than anything else on this book. Otherwise, it is, in a way, a strange tale of a collision of one people (Mongolians) with modern times and the change those times bring.

Oh, and some bizarre and interesting facts about Imperial Russia.
Dergrossest
Dec 29, 2009 Dergrossest rated it really liked it
Another dark journey into Mongolia with another unlovable protagonist. While not achieving the empire or infamy of Genghis Kahn, you certainly have to give this book's Baron Ungern-Sternberg an A+ for effort as he deals death and destruction with feverish religious flourish through the eastern regions of post-Tsarist Russia. While Ungern seems little different than various other historical raving lunatics grasping for their 15-minutes of fame, the author is a fantastic writer who uses Ungern as ...more
Edward Smith
Aug 31, 2011 Edward Smith rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Baron Ungern-Sternberg is one of those men in history that would be balked at as an absurdly poor written tale of fiction had they not actually been real. The son of a privileged Baltic German Lutheran noble family who was obsessed with the autocratic monarchy of the Russian Empire and Orthodox Church, with a strange penchant for Eastern mysticism and the occult. A virulent anti-Semite and a depraved individual who reveled in cruelty, yet was an undisciplined dropout of several institutions whos ...more
Ira Therebel
I have never heard of Baron Ungern before. I saw the book at the sales area of the University bookstore and knew that I have to read it.

I do feel like the cover of the book was a bit more sensational than the story itself. I really disagree with the claim on the cover that he foreshadowed the Nazis. This could be said about many historical figures. Such incredible violence is really not that rare in history. To me it seems that he was closer in his actions to his historical roots than the Nazis.
...more
Alex Sarll
Even by the standards of that playground of monsters that was the twentieth century, Baron Ungern-Sternberg stands out as a deranged horror. A mere thug in the dying days of Tsarist Russia, he was transfigured by war, revolution and civil war into something much worse. And yet in all his atrocities, and even his achievements (conquering a country with cavalry, less than a century ago), he still seems an almost cosy foretaste of what was to come. A mystical fantasist who loved the swastika emblem ...more
Steven
Apr 02, 2009 Steven rated it liked it
Shelves: biography, history, maps
I read this review in the New York Times, and I thought I'd give this book a shot. I've always been interested in Mongolia, but didn't know much about its history. And history is always more interesting when linked to a strong personality. Brother, what a personality.

Baron Ungern was an unstable person who became a very influential character in a very unstable part of world during a very unstable time -- the central Asia of the 1910-20s. Part mystic, part aristocrat, and whole lot of Hitler, thi
...more
Bubba
Interesting account of a Lutheran, ethnic-German Estonian aristocrat who became an important figure on the white side during the Russian civil war. He combined his love of monarchy, obsession with the mystical strains of Russian Orthodoxy and Tibetan Buddhism, hatred of Jews and Bolshevism, fascination with Mongolia, and sadism into an apocalyptic dream of reviving the empire of Chinggiz Khan. He was a very contradictory figure, sometimes lenient to Mongols, but brutal to his own European follow ...more
Scott Lyall
Aug 01, 2011 Scott Lyall rated it really liked it
A biography of the insane Baron Ungen-Sternberg, who, escaping from the defeat of the White Armies in the Russian revolution, lead the remnants of his regiment into Mongolia. There, he persuaded the locals to join him in fighting the Chinese, cutting a bloody swathe across the country, slaughtering anyone who they suspected was a Bolshevik, Jewish or anyone else they didn't like, riding under the swastika (Ungern was a proto-nazi) before leading his cavalary force against the modern Red Army bac ...more
Justin Offermann
Having once researched Mongolian history rather extensively for a college paper, I was familiar with the basic, bare-bones outline of Baron Ungern-Sternberg's exploits there, and when I saw this book several years later I had to pick it up. The Baron is at once preposterous and chilling; a deeply committed Russian monarchist who dreams of turning Mongolia into the core of a new Asiatic empire, an adherent of a strange mix of Buddhist mythology and prophecy mixed with a heavy dose of apocalyptic ...more
Vince
Dec 17, 2009 Vince rated it liked it
The Baron was a minor Russian nobleman who was completely insane. He executed his own troops with glee, was a virulent anti semite, killing all Jews he got his hands on and was the last Khan of Mongolia. During the Russian Civil War 1918 - 1921 he left the Russian army to seek fame and fortune among the Mongols. He put together a ragtag army of Russian whites fleeing the communists, Mongolians who saw him as a reincarnated Buddhist diety, God Of War type, and captured Chinese soldiers. He had th ...more
Allan
Feb 18, 2014 Allan rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Seth
Sep 10, 2009 Seth rated it really liked it

James Palmer's a good historian with an intuitive grasp of what makes a popular history book fascinating and interesting, and he ups that by interspersing history with reports of his modern travels to the places mentioned in his story.

This is the story of Baron Roman Nickolai Maximilian von Ungern-Sternberg - a German nobleman living in Estonia, then part of the Russian Empire, whose travels to the edges of the Russian Empire made him familiar first with the Cossacks and then the Mongols. He fig
...more
M2
Apr 10, 2009 M2 rated it liked it

Call him Baron von Crazy Pants. Baron Nikolai Maximilian von Ungern-Sternberg (1885–1921) was a Czarist leader in Siberia and Mongolia during the Bolshevik revolution. A fascinating but cruel character, he cut a path of violence, pillage, torture and mayhem across this forgotten region's history.

He was an Estonian nobleman of German descent and servant of the Russian Empire, and a descendant of Baltic pirates (one of his ancestors lit false beacons on the family island north of Estonia to lure

...more
Meaghan
This is the biography of Baron Ungern-Sternberg, an obscure but fascinating and extraordinary man from the annals of early 20th-century history. He has striking similarities to Adolf Hitler: a sadistic and stunningly anti-Semetic madman with delusions of grandeur who was convinced he had been chosen to save the world, who was popular with the people at first and had many military victories, but whose excesses eventually cost him his cause, his country and his life. Ungern, a monarchist who saw J ...more
Rebecca
Feb 16, 2014 Rebecca rated it really liked it
So basically this dude was Hitler before Hitler. The similarities - virulent anti-Semitism that called for the extermination of the entire Jewish population, and racial dogma - are astounding. Thankfully, this dude overreached himself and was executed, at least...

I'm not going to give this five stars because it presupposes a lot of knowledge about the Russian Revolution - if I hadn't just finished Figes' monumental work many of the names here wouldn't have made any sense to me.
Lee Battersby
Jan 21, 2015 Lee Battersby added it
Shelves: dnf
Unreadably bad. Palmer is clearly a writer with a passion forMongolia, and a political point to make, but his long asides and diatribes, coupled with footnotes that vary between simple references and long, unsubstantiated opinion pieces, turn this mess of a book into an utter farrago. Ungern-Sternberg is clearly a compelling character, and there's bound to be a fascinating biography of the man out there somewhere, but this isn't anywhere near it. Did not finish.
Angela
Aug 04, 2009 Angela rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Angela by: nytimes
The Bloody White Baron is the horrifying but enthralling story of Baron Roman Ungern von Sternberg, an Austrian-born German nobleman who was brought up in Estonia and later joined the Russian military, eventually serving in Siberia and Persia before fighting with the White resistance during the Russian civil war and eventually becoming a Mongolian dictator. James Palmer attempts to reconstruct the Baron's life, no easy task in light of his shunning of bureaucracy and paperwork and generally fera ...more
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