An interesting attempt at a revisionist history of Genghis Khan and the Mongols. I only bother to say revisionist because in his (somewhat justified,...moreAn interesting attempt at a revisionist history of Genghis Khan and the Mongols. I only bother to say revisionist because in his (somewhat justified, as we will see) eagerness to vindicate the Mongols, he does go rather out of his way to downplay the havoc they spread. He spends all of maybe a page and a half on the sack of Baghdad, which resulted in the brutal and complete destruction of the greatest city of the most advanced civilization and culture of the era. This was a Big Deal, and what was destroyed and lost really needs to be taken into account along with what the Mongols built and enabled.
But what they built is quite impressive and important, and that's the story told by Weatherford. The semi-standard narrative of the Renaissance is that Marco Polo and the Venetians opened up trading routes with the East, commerce and cultural exchange in the Mediterranean and Near East grew from there, and eventually we rediscovered our birthright of ancient Roman and Greek culture and ideas. What's left out is who they opened up trading routes with, and how much that exchange had to do with Europe's ascent from the Dark Ages.
They opened trade with the Mongols, who had built the world's first true multicultural and international empire covering most of Asia and the Middle East. Although they did sack and burn and kill, that's not all they did. They also built safe roads and a postal system that allowed trade across thousands of miles of Eurasia, facilitated cultural and technological and religious exchange from Japan to Western Europe, invented paper money, militarized gunpowder and revolutionized siege tactics, used printing widely well before Gutenberg, and instituted efficient administration and the rule of law over a vast area. They even founded universities. They were probably the first multinational, meritocratic, ecumenical, and in many ways, modern state, and that state covered more territory than any other before or since. They created modern China under Kublai Khan, and their descendents ruled India into the 19th century. Not bad for a bunch of marginal, illiterate, yak-herding yurt-dwellers.
It's pretty amazing that the story of this remarkable man and his people doesn't figure more prominently in our history, but a combination of time, racism, chauvinism, and in modern times, a lack of access to what scant records remain due to the Cold War has kept it fairly marginal. So, in that way, this is a very important book, and I feel like it really filled an big gap in my understanding of history.
On the downside, the sourcing does seem a bit thin and/or legendary at times, but no more so than what we have on someone like Alexander or most other ancient world figures. Just take into account that he's a) going easy on the Mongols to try to counteract their really nasty reputation, and b) working from fragmentary and/or mythical information in some cases, and enjoy it for what it is, which is a well-told tale of a criminally neglected era of history.(less)
An adventurous buddy/road tale set in the teeming infinitude of colonial India. I was worried about it being ruined by Kipling’s colonialist paternali...moreAn adventurous buddy/road tale set in the teeming infinitude of colonial India. I was worried about it being ruined by Kipling’s colonialist paternalism, but it seems like, while in his head he was an imperialist, his heart was with the colonized. Beautifully and expansively told and described.(less)
Another in an ongoing series of American readings, wherein I'm trying to get a better overall picture of my country's character and history. An impres...moreAnother in an ongoing series of American readings, wherein I'm trying to get a better overall picture of my country's character and history. An impressive and inspiring story of a man who dragged himself up from nothing against great odds; a man of astounding will, personality, integrity, and intelligence, all of which were severely stunted by the society he lived in. It’s also a good look into the kinds of conditions that foster and perhaps even justify radicalism. I can at least understand, if not necessarily condone, his divergence from King and the integrationist/civil rights movement after reading about what he and his family/friends went through as black Americans. I can see how one could come to the conclusions that he did, given his harrowing experience, even if I don’t agree in the end. Of course, neither did he, in the end. It’s too bad he didn’t live to finish his evolution as Al-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz. It would have been a great ending to an already inspiring and gripping story.(less)
Rife with uncertainty, complexity in relationships, actions, and gestures; futility, entropy, battles to stake out identity and meaning amidst it, ind...moreRife with uncertainty, complexity in relationships, actions, and gestures; futility, entropy, battles to stake out identity and meaning amidst it, indefinable hope, and so on. Me likey.(less)
This is a sad, beautiful, funny retelling of the Arthurian myth from an anachronistic, modern standpoint. Another of those great books that uses the f...moreThis is a sad, beautiful, funny retelling of the Arthurian myth from an anachronistic, modern standpoint. Another of those great books that uses the framework of a well known story or mythos to go well beyond it, and explore ideas, history, and many of the great questions(and wonders) we all encounter in life. The characterization of Lancelot is also one of the most genuine, complex, tragic examples I have ever read.(less)