An interesting attempt at a revisionist history of Genghis Khan and the Mongols. I only bother to say revisionist because in his (somewhat justified,An 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....more
I read this rather desultorily in high school, and didn't think much of it. I still didn't greatly enjoy the bulk of it... I'm just not generally veryI read this rather desultorily in high school, and didn't think much of it. I still didn't greatly enjoy the bulk of it... I'm just not generally very fond of period pieces about high-society interiors, unless they're of Russian provenance. What did get me this time around is the craft... just how tightly-written it is, and how well-rendered emotions and relationships and the small gestures which serve as their currency are. And the ending was right in a torturous sort of way... not what you're rooting for as the biased reader, but ultimately true to the story and the characters....more
This is massive and intricate, but not nearly so difficult to follow as I had feared. As billed as well, has all the things that make Tolstoy great, aThis is massive and intricate, but not nearly so difficult to follow as I had feared. As billed as well, has all the things that make Tolstoy great, and despite the length, nothing seems extraneous. Well, maybe nothing seems extraneous. It depends on whether you’re interested in history, as Tolstoy looked at this as an exploration of his (essentially anti-Great Man) theory of history as much or moreso than he did as a novel. What you end up with is a great historical novel that interweaves both threads(historical and personal) exceedingly well, with each complementing, explicating, and enforcing the other to wonderful effect....more
Re-reading this in the new P-V translation. Tolstoy is the master of uniting the Big and the Small; beautifully detailing inner life, and tying it togRe-reading this in the new P-V translation. Tolstoy is the master of uniting the Big and the Small; beautifully detailing inner life, and tying it together with social life and the larger state of the world. He also seems somehow able to put himself in just about anyone’s shoes, writing men, women, aristocrats, peasants, children, even animals with a deft compassion and empathy.
Anna K. has all of these things, and in a more accessible and personal package than War and Peace(which I also love.) I actually like the Levin/Kitty side story a lot better than the doomed Anna/Vronsky love affair, but the novel wouldn’t be as great without both, and the contrast that they set up. In the end, this is a novel about personal growth and evolution, and the myriad pathways: joyful, tragic, and everything in between, that it can take....more
An interesting look into a world that's all around us, but that we rarely know how to see. Thorough, at times even bordering on the obsessive, but itAn interesting look into a world that's all around us, but that we rarely know how to see. Thorough, at times even bordering on the obsessive, but it works for the topic. Suffers a bit when he tries to get all high-flown and Thoreauvian. You can imitate Thoreau without "imitating Thoreau" if you know what I mean. But those parts are ignorable, and the substance of the book and the entertainingness of the stories it tells carry it through....more
Literate steampunk set in a nano-sculpted and affinity-based collectivized future. A unique possible vision of where we could be heading, and a good aLiterate steampunk set in a nano-sculpted and affinity-based collectivized future. A unique possible vision of where we could be heading, and a good analysis of the possibilities and limitations inherent in the ever-changing interplay of the social, the economic, and the technological....more