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

3.56  ·  Rating details ·  636 Ratings  ·  106 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
Hardcover, 264 pages
Published February 10th 2009 by Basic Books (first published 2008)
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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
Oct 18, 2011 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
May 27, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Dec 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
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
Aug 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Dec 09, 2011 rated it did not like it
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
A remarkable read about one of history's most bizarre characters -- a Russian nobleman from Estonia with a Jewish name who was apparently a Buddhist religious fanatic, seen as a reincarnation of Genghis Khan and, most startlingly, bulletproof. The author, who apparently hangs out pretty close to where this story unfolded, pulls together a tremendous number of sources written in different languages and with different levels of attention to accuracy, and puts it all in one place for you. Curiously ...more
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
Jay C
Jan 27, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very well written bio of a disturbingly psychopathic Russian nobleman who briefly "conquered" Mongolia in the years of and following the Russian Revolution and Civil War. I've always been fascinated by Mongolia and Genghis Khan, so when I heard of this one I thought I'd give it a try, since I knew very little of this corner of 20th century history.

I actually "read" it via the edition, which was very well produced. The litany of Baron Ungern's atrocities and excesses did become tireso
Like d'Annunzio, Roman Nikolai Maximilian von Ungern-Sternberg was an oddball proto-fascist adventurer who grabbed a few minutes on the world stage during the chaos of the early 20s. Unlike d'Annunzio he was a genuine psychopath who left a pile of corpses almost everywhere he went, and wasn't otherwise a talented writer

James Palmer, who is neither a psychopath or an untalented writer does what he can with the sources available, but, for all that his bloodthirsty rants found echoes in the mayhem
Brett Richardson
Apr 25, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 26, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Bisser Dyankov
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.
Mahmoud Awad
Jul 07, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fringe
Brilliant concept, dry and occasionally erroneous writing. Despite Palmer's uncertain grip, Ungern's story pulses well enough underneath. Recommended for the same themes that draw readers to to Mishima, Mirbeau's Torture Garden and Hiroaki Samura's Spring Breeze Snegurochka.
Feb 11, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
“The Bloody White Baron” is one of those fascinating short books about a nasty little corner of the world during a nasty time. The nasty little corner of the world is Mongolia; the nasty time is the Russian Civil War. The eponymous Baron is Roman Nikolai Maximilian von Ungern-Sternberg, of Estonian/German extraction, who was called the last khan of Mongolia and waged a brutal, doomed minor campaign against the Chinese and the Bolsheviks in the early 1920s. Naturally, he came to a bad end.

The bac
Mehmet Akif  Koc
May 12, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
James Palmer'ın Türkiye'de pek bilinmeyen Baron Ungern von Sternberg biyografisi, temelde, I.Dünya Savaşı ve 1917 Ekim Devrimini takibeden dönemde Moğolistan ve Sibirya'daki Beyaz Ordu faaliyetleri üzerine...

Baltık Almanlarından olan ve bilahare Rus aristokrasisine katılıp Uzakdoğu cephesinde Çarlık ordularında subay olarak savaşan Baron Ungern'in, Amiral Kolçak'ın 'Beyaz Ordu' komutanlığından ayrılıp kendi küçük ordusuyla 1918-21 arasında Moğolistan'ı işgal ederek, Çinlileri buradan kovması ve
Michael Davies
Aug 01, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The subtitle does describe the story well: it is an extraordinary sub-plot in history, a true case of stranger than fiction.

Von Ungern-Sternberg's story is harrowing, epic, even fantastical. It seems positively medieval in nature, with its focus on horseback warfare in the age of the aeroplane and the tank.

Palmer is an accomplished writer, explaining some of the necessary information that may be unfamiliar to a western audience with concise clarity. I found the discussion of Buddhism to be the
Jul 03, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: never-finished
Fascinating subject, but book is light on substantiation and heavy as hell on rumor and scandal and hyperbolic defamation of character (not of Ungern; that guy lives up to they awful hype; rather of the various Mongols, Lamas, and monarchs the author takes potshots at).

This story is best read as an article or a summary.
Mark Dunn
Jun 03, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
More a social than a military or a political history.
Edward Smith
Aug 03, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Jun 09, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

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
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
Feb 24, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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
May 10, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Dec 15, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Nick Sweeney
May 13, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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