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The Secret History of the Mongol Queens: How the Daughters of Genghis Khan Rescued His Empire

3.91  ·  Rating details ·  3,301 ratings  ·  477 reviews
The Mongol queens of the thirteenth century ruled the largest empire the world has ever known. Yet sometime near the end of the century, censors cut a section from "The Secret History of the Mongols, " leaving a single tantalizing quote from Genghis Khan: "Let us reward our female offspring." Only this hint of a father's legacy for his daughters remained of a much larger s ...more
Hardcover, 317 pages
Published February 16th 2010 by Crown Publishing Group (NY)
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Nov 02, 2011 rated it did not like it
Okay, it's not that this was a bad book. In fact, it was a four-star book (well, a three-and-a-half, but let's call it four). Except.

Except that Jack Weatherford wrote a brilliant book called Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World, which precedes this book. It was the story of how Genghis Kahn and his four sons shaped the modern world in the 1200s. It is everything you want in a history book: well-researched, aware of and respectful of and inclusive of a drastically different culture fr
Alice Poon
Dec 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing

In my opinion, the author deserves even more credit for this book than "Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World", simply because historians tend to play down women's contribution to shaping the world in official records. His mere efforts to glue together a chunk of Mongolian history related to women from bits and pieces he uncovered during research deserve commendation. By presenting such important historical facts, he gives readers better insight into Genghis Khan's philosophy about mai
Bryn Hammond
Jan 10, 2012 rated it really liked it
This is, or has, both speculative history and history told as story--as per his first on the Mongols, Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World. Perhaps I found more quibbles with this one. For instance, his dissolute Ogodei doesn't square with the kindly drunk portrayed in Juvaini Genghis Khan: The History Of The World Conqueror--on which grounds and similar, I thought the good/evil contrast between Genghis' daughters and his sons too strongly put. Nor did I believe the 'war on women' con ...more
Nov 11, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Okay, I'm obsessed with the Mongol Empire. Otherwise, why would I write a novel about a princess who lived in that era? But this book really captured my imagination.

Most of us think of "barbarians" and "plunder" when we hear the words "Mongol" or "Genghis Khan." But did you know that Genghis Khan gave power to his daughters? While he and his sons were off with the army, conquering lands far more advanced than Mongolia, he left the already-conquered lands under the control of his wives and daught
May 25, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
I have probably recommended this book to more people than any other book I have read in the past year. In part, this is because it is extremely readable and easily accessible even to people who have no knowledge of Central Asia or its history, but mostly it is because its subject matter is so fascinating. Before reading this book, I had no idea of the role that the daughters, daughters-in-law, and granddaughters of Genghis Khan played in ruling, destroying and preserving his empire. It's not a b ...more
Missy J
Jan 24, 2016 rated it really liked it
Ger on the move
Mongolian ger (yurt) transported on a cart.

Inside a ger
Inside a Mongolian ger.

The Mongolian practice of tsatsal, which consists of tossing fermented mare's milk into the air as an offering to the spirits (usually after the departure of loved ones to war or to join another family upon marriage).


When I was in university, I studied Chinese studies, and the last semester of my undergraduate studies was spent in Beijing. While studying there, I got to meet a Mongol girl called Qiqige (棋棋歌). Ethnical
This is how you write historical non-fiction. This is definitely how you write about badass women in history.

I honestly feel kind of bad as a feminist for not knowing about Mongol women earlier. Not that the early Mongols were feminists, per se, but the treatment and history of women is so vastly different from almost any historical culture that I've read about--it should be a huge point in women's history. We all know about Genghis Khan (or at least we all should). But what of his wives, his da
Tumeeb13 Bold
Jul 26, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Well, not exactly this version, but a Mongolian translation I read. Just too lazy to add a new book. It was really interesting to read it. How some historical facts were buried. At some point, it felt like a story being made up. But as the author is fairly accurate about historical facts, it's convincing. As I'm a Mongolian, and a woman, I've always felt like women in Mongolian society and families have more value than anything. Even they marry someone, and leave their home, even they are said, ...more
Lauren Albert
This was one of those books where I wished the author would allow a good story to speak for itself. There was way too much melodramatic language:

"The Mongol nation and the once glorious Golden Family sank so low and suffered so much abuse that it would possibly have been a blessing for the whole family to have died and the name of the nation to have disappeared into the wind like the cold ashes of an abandoned camp."

It was a constant irritant through an otherwise interesting book.
So here's the thing: basically everything I knew about Genghis Khan and the Mongol Empire comes from playing Civilisation II as a kid. Which is to say that I knew Karakorum was the capital and Genghis Khan developed one hell of an empire (except in Civ II because I was a BIG fan of the cheat menu and would just obliterate anyone who came near me), but almost nothing but that.

I've also been trying to read more non-fiction this year that tells women's stories. So this seemed like a prime opportun
Feb 24, 2017 added it
Fun, informative, at times harrowing, and well-written throughout. This isn't quite so cohesive a project as Weatherford's prior book, which focused on the character of Genghis Khan and the fate of the empire after his death—but that's to be expected considering this project's broader focus, on reassembling a largely overlooked history of the role of Borjigin women in war and government. I'd love to read more projects along this line, focusing on the role of women in politics and government, des ...more
Feb 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
I was fascinated by this history of Mongolia in the 13th-15th centuries, a subject I had no prior knowledge of. At times, the power struggles and family intrigues had me a bit lost with the sheer number of unfamiliar names and places. But, that did not prevent me from thoroughly enjoying this book. I learned so much about the way of life of this people. The role given to women by Genghis Khan and the power women were permitted to wield in this nomadic culture was so far ahead of European culture ...more
Aug 14, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, non-fiction
Did you know that Genghis Khan was noted as a fair and enlightened ruler? Well, in part. He believed in a fair trial, a code of rules, and women's rights. In fact, his sons were all mostly washouts. But his daughters were pretty darn talented. So he made them administrators and generals and sent them out to maintain order along the borders of his empire. But then he died, and his heirs starting squabbling.

I really enjoyed this. Every once in a while, I got a little bogged down in details. But ov
Karolinde (Kari)
Apr 10, 2010 rated it it was amazing
A truly good history book is one that opens your mind and awakens your curiousity. This book definitely fits those requirements. Weatherford writes about the female descendents of Genghis Khan and their legacy. It all starts with a missing chapter in the "official history" of the ruling family and Weatherford's own relucantance to believe in the folk tales of powerful warrior queens. Forget Mulan, this is the real deal, women who ruled and fought and did so well.

Perhaps the most surprising part
Jan 13, 2013 rated it really liked it
Five years ago, when I read Weatherford's "Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World" I was struck by the role of women in Genghis Khan's Mongol Empire. I thought it worthy of a book, and, voila! It is!

Weatherford is uniquely qualified to write this book and his knowledge shines through. He writes of tribes, customs, places and events giving enough description to enable westerners to understand the unfamiliar. There is a useful map and several genealogy charts.

Weatherford tells how Genghis
Jan 25, 2015 rated it really liked it
Fascinating pieces of lost &/or censored history. There are still plenty of gaps in the information, but Weatherford has done a good job of tracking down various sources of info in an attempt to uncover & save the history. (FYI, there are some harrowing sections in there re: violence toward girls & women.) Be sure to also read the epilogue, note on transliteration, & notes at the end of the book. It does get a little confusing to read at times, mostly owing to the previously mentioned gaps &/or ...more
Uyangategsh Altansukh
Being that I am a Mongolian woman myself and fight for equality between genders I so wanted to make this my favorite book of all time. I wanted to reply ‘oh yes, the secret history of the mongol queens is the best book ever’ to people who asked me for recommendations. However, that just didn’t happen.

I enjoyed that it wasn’t written in a historic way that would bore the freaking snot out of someone but written in more of a novella type. I liked how the author Jack Weatherford has such vast info
Apr 06, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Amazing book! Before this I had no idea that Genghis Khan even cared about his daughters let alone give them free reign to do anything important. Manduhai's story is especially salient not only because she was the last major queen in the book, but because she literally did the same thing that GK did generations before her. More people need to read this :) ...more
May 11, 2012 rated it liked it
I'm glad that I read this -- it opened my eyes to a piece of history that I knew very little about -- though I found the book itself frustrating. This doesn't quite work as a narrative (too many disconnected stories, and, for instance, the subtitle is actually not an accurate description of the book's thesis -- Weatherford distinguishes between the empire, which was lost, and the nation, which was saved, a distinction that the subtitle eliminates), nor does it hold up as a presentation of histor ...more
I was drawn in from the start feeling as though I were sitting there at camp having some broth and tea, but it tends to drone on in effort to build up your knowledge of the family, customs and environment of the Mongols so much so that after a while you might forget this book is actually about the queens. I imagine that has something to do with the limited reference material that exists on them.

Later it tends to get depressing as Genghis's empire falls apart and the men continue to make the mos
I really wanted to like this as the topic sounds fascinating to me. However the writer's dry style and the lack of actual discussion of Genghis Khan's daughters made it difficult to wade through. ...more
Informative and entertaining. I particularly liked the first part, which detailed how Genghis Khan established his empire and set his wives and daughters in charge.
Nov 16, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, 2010, history
This book is a fascinating look at a period of history I knew very little about - and then goes even deeper.

Many people know the basics of the story of Genghis Khan, but what I hadn't realised is what happened after he died. The short answer is: his daughters were a lot more competent than his sons, and more than that, it was the female descendents of his line who kept coming back to try and restore stability to the empire.

However, the name of the book comes from the fact that while most Mongo
Jan 10, 2018 rated it liked it
Positives: 1. Knowing next to nothing about Genghis Khan, I now know a little more than next to nothing
2. An interesting assessment of Khan's ability to conquer vast territories, and especially his reliance on installing his daughters in places of power. Not just a fierce warrior but with farsighted and innovative ideas.
Negatives: 1. The first part was Mongolia's rise to power. Half of the second part was the downfall. Then a long stretch until we got to the last warrior Queen who pulls Mongolia
Rebecca Huston
I found this one to be worth finding, full of things I had never found out before, and one that blew most of my notions about the Mongols right out of the water. For those of you who think that history is dull, this book just might change your mind. Well written, with plenty of stories to fire your imagination. Four stars overall, and heartily recommended.

For the longer review, please go here:
David H.
Jan 06, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
What a great corrective to the false idea that women had no power or influence before the modern day. The structure of this book starts with Genghis Khan and his immediate family, then the remnants, and then the final part focuses on the North Yuan dynasty with Queen Manduhai. I recommend this to anyone interested in a fresh narrative that you wouldn't see in Western books, since many of the woman in Genghis Khan's empire were literally erased from history (such as obviously missing chapters in ...more
Sep 08, 2016 rated it really liked it
Apparently some women make history, just like men. Who knew? Along with the hyper-dramatic stories of various queens, one gets a pocket history of the rise and fall of the Mongol empire that should be of interest (for comparative purposes) to observers of the American empire. The middle of the book was bogged down with details about dynastic relations, and I wouldn't have minded a few more anthropological details about the Mongols, but on the whole this was a fascinating read. ...more
Apr 19, 2017 rated it it was ok
I managed 50% of it. Too much of drab chronicles with the same morbid endings. I may go back to it for additional history at some point, but having read a lot about the Mongols previously, enough is enough. The book has been tabled for me.
Sep 22, 2017 rated it liked it
This book is very well documented and has a LOT of fascinating information about the Mongol Empire and especially about the women of the Genghis Khan era and later. I deliberated about giving it a higher rating as I appreciated the difficulty in trying to document truth from folk tale; however, it was a challenging read with very unusual names to keep straight, complicated lineage, unfamiliar geography (maps in the beginning had to be regularly checked) and sometimes the non chronological series ...more
Feb 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is a fascinating look into Mongol culture and history. Despite having had an abiding interest in history all my life, despite earning a history degree, despite being a history teacher, I had no idea of the existence of the Mongol Queens or of Genghis Khan's enlightened (for the time) policies toward women. Now that I know about them, I'm mad that the Mongol Queens have been erased from history and the popular imagination so completely. Weatherford does a great job of piecing together w ...more
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Jack McIver Weatherford is the former DeWitt Wallace Professor of anthropology at Macalester College in Minnesota. He is best known for his 2004 book, Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World. His other books include The History of Money; Indian Givers: How the Indians of the Americas Transformed the World; and The Secret History of the Mongol Queens: How the Daughters of Genghis Khan Rescu ...more

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