Book Review: Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World


Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern WorldGenghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed listening to this.

The reader was very good. The text was enthusiastic and interesting. The production was generally well done (but occasionally annoying – music from nowhere and a reminder that this was from Audible -which wasn’t a surprise as I was listening on the Audible app). The author himself reading the afterward was a personal touch.

The title was perhaps more ambitious than could be proved. There were many ideas that the Mongols implemented in their society – from their means of warfare to paper money to near universal education. Trade, goods and commerce, transportation all expand the world. Ideas cross from country to country. The ideas of the herders vs farmers, rural vs urban, unsettled vs settled all the way back to Cain and Abel as pointed to by the author are interesting to consider. However, Weatherford asserts that these things are a direct line from Mongol culture to modernity … and doesn’t show us how, entirely.

Just because another people did something … doesn’t mean that it is why we do so. Even within 2 generations Kublai did things very differently from Genghis. The trouble of rural vs city dwellers is that the transition from one to the other is very easy – within 2 generations Kublai is an urbane city dweller in a very different caste from Genghis as described here. The forbidden city of the Mongols may be like a city of Mongol Ger, and they may live like Mongols, but they’re also becoming a very sophisticated urbane people with education, law, economics, international politics, and all the rest.

The road is neither straight nor wide.

It’s a creative idea that the renaissance is more Mongol than Greek and Roman, and there may be some pieces that make that true. The destruction of the black plague – and it’s continued existence today in Mongolia – were a fascinating exposition of a more global society than we might previously have considered.

Weatherford’s discussion of religious factors is fascinating. He comes across as very cynical and occasionally sarcastic related to religion – from Hindu, Islam, to Christianity. The comparisons sometimes are digressions specifically denigrating the practice of religions in other places without much nuance, IMO. We can all judge religious oppression from our modern lens, but I’m not sure all of the statements here are fair.

Clearly, Weatherford has a great love for his subject and is very knowledgeable. I appreciate his disdain for the 19th and 20th Century excesses regarding the alien: use of the term Mongol in really inappropriate ways; the oppressive regimes which tormented and culture-cancelled, de-linking a people from their history; and a general disregard for and destruction of history.

Some bad, mostly good, and definitely an engaging read.

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