Sunday, May 29, 2011

Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford

Just exactly why did Genghis Kahn kill an estimated 38 million people, and what did he have to do with the “making of the modern world?” 

First, let us get one thing straight: Genghis Khan is not pronounced Gingus. It is either pronounced Jingus Kahn (per the audio version of Jack Weatherford’s book) or Chingis Hahn (per Wiki). Apparently how to pronounce Genghis Khan’s name, as well as most information about this famous 13th century character, is highly debatable.  Genghis Khan in traditional Mongolian writing (right).

If it hadn’t been for the mysteriously named The Secret History of the Mongols (author unknown and the oldest surviving Mongolian literary work), we would know relatively little about Genghis Kahn who was originally named Temujin. As with any historical book, however, comes the inevitable prejudice of the writer, the bending of truth, and the resulting foaming-at-the-mouth scholars challenging its veracity.

Unburdened by a scholarly point of reference, I read Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World as “gospel” and enjoyed the hound-dog outa’ it. The more history I read, the more evidence I find that our species is just a fight looking for a place to happen.  And sure enough, Genghis Kahn (nee Temijin) began life kidnapped in a warring raid and pretty much went on to make waging war his life’s work.

His contributions to the “modern world” include, but are not limited to, the first widespread use of the printing press, first paper money, first passports, and the first written Mongol language.  Said foaming-at-the-mouth critics are mostly incensed at author Weatherford’s characterization of Khan as a wise man, compassionate ruler, and brilliant military and business strategist. Yes, he practiced religious tolerance, promoted his military generals by meritocracy rather than race and ethnicity, didn’t torture his captives, and was a family man. However he murdered his half-brother, so he could ascend in the leadership hierarchy, and his best friend because he pissed Kahn off. Oh yes, and there was the issue of the estimated 38 million people he killed. But you know what? No one is perfect, and other than these imperfections, I liked the dude. Not bad looking either.
The greatest pleasure of a man is to vanquish your enemies and chase them before you,
to rob them of their wealth and see those dear to them bathed in tears,
to ride their horses and clasp to your bosom their wives and daughters.
Genghis Kahn

This map demonstrates Kahn’s “kick ass and take names” plunders. 
One critic claimed that Weatherford made up facts and compared the book to pulp fiction. If in fact Weatherford did “pulp up” this book, I for one am thankful. I loved the story of when Khan died and his body was taken to a secret burial site (no doubt shortly after he was castrated by a woman he tried to rape). Those who buried him were killed so they could not reveal the location of his gravesite. Then the people who killed them were also killed. You can’t be too careful about such things you know.

I also loved the stories of how some of the Mongol tribes would boil their captives alive in oil and build pyramids of sculls to discourage other prospective invaders. That had to be pretty effective! As previously mentioned though, Kahn didn’t torture but just killed everybody straight away.  So civilized!  Obviously, I love this book.  And if you have a perverted sense of enjoyment you will too.

So why did Genghis Kahn kill those 38 million people? Well, if I told you, I’d have to, you know, kill you. So I guess you’ll just have to read the book to find out!

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