Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World

Back in late 2004, a friend gave me his copy of Jack Weatherford’s Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World and told me that the story was fascinating.  I’ve been not reading it ever since then.  I picked it up again a few weeks ago to find out more about the man and his Empire which both disrupted Islam so terribly.  Over the last year, I have read a few histories of Islam.  I remember all of them lamenting the Invasion of the Mongolian Horde, but I don’t remember any of them pointing out that in 1217, when he was in his sixties and had already conquered a huge swath of the world, Genghis Khan sent an envoy to the Sultan of Kwarizm (center of Islam at the time), offering to be a peaceful trading partner.  The Sultan agreed.  Genghis Khan sent a caravan of 350 merchants and their merchandise into Kwarizm to open the market.  The Muslim ruler of the first state they entered had them all murdered.  Oops.  So Genghis Khan changed his mind and invaded Kwarizm.  Thus the Mongolian Horde disrupted Islam.

The good news for Kwarizm and for most of the other lands conquered by Genghis Khan and his descendants is that the Mongols did not demand that any country change religions or languages or much really, just that they let the Mongols rule them.  His sons and grandsons were not as good at leadership as Genghis Khan, but they did end up ruling parts of the world that he could not get around to conquering before he died.  There was even a peaceful period in parts of the 13th and 14th centuries called the Pax Mongolica. Then the Bubonic Plague arrived, destroying (amongst other things) the lines of communication and commerce which bound together the four Khanates that ruled the Mongol Empire.  With the individual Khanates weakened and with fear and trembling brought on by the Black Death, the Mongol Empire began to crumble.  Fast-forward a few centuries and the very civilizations which benefited immensely from the Pax Mongolica began to demonize Genghis Khan and the Mongols.  Ingrates.

Well, I’ll stop my elementary review of world history (for now).  I thought this book was very informative.  Between his admiration of Genghis Khan, his love of the Mongolian people (today Weatherford lives in Mongolia at least half of each year), the time he’s spent researching the work and the accurate targeting of a lay audience, this is just the book I needed to learn about Genghis Khan and his effect on the modern world, and more specifically his effect on the Orient during the 13th century and onward.

Update: while trying to research an uptick in readership of this particular post (still unexplained), I ran across this interesting refutation of much of Weatherford’s scholarship.

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