Revisionist History

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

This is a very entertaining, thought-provoking and well-written book. The relatively low rating reflects my lingering skepticism. The back of the book itself calls it "revisionist history" and Weatherford is not a historian, but an anthropologist. Although to give him his due, he was part of a team that helped translate <i>The Secret History of the Mongols</i> and explored the Mongolian homeland once it was no longer restricted in the wake of the breakup of the Soviet Empire. No doubt the image of the Mongolians merit another look and some corrections from the simplistic view of them as the "quintessential, bloodthirsty barbarians." Yet even within his sympathetic, nearly hero-worshiping account, one can find glimmers of the reasons for the view of Genghis Khan as a great destroyer. Though Weatherford disputes the numbers, contending the Mongols didn't have the numbers and resources to make it possible, he noted that the more <i>conservative</i> estimates of historians count 15 million dead in five years caused by Genghis' invasion of Central Asia--and Weatherford does admit Genghis was a destroyer of city after city in search of loot. The very word "slave" comes from the mass enslavement of slavic peoples by the Mongols who then sold them to the Turks. Weatherford even admits Genghis' Mongols made little contribution to civilization per se--what he claims for them is that they made the modern world because they were "unrivaled cultural carriers." As he put it:

<i>The Mongols made no technological breakthroughs, founded no new religions, wrote few books or dramas, and gave the world no new crops or methods of agriculture. Their own craftsmen didn't weave cloth, cast metal, make pottery, or even bake bread: They manufactured neither porcelain nor pottery, painted no pictures, and built no buildings. Yet, as their army conquered culture after culture, they collected and passed on those skills from one civilization to the next.</i>

Weatherford claims that this transfusion of culture and trade led to the "Mongol Global Awakening" and to the European Renaissance. I'm skeptical frankly of anyone that claims any one reason for the reawakening of the West, or any one source whether a rediscovery of Greek and Roman antiquity, infusion of Islamic learning through the Crusades or Mongolians transmitting Chinese civilization Westward. Nevertheless, I have to thank Weatherford for giving me a fresh perspective into this medieval empire and its possible contributions.