Jack Weatherford's Gengis Khan and the Making of the Modern World changed my perspective on Gengis Khan, a historical figure I had thus far recognized only as a barbarian, a plunderer, and a rapist.
Weatherford's novel belongs in the genre of revisionist history, a genre I'm not widely read in, yet one that I've always been wary of. Revisionists often look at events in a modern day perspective, in the light of which historical events get misrepresented and take on meanings that might never have been! However, that is ammunition for another post. Weatherford's book was first published in 2004, and though it piqued my curiosity, I put off reading it primarily because it was revisionist in nature. Nevertheless, I followed the media reports on it which were very complimentary and stated that Weatherford's research in and about Mongolia prior to writing this book, had been very comprehensive despite the challenging conditions under which it was done. The novel reflects that undeterred effort of the author in unravelling and tracing the history of an unusual leader coming out of Asia, and who until recently had been relegated to the back benches of world history. Genghis Khan was a leader no less than an Alexander, yet historians of the time never admitted to that. Weatherford's book challenges that stand; Gengis Khan, through this book gets his due as a remarkably modern leader, a visionary who paved the way for globalization by intoducing "paper money, primacy of the state over the church, freedom of religion, diplomatic immunity, and international law", all of which was done by a man who lead his people on horseback and at a time when the rest of world was in a state of political infancy.
The book presents an engaging almost alluring picture of the Khan who "did not feel that he had been as successful in peace as he had been in war". He thrived on war and mastered the art of statesmanship; yet, he failed as a father since he "had not built a working relationship among his own sons nor trained them to replace him." However, Weatherford's revisionism may have been at the cost of historical accuracy at some points in the book. For instance, the use of gunpowder for the invasion of Baghdad is a fact that could be challenged in that there is no proof to document that. Weatherford, set out to research Mongolia, and perhaps the charisma of Genghis Khan mesmerized him to such an extent that he couldn't but help romanticize the icon that was Chinggis Khan. Needless to say, the readers will thank Weatherford for that since it makes for a riveting read. Even Jawaharlal Nehru, one of the greatest statesman the world has produced, was 'fascinated' by Genghis Khan who was "without doubt, the greatest military genius and leader in History" and "Alexander and Ceasar seem petty before him".
I was drawn to this book because growing up I had read stories about Genghis Khan, outside of my history book, most of which made me hate him. That lead me to wonder what would lure a reader to this book; especially someone who had had limited or no exposure to the exploits of Genghis Khan? Well, the book seems to have done remarkably well, and I would attribute that to the story like quality of this book. It is history spun as a yarn, and it's told in a way that has the reader wanting to turn that next page to find out what happened to Gengis's wife who was kidnapped, or then to his son of doubtful lineage who decided to speak up against him in the 'Khuriltai'. Weatherford has masterfully colored the history of a voiceless people, the Mongolians, who despite their rough terrains and simple lifestyles, have inherited a rich heritage, which not having proved gainful for them, has certainly put the rest of the world on a fast track toward globalization.