A prolific historian, biographer, and journalist returns with a sanguinary and thorough account of “the greatest conqueror the world has ever known.”
McLynn (Captain Cook: Master of the Seas, 2011, etc.) knows the terrain and the times so well that he writes about 12th- and 13th-century history and culture as if it were yesterday. Throughout this intricately detailed text, the author pauses continually to explain relevant devices, personalities, political situations, and geography—all of this gives readers a chance to truly understand. (The author even includes a lengthy appendix on Mongol religion, which was “extraordinarily complex,” as well as an immensely helpful “glossary of principal personalities.”) McLynn recognizes that the historical sources must be constantly questioned and analyzed, as victors tend to inflate their victories and losers, to minimize and blame. The author begins with the geography of Mongolia. He then tells us what we know about the boyhood of Temujin (who would become Genghis Khan) and charts his rise as a warlord to the position of absolute leader. McLynn provides plenty of material about Mongol battlefield strategy and tactics (they loved the false retreat and the divide-and-conquer ploy; they valued swiftness and were masters of horsemanship) as well as gruesome details about the fates of their enemies. As the author describes repeatedly, the Mongols treated settlements that surrendered without resistance much more humanely than they did those that resisted. Resistance meant absolute slaughter—men, women, children—after, of course, an extended period of looting and raping. The killing was vicious; some warriors even slit open the bodies of pregnant women and removed their unborn. McLynn estimates that the Mongols killed millions of people in their ventures into China, Russia, Hungary, Poland, and elsewhere.
Thoroughly researched, grim, grisly, and sometimes even grudgingly admiring.