Even history’s most famous conqueror had a soft side.
An acclaimed expert on Mongolia, Weatherford (The Secret History of the Mongol Queens: How the Daughters of Genghis Khan Rescued His Empire, 2010, etc.) introduces readers to a Genghis Khan (c. 1162-1227) not discussed in most history books. Though he was unquestionably a ruthless and violent conqueror, the author wants readers to see his subject as a thoughtful leader marked by extraordinary forethought and wisdom, paired with a religious personality. Among Weatherford’s most startling revelations is that, centuries before John Locke and similar thinkers, Genghis Khan believed in and promoted religious tolerance within his great empire. Early in the book, the author does an admirable job explaining the physically harsh and brutal life into which Temujin—the name of the future Khan—was born and raised. Readers may grow to feel empathy for the young and unlikely future ruler, until fratricide and other acts of violence quickly taint his image. Founding the nation of Mongolia in 1206 with 1 million followers, Genghis Khan showed early wisdom in deciding to bring the written word to his empire, and he set about having scribes put the Mongolian spoken language into writing. Military success led to vastly increased landholding, and his empire grew. Weatherford details his conquest of China and then of Muslim lands to the west. Throughout, Genghis Khan considered himself “the whip of heaven,” chosen to bring order and justice to a troubled world. This included a solemn religious duty: “As heaven’s representative on earth, he felt it was his duty to examine the religions of the people he had conquered to determine what they were doing incorrectly and to correct their errors.” As he aged, however, Genghis Khan transformed from judge to student, as he spent more time learning about the religions of his conquered lands and incorporating their finest points into his administration and lawmaking.
An intriguing, eye-opening spiritual biography.