The Waving Flag: Genghis Khan - John Man

Friday 13 June 2008

Genghis Khan - John Man

This book was first published in 2004 and I’ve just finished reading the 2005 paperback edition. The publisher’s blurb describes this books as: “The first popular biography of the legendary Mongol emperor and warlord” and before starting the book I’d assumed popular to mean both accessible and readable.

The book is certainly is readable and covers Genghis Khan from a number of viewpoints not all of which you’d expect.  The book is a mixture of the academic and the personal.  There’s an index and a longish bibliography yet significant parts of the book read like a travel book.  Man’s description of his attempts to locate the tomb of Genghis Khan create a vivid impression of modern day travel in Mongolia.  Other parts read like political history particularly the sections relating to the 20th century history of Mongolia and the relationship to China.

In between all this is a very lucid account of the life of Genghis Khan given the limited information available.    Man favours  “The Secret History of the Mongols” in the newest translation by Igor de Rachewiltz as his main source (see above left).

There’s also a very readable description of the various phase of the Mongol conquests.  I would recommend this book for these section alone.  The portion covering the campaigns in Western Europe & Russia are particularly good.  The maps are clear  and well integrated with the text.

I enjoyed this book and recommend it with only one caveat: if you’re looking for military details on arms, armour and tactics  look elsewhere.  The one detail I did find was the importance of pure white horses as a mark of seniority.

For military detail and painting inspiration I suppose the Osprey books are the obvious choices.

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