My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A client writing about his life as an expat in Mongolia directed me to Weatherford’s book. It’s an entertaining and amazing read: few Americans, I expect, know Genghis (Chinggis) as anything more than a blood-thirsty conqueror. But that’s only a tiny fraction of the story. In fact, he built a vast empire that was surprisingly tolerant of religious diversity and of women, united a wide range of Asian peoples, enhanced trade throughout Asia and Europe, built a highly efficient military organization and communication system, and left behind a dynasty that would continue the expansion of the Mongol Empire.
Weatherford’s account is a highly readable popular history that asserts the European Renaissance might not have happened without the Mongol expansion and spread of technologies such as printing, gunpowder, the blast furnace, and paper money (among others). Historian Timothy May takes issue with this claim and also points out a number of errors in fact, raising a red flag about the book’s accuracy. Yet, taken with that grain of salt, the book remains an engaging work and an eye-opening story.