I picked up the audio book of Jack Weatherford's Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World because it was on special. Five bucks. I thought it might be a nice change from all of the genre I've been reading and it was. And it wasn't. I'll explain in a moment.
Most all of what I know about the great Khan I learned from Conan. The quote about driving your enemies before you, tipping over their yurts and diggin' on the the lamentations 'off der vimmin'.
And something about John Wayne playing him in one of the worst movies of the 1960s, which I really must get around to watching one day. Perhaps in a double header with The Green Berets.
"You're what's it's all about, little Hamchuck."
I say it wasn't entirely a departure from genre because a chapter or two into Weatherford's book I could already see just how many fantasy writers had raided the Khan cupboard for their babarian research. Possibly more than have borrowed from Tolkien over the years.
George R.R. Martin's Dothraki are one example who spring to mind, but pretty much every barb-civ story I've ever read seems to be based on them to some extent. Listening to the narration has been, at times, like settling into an epic fantasy, and I have to keep reminding myself that this is non fiction. Blood feuds, wife stealing, spirit worship, doomed loves, implacable hatreds, the fall of cities, insensate violence, impenetrable tribal and feudal cultures, they're all there.
Also there, and a surprise to me, in spite of the book's subtitle, was an unexpected lesson in the foundations of modernity. Example? Genghis Khan grew up as something of outcast, the son of a woman stolen from her husband, widowed when her second husband was poisoned, and turned out by his tribe because they didn't want to care for all the extra mouths. It soured Genghis on the traditions of clan and family loyalty which were the defining and organizing principles of steppe society. When he started to knock over other tribes and grow his own power base, one of the many things he changed was to promote men on the basis of merit, rather than kinship. It had a range of effects, one of which was to bind all the people's he conquered to his rule because they learned if they served the Khan well, it mattered not whence they had come. He would promote them.
In combination with changes he made to regularise his army - eg, organizing them into decimal units of ten, then one hundred, then a thousand and so on - it made the Mongols much less a Horde than a sort of savage mobile modern state.
I'm enjoying the audiobook so much that I plan on buying myself a hard copy. It is shelf worthy. I might even get an ebook for research while I'm away at the beach the next two weeks. I'm also going to try a little experiment with my new Amazon links. Rather than just buying it as normal, I'll put an associate link below and go in thru that, thereby giving myself a small discount because I'm sort of buying it from the Burger, rather than Amazon direct.
Prof Boylan suggests below that it should be the next bookclub title. I am totally open to that suggestion.