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The Mongols by David Morgan

The Mongols

by David Morgan

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261466,250 (3.48)5
  1. 10
    The A to Z of the Mongol World Empire (The A to Z Guide Series) by Paul D. Buell (Jakujin)
    Jakujin: Far more up-to-date, if you can live with the A-Z format. Great intro, new findings.

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General overview of the Mongol empire written by a professor to other professors. It's dry, but interesting. He covers his sources almost too well, but it certainly offers a good reading list for future Mongol reading should you be so inclined. If you're looking for a narrative overview of the Mongol empire, this is not it. Start with Jack Weatherford's book if that's what you want. ( )
  sergerca | Oct 31, 2013 |
Miserably out of date in its views. I have to wish this wasn't the standard history on the Mongols. In the 2nd edition of 2007 he adds a chapter with a survey of scholarship since the 1st edition of 1985. Read that, and see what a change there has been in our ideas. But he has "not tried to update the main text of this book to take account of what has been published since it was written". This means -- sorry -- his book mustn't be the standard history. The main text is quite negative, and the update makes that unjustified. Once or twice he even descends to caricature -- as a joke, but I just can't laugh.

That added chapter, a bibliographical one, can send you to a number of splendid books. I followed up on those and the horizons open... I think he admits himself, here, that his assessment of the Mongols in the main text looks very old-fashioned -- when he writes, "the subject now has a distinctly different feel to it."

The 'standard work' tag is self-perpetuating. There are others. For an introduction to the Mongols, I'd suggest this: The A to Z of the Mongol World Empire by Paul Buell.

Footnote: the bit of caricature. If you're curious, I mean this: Feeling his age, and realising that there were lands still to conquer and people yet left unmassacred, he enquired whether there was available any medicine of immortality. I've nothing against humour in scholarship. For this joke, however, I can make no excuse. It doesn't belong in a scholarly book. Couldn't he have struck that out of the 2nd edition, at least? ( )
  Jakujin | Jun 2, 2013 |
Essays on the origins and life of the Mongols. Some photographs of artifacts, paintings, and people
  UniversalCostumeDept | May 10, 2013 |
David Morgan’s The Mongols provides a compelling introduction to the fierce and formidable people who, seemingly overnight, built the greatest continuous land empire in human history. Rising from the steppes of the present-day Mongolian People’s Republic, the Mongols eventually commanded a realm that “stretched from Korea to Hungary, including, except for India and the south-east of the continent, most of Asia, as well as a good deal of eastern Europe.” In clear, unadorned prose, Morgan skillfully traces the precipitous rise and eventual fall of this extraordinary empire.
Morgan, a professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is a careful scholar. This is in no case more apparent than in his treatment of the controversial Secret History of the Mongols. Though Morgan is quick to admit that the Secret History is rife with legend (it begins with the origin myth of the Mongol peoples’ descent from a wolf and a doe), he concludes that “as an insight into the way of life, patterns of thought and beliefs of the thirteenth-century Mongols, the Secret History is unique and authoritative.” Morgan is exceptionally attentive to sources, and in fact devotes the entire first chapter of his book to Mongol historiography. Beyond his treatment of the Secret History in this chapter, Morgan also conducts an assiduous analysis of the Chinese, Persian, and European primary sources. The result of this meticulous examination is a balanced, cogently argued study of a highly complex and extremely significant civilization.
Interestingly, The Mongols was written as part of a series of books from Blackwell Publishing on “The Peoples of Europe.” Morgan quite properly points out that, at least from the Mongol point of view, this is a rather “lop-sided” approach. “For [the Mongols],” Morgan argues, “it was the Far East that mattered above all.” Though he assures us that his “emphasis will be on the western half of the Mongol domains,” Morgan does not begin his discussion of Mongol expansion to the West until well past the midway point of the book. This should not, however, be viewed as a shortcoming. It would be difficult, for example, to make any kind of sense of the khanate of the Golden Horde absent the context of the earlier consolidation of Mongol power in the Central Asia and China.
Central to any comprehensive study of the Mongols is a consideration of the founder of the Mongol Empire, Chingiz Khan, and Morgan gives the fearsome conqueror his due. In his treatment of the Chingiz, Morgan methodically deconstructs the primary and secondary sources to reveal an enormously gifted, yet all-too-mortal, human being. Morgan, to his credit, also resists the revisionist trend of minimizing the awesome destructiveness of Mongol occupation under the Great Khan. “Transoxiana and most particularly eastern Persia,” he posits, “had to endure something that must have seemed to approximate very nearly to attempted genocide.”
Morgan’s chapter on the “Nature and Institutions of the Mongol Empire” is especially enlightening. In brief, yet revealing fashion, he provides valuable insights into Mongol military structure, law, taxation, communications, and government. In the hands of a less engaging writer such descriptions may tend to become tedious. Morgan’s lively prose, however, is not only refreshingly free of jargon, he also, as the following passage attests, is not afraid to use an occasionally jarring analogy: “Chingiz’s principle seems to have been much the same as President Truman’s over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The apparent rationale was that if the population of one city was subjected to a frightful massacre, the next city would be more likely to surrender without resistance . . .”
Before turning his attention westward, Morgan gives an account of the Mongol Yuan dynasty in China, focusing especially on the reign of Chingiz’s estimable grandson, Qubilai. The Mongol’s tolerance and flexibility regarding religion is well documented, but Morgan offers a typically insightful perspective on Qubilai’s acceptance of (and perhaps conversion to) Buddhism in China. First, Morgan argues that the Mongols probably never truly abandoned their traditional Shamanistic beliefs. “It was far from being a highly structured faith,” he contends, “and elements of its beliefs proved capable of co-existing in a tenacious fashion with almost anything.” Further, Morgan points out that the Lamaistic form of Buddhism adopted by the Mongols differed sharply from the “respectable” Chinese version of the faith.
If it is a stretch to argue that the Mongols were “peoples of Europe,” Morgan leaves little doubt that, at least after about 1260, there was significant interaction between the Persian Ilkhanate and Western Christendom. With Mongol power in Persia eroding, the Ilkhanate even briefly, and fruitlessly, negotiated with the European monarchs for a joint military operation against the Egyptian Mamluks. This contact, however, ultimately did little to mitigate the Mongol dismissiveness of, and even contempt for, Europe. Mongol interest never came close to matching European fascination for the East. ( )
2 vote jkmansfield | Sep 13, 2007 |
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The thunder of hooves filled the air, deafening those who heard it. The air filled with arrows. The Mongols had come! Learn all about what makes a great Mongol warrior in Fearless Warriors: Mongols. Discover the customs and traditions, the training and the most fearless warriors of the Mongol empire: Genghis Khan and his sons.… (more)

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