Genghis Khan: His Conquests, His Empire, His Legacy, by Frank McLynn, Da Capo Press, Boston, Mass., 2015, $32.50
Who was the greatest conqueror the world has ever known? Adolf Hitler, Hirohito, Napoléon, Tamerlane, Attila the Hun, Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great? They were all small potatoes compared with the greatest of them all. Genghis Khan rose from a position of obscurity within an obscure culture in one of the most obscure corners of the world to conquer an empire stretching from the Adriatic to the Sea of Japan and from Indonesia to the Arctic Circle. Looking back over the centuries, authors either dismiss him as a historical aberration with a minimal impact on human history or as a fascinating if somewhat obscure personality whose impact changed the world forever. Regardless, there is no denying that Genghis Khan’s saga is one of conquest and bloodletting on a colossal scale that invariably makes for a rattling good read.
Historian and writer McLynn has taken great pains to separate fact from myth in recounting his subject’s genuinely prodigious achievements. Starting with one major contrast with the aforementioned conquerors, there was absolutely nothing in Mongol society to have furnished a precedent for the rise of Genghis Khan. The author explains how he had to create not only an empire and his own position in it but also the very social and legal framework within which he was able to create it. For example, Genghis Khan established the Great Yassa, in which the laws and rules of the Mongol society were codified, something that had never existed in Mongolia and was subsequently applied throughout the empire.
Genghis Khan is a fascinating new study of one of the most infamous yet least known characters in history. It will doubtless prove popular with those who want to learn more about the most successful conqueror, not only of his own age, but of all ages.