Monday, September 16, 2013

What I'm Reading — Genghis Khan: Emperor of All Men by Harold Lamb

This book has been on my To Read stack for some time. Gripped anew by determination to work my way through the books in my house before seeking out others, I picked it up this weekend and have really been enjoying it. (Hey, it's not how many times we fail, but how many times we begin anew that instills virtue, right? I'm counting on that, by the way.)

Genghis Khan: Emperor of All MenGenghis Khan: Emperor of All Men by Harold Lamb

Harold Lamb was fascinated by the people and history of Asia which greatly influenced his fictional short stories, many featuring Cossacks or Mongols as heroes. His fascination just as greatly influenced his string of popular nonfiction histories, of which Genghis Khan was the first, written in 1927. Eventually his skill with nonfiction led to Cecil B. DeMille hiring him as technical advisor and screenwriter on several films.

Lamb's style of writing is easy to read, probably because he began his writing career with his exciting adventure stories. He paints a picture, in this novel at least, of Genghis Khan the man, rather than as simply a leader of Mongolian hordes. The introduction nicely sets him in the context of European history by showing the panic and terror expressed in historical documents of the time. Indeed, one of the chief features which impresses me thus far is that Lamb's sources go back to the very earliest Chinese documents mentioning this particular Khan. The resources list in the back is extremely impressive, as are Lamb's notes about them.

Lamb expressed dismay that modern historians of his time tended to forget that all historical mentions of Genghis Kahn were written by his enemies. Therefore any actual facts had to be teased out of opinions rendered by those who left a written record, which was not a thing the Mongols valued or bothered with. It is also refreshing that Lamb doesn't interject his own opinion or agenda into any of the attitudes or actions of those I have thus read. He simply tells the story of Genghis Khan as best as it can be reconstructed. Would that more of our modern historians would follow this method.

Thus far this is a fascinating book, made all the more so by the hardships and adventures of the great Khan's life and times. Also, of course, it is an easy way to absorb the history of a time and place that are very foreign to us. As I think of the terror of those in Genghis Khan's path, who found his actions and attitudes incomprehensible, it makes me think of the current problems our civilization faces with terrorist threats. History may not literally repeat itself but patterns of behavior do in such a way that we can see connections and this seems to be one of those times.

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