This book was 13 years in the making. The extensive research began when Jack Weatherford, a cultural anthropologist, went in a journey to study the role of tribal people in the history of world commerce, specifically in the Silk Route connecting Europe, the Middle East, and China.
The research journey covers archaeological sites, libraries, as well as meeting with scholars from Forbidden City in Beijing to Topkapi Palace in Istanbul. From Siberia he pursuit the Mongol trails from Russia, China, Mongolia, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan, to as further places as Bosnia, then encircled the old empire via Marco Polo’s sea route, from South China to Vietnam, from the Straits of Malacca to India, the Arab States of the Persian Gulf, and on to Venice. And then back to Mongolia.
This is where he encountered his fork in the road. In Mongolia Weatherford was given access to enter the Forbidden Zone, the sites of Genghis Khan’s childhood and burial, and more importantly the coded text of the “secret history of the Mongols”, the official historical accounts by those who were close to or have worked under Genghis Khan, which once thought had disappeared and faded into the depths of history or concealed for secrecy at best. This encounter changed the course of his research, and he proceeded to spend 5 years focusing on extensive research within Mongolia.
In those 5 years, Weatherford worked together with a team of scholars from different background to deciphered the texts and to find answers from previously mysterious records of Genghis Khan. The team includes archaeologist Dr. Kh. Lkhagvasuren, who had access to the treasure trove of information collected by his professor and mentor Dr. Kh. Perlee, the most prominent archaeologist of the 20th century Mongolia.
He also worked with professor O. Purey, a Communist Party member that had used his position as an official researcher of party history to study the mystical practices of the Mongols. Also in the team was Colonel Kh. Shagdar of the Mongolian army whom took advantage of his station in Moscow to compare the strategies of Genghis Khan against Russian military. D. Bold-Erdene, a Mongolian political scientist whom analyzed Genghis Khan’s political tactics. And O. Sukhbaatar, a geographer who had covered over a million kilometers across Mongolia in the quest to better understand the history of Genghis Khan.
Together, the team then traced back Genghis Khan’s life from his birthplace to every notable places recorded in the “secret history”. Hike where he hiked, farming and herding where he grew up, recreated the many historical scenes under many different sets of weather condition, and along the way learned why the nomadic Mongols did what they did.
The result is this well-researched book, which addresses all the many myths and wrong perceptions about Genghis Khan, the culture and customs of the ancient Mongols, their lifestyle and diet, and most interestingly their winning war strategies. And for once and for all this book tells the story, as accurately as it can gets, of a young boy named Temujin who lived in the harsh nomadic environment, whom would eventually rise to power and build one of the largest empires we’ve ever seen.
The book also tells the story of Genghis’ successors, most prominently his grandson Khubilai Khan, and the effects that the Mongol rule under them had to help shaped the modern world. From further expanding the Silk Road, to building massive infrastructures for its day, forging diplomacy with other kingdoms, devising a legal code and rights, creating a uniform letters across the empire, introducing arts, increasing literacy level, using paper currency, to building what becomes known in the modern era as Beijing, to what arguably the most important thing they did for modernizing the world: extracting wealth of knowledge from its many subject countries, figured out what works and what not, and those that work they spread it to other countries within the realm.
The book concludes with the almost mysterious demise of what once a massive empire into a nearly forgotten country mashed between two giants Russia and China. It is astonishing to read all the great things the Mongols have done to the world throughout many centuries, only to be left forgotten in modern era almost without a trace of its glorious past. This is why this book is so referred by the Mongols themselves, in which the Mongolian government in 2007 even went as far as giving Weatherford the Order of the Polar Star, the country’s highest national award, in recognition of his contribution to Mongolian culture through this book.
Jack Weatherford is now retired, and spend 5 months a year in his home in Mongolia, where he and his wife are legal residents. And since writing this book, he has written another 2 books on Mongolian history.