The Mongols, and their conquest of an exceedingly large chunk of Eurasia is a subject well known in history. Their conquest of China regularly gets good coverage in books talking about this in general, but there’s few, if any, books in English about just that. Waterson concentrates especially on the conquest of the Song Dynasty by Kublai Khan. This is looked at largely from the Song point of view, largely to prevent it from just looking like a focused version of those other books.

He starts with the formation of the Song Dynasty, and how it shaped a desire to acquire northern lands that they felt had been ‘lost’ to the Liao. This becomes part of a pattern of blindness in a fairly dysfunctional government, and the loss of northern China to the Jin. Initial Mongol conquests were against the Xia and the Jin, with the Song helping. The Song regained three important cities… and we enter the biggest focus part of the book

The Mongol campaigns against the Song took twenty years to really break the dynasty, and it was a decidedly hard slog for the Mongols the entire way. Waterson then goes into the Yuan Dynasty (Kublai’s effort in becoming a Chinese, rather than outsider, government), and how its various problems turn into a sense of ‘everything was better under the Song’. He finishes up with rebellions against Yuan rule and the founding of the Ming Dynasty.

I’ll admit that while I found the book well written, argued, and structured, I am at more of a geographical loss. Maps are limited, and on the Kindle app, flipping back to them is inconvenient; my knowledge of Chinese geography is quite limited compared to what I’d like to follow some of the action. Still, I enjoyed it, and plan on looking up his other works as well worth a read.