So, we’ve got a few different things going on here. Jack Weatherford is an anthropologist who has spent a lot of time in modern Mongolia, and has a much better grasp of Mongolian culture than anyone else who will write in English. Along with modern, full, translations of The Secret History of the Mongols (which was, despite what he says, available to the west in various partial translations from the 19the Century on, and Lamb’s 1927 biography also references it, though with a lot of definite differences), this is probably the best biography of Genghis Khan we will ever get.

And this volume is great at getting into his motivations, and how he thought about a lot of things, where his tactics came from, etc. It isn’t just a biography of Genghis himself, and goes into his heirs, and the unstable state that was established until it finally breaks up for good in the mid-14th Century, with lots of help from the Black Death. There is some talk about the finances of the empire, including the strain of funding everything through commerce instead of looting. Sadly (understandably, but sadly) there’s not a lot of detail here, though there are some interesting observations that the various Mongol leaders were kept financially dependent on each other, possibly to counteract the political strains between them.

Much of the later part of the book goes into the ‘making of the modern world’; showing how Mongol-sponsored trade, and their habit of appropriating anything that looked useful spread plenty of inventions and ideas from China to Europe and back. He contends, with good reason, that this made some of the Renaissance possible, and Europe benefited from many inventions spread by the Mongols throughout Eurasia.

However, he at no point goes into how much of a demographic and cultural disaster the Mongols were. He mentions cities that were destroyed as an example to others, of populations rounded up and forced to assault another city in front of the Mongol army. He mentions artisans being valued and saved out of the populations… and sent back to Samarkand to work there. At no point does he look at just what all this did to the populations involved (and admittedly, in most places its overshadowed by the Black Death), nor contemplate just what happens to a culture who’s just had all its best skilled people, especially artisans, forcibly removed from it.

So as an account of what happened, its good, and is excellent on Genghis’ early life, but it gets overenthusiastic on other subjects.