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The Rise And Fall Of The Second Greatest Empire In History

by Thomas J. Craughwell

Even today, the name of Genghis Khan is able to strike fear into the hearts of people. This man rose from poor beginnings to unite fragmented Mongol clans involved in petty thefts and clan wars into a force that struck terror throughout Asia and Europe. It is thought that about 40 million people lost their lives in Mongol invasions, either directly through wars or the resulting famines. The Mongol tactic of inspiring terror through cruelty was designed to motivate cities to surrender rather than risk their wrath.

At the height of its power, the Mongol Empire ruled over about 9 million square miles of landmass, making it the largest contiguous landmass to be ruled by a single emperor in human history. Even the mighty Roman Empire only covered about 1 million square miles. The Mongols ruled over about one-third of the world’s population - similar to what the British Empire governed in the early 1900s.

Genghis Khan’s original name was Temujin. Among a people of feuding clans, he came from a militarily weak clan. Yet he was able to survive a dangerous childhood and forge alliances with other clans that would enable him when he was around forty-four years of age to unite the Mongols into a mighty nation under him.

Although Genghis Khan was a traditionalist at heart, he was not afraid to break tradition in order to achieve his goals. In his army, for example, he broke up the old clan loyalties and soldiers were promoted only on the basis of skill. It didn’t matter if a soldier was poor or wealthy or his heritage; if he was skillful, he had the opportunity to advance. This helped to focus loyalty on the Great Khan rather than on individual leaders. The Mongols were also willing to appropriate the scientists and other talented men and technologies in the countries they conquered for their own benefit.

This book is interesting and well-written as it follows the humble beginnings of the Mongol Empire on inhospitable steppes, through its rise to power and eventual demise. It amazes me that poor people with so many disadvantages could rise to such prominence. It reveals that success is more in the talents and determination of people than in their circumstances.

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