Let me begin by offering this disclaimer; This book tries to correct the primarily negative outlook on Genghis Khan and the Mongols. At times, I feel that the author is trying too hard to paint them in a good light. This book barely touched the negative traits of the Mongols. Genghis Khan also caused much suffering. I don't understand why records must be so black and white. All people and leaders have done good and bad things. This book is very much in the style of revisionist history on a quest to paint the Mongols and their leaders as saints. That said, I feel everyone has heard enough of the negative aspects of their war-machine culture from other records and institutions so I will stick with the highlights in the tone of the author.
The beginning of this book, the portion that deals with Genghis Khan himself, is primarily based on a record called the "Secret History". I found little inspiration in these early chapters. In addition, I try to avoid records that rely on only one source when possible. For these reasons, I will avoid the entire first section of the book. Ironically, the only thing about Genghis Khan in this book is a hasty life outline based on a singular, and at times incomplete, record. The following is primarily taken from the chapters that take place after his death
I would like to start by backtracking to one policy that was started with Genghis Khan and carried on though many of his successors. Genghis Khan was one of the first rulers to grant roles based on merit, not blood. If you were the best person for the job, it was yours. Even if you were a former enemy.
It's easy to see why this practice leads to the Mongol army progressively getting more advanced and efficient with each people it conquered. The Mongols borrowed the best the cultures had to offer. The best minds, tactics, technology, and resources.
"They organized debates of religion much like you would wrestling matches."
The Mongols were surprisingly tolerant of other religions. They asked cities and nations to recognize the Khan as their ruler. If they did so, they could continue life as normal with the exception of paying taxes and allegiance to their new Mongol overlords. In addition to allowing the practice of native religions, they greatly valued people thinking about the pros and cons of each belief system. They would often organize debates between the different sects to test the merit of each.
I had often heard the Khan empire was large. Until reading this book I did not realize the scale. At the height of their expansion in 1293, the empire stretched from Poland in the East, Russia in the North, Egypt in the South East, and Japan in the West.
Administering to an empire of this size was not without its challenges. With an empire of such vast expanse, Khubilai needed a way to ensure the empire ran smoothly. To do so, he set about on perhaps the largest implementation of Universalism known to man. Khubilai created the first use of paper currency backed by the spoils of war. This currency was valued in any corner of his empire.
Along with the paper currency, they created a universal alphabet that allowed the different languages to communicate with each other, be they Muslim, Christian or Chinese. The Khans harnessed the power of the Chinese printing press to administer and document their growing empire. They also developed a postal system to quickly communicate across the largest empire this world has ever seen.
Trade was also a massive part of the Mongol empire, perhaps the driving force of their constant conquests. They developed advanced trading caravans and storehouses. They built trade routes between China and the Middle East known as the Silk Road. Marco Polo documented the advanced technology and wealth in his records. But the trade was not limited to wealth, but also commodities. Fruits, spices, silk, minerals, medicine and much more flowed the trade routes and made every corner of their empire both a supplier and a consumer. Such a display of trade made me understand the importance of trade on the world stage. For whatever reason, the military always comes first to mind when I thought of the great empires of the world. But more often, it comes down to their trade systems.
The Mongol empire was truly a unique juggernaut of policy, technology and military might. Perhaps most impressive to me, however, is their search for the pragmatic instead of ideological solutions. Because they were not limited by their religious beliefs, they searched simply for what worked best. They borrowed the best of every culture in their domain.
In closing, I'll leave a quote directly from the author that sums up the ultimate lesson of the Mongols:
"The Mongols had the power, to impose a new international system of technology, agriculture, and knowledge. One that superseded the predilections or prejudices of any other civilization. And in so doing, they broke the monopoly on thought."