117. The Secret History of the Mongol Queens (Jack Weatherford)

Tuesday, April 05, 2011
Has it really been almost a month since I finished my last book?  Yikes! Apparently so.  I didn't realize I hadn't been reading much lately.  That's going to have to change.  The book I've just finished is The Secret History of the Mongol Queens:  How the Daughters of Genghis Khan Rescued His Empire by Jack Weatherford.  Weatherford is best known for his earlier book, Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World.  The Mongol Queens picks up where The Making of the Modern World left off, at the death of Genghis Khan and what happened to his empire. 

Genghis Khan focused not on his many sons to succeed him but rather on his daughters and installed them as rulers throughout the Mongol empire.   While each was fairly successful in initially ruling the portions of the empire they were given, Genghis' sons and other male relatives soon killed, deposed, or banished all of the Queens to take control.  The empire soon crumbled, much like that of Alexander the Great following his death, and it soon became a shadow of its former glory.  Over the next three centuries, every attempt at reunification and successful victory came at the hands of one of Genghis Khan's female descendents, including the most famous (and powerful) of all the Mongol Queens, Manduhai the Wise, who came closest to restoring the empire to what it once was. 

Initially I was very excited to read this as I enjoyed Weatherford's earlier work on the Mongols.  However, I often found it very confusing to read.  The history of the Mongol Queens is patchy, kinship relations are complicated with numerous marriages and remarriages; the use of the term "son" or "daughter" to refer to biological and adopted children, nieces and nephews, and close kin; and similarity between many names in the same generation and within the same immediate family groups.  Weatherford had the opportunity to make the story of these warrior queens exciting, thrilling, and un-put-downable (not a real word, yes, I know).  Unfortunately, it falls short.  While the subject matter is interesting, he just missed the mark.  Granted he has to work with the information available and much of their history has been lost or destroyed.  The book didn't really grab my attention until the final chapter and by that time I just wanted to finish and move on to whatever else was on my bookshelf. 

Sadly, I have to recommend you give this a pass which is very disappointing.  If you're looking for something interesting to read, check out Weatherford's look at Genghis Khan instead of his offspring.

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