Friday, April 10, 2015

Review: The Secret History of the Mongol Queens

Book Cover: The Secret History of the Mongol Queens by Jack Weatherford The Secret History of the Mongol Queens by Jack Weatherford
Published February 2010 by Random House Audio
Source: purchased from

The Mongol queens of the thirteenth century ruled the largest empire the world has ever known. Yet sometime near the end of the century, censors cut a section from The Secret History of the Mongols, leaving a single tantalizing quote from Genghis Khan: “Let us reward our female offspring.” Only this hint of a father’s legacy for his daughters remained of a much larger story.

The queens of the Silk Route turned their father’s conquests into the world’s first truly international empire, fostering trade, education, and religion throughout their territories and creating an economic system that stretched from the Pacific to the Mediterranean. Outlandish stories of these powerful queens trickled out of the Empire, shocking the citizens of Europe and and the Islamic world.

After Genghis Khan's death in 1227, conflicts erupted between his daughters and his daughters-in-law; what began as a war between powerful women soon became a war against women in power as brother turned against sister, son against mother. At the end of this epic struggle, the dynasty of the Mongol queens had seemingly been extinguished forever, as even their names were erased from the historical record..

One of the most unusual and important warrior queens of history arose to avenge the wrongs, rescue the tattered shreds of the Mongol Empire, and restore order to a shattered world. Putting on her quiver and picking up her bow, Queen Mandhuhai led her soldiers through victory after victory. In her thirties she married a seventeen-year-old prince, and she bore eight children in the midst of a career spent fighting the Ming Dynasty of China on one side and a series of Muslim warlords on the other. Her unprecedented success on the battlefield provoked the Chinese into the most frantic and expensive phase of wall building in history. Charging into battle even while pregnant, she fought to reassemble the Mongol Nation of Genghis Khan and to preserve it for her own children to rule in peace.

At the conclusion of his magnificently researched and ground-breaking narrative, Weatherford notes that, despite their mystery and the efforts to erase them from our collective memory, the deeds of these Mongol queens inspired great artists from Chaucer and Milton to Goethe and Puccini, and so their stories live on today. With The Secret History of the Mongol Queens, Jack Weatherford restores the queens' missing chapter to the annals of history.

My Thoughts

With such a long and detailed blurb provided by the publisher, I don't have to tell you what the book is all about. Instead I can focus on how much I enjoyed it. Ten years ago I'd have adamantly declared, “I don't read non-fiction”. Today, I don't read much non-fiction, but I've discovered the pleasure of ‘reading’ certain non-fiction topics via audiobooks. Through audiobooks, I've discovered a new appreciation for books on history, biography, and geology—so far. While I may venture into other non-fiction categories such as science or technology, I don't think I'll ever enjoy self-help or finance/business books.

Listening to Robertson Dean read Jack Weatherford's The Secret History of the Mongol Queens is like attending a series of university lectures. And no grades hanging in the balance! Subtitled, “How the Daughters of Genghis Khan Rescued His Empire”, Weatherford exposes the truth of the legacy left behind after Genghis Khan died in 1227. Though he set his four sons up as rulers of various parts of his empire, all four failed to live up to the example set by their father. They were drunkards and squabbled over control of the Mongol Empire. Khan's daughters are the ones that saved his legacy.

I can't rave too much about how much I enjoyed not only this book, but Weatherford's previous account of Genghis Khan's rise to power and the many administrative and legal innovations that allowed the Mongols to control an amazingly large part of the world.


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