Monday, February 1, 2016

Book review: "The Secret History of the Mongol Queens: How the Daughters of Genghis Khan Rescued His Empire" by Jack Weatherford

When I say Genghis Khan you probably have some images that come to your head: maybe fast horses, falcon hunting, Mongolia, the creepy Mongolian guy from Mulan who ISN'T Genghis Khan but whatever maybe he's his cousin or something?

What if I told you, that you could have rightly called him a feminist too? Even if a lot of the things he did for women "did not spring from an ideological position or a special spiritual revelation so much as personal experience and the practical needs of running a harmonious society". (I guess if a new law prevented me from being sold into a terrible marriage I wouldn't really care what his motivation was.)

-He outlawed the sale or barter of woman which was a BIG departure from the tribal system which made big changes

-He made his daughters powerful Queens that helped protect the new empire. Before Genghis Khan, there were several tribes in the area who were independent and he (kinda forcibly sometimes) united them under himself to make the Mongol nation. Here's a wonderful paragraph that talks about it: 

"The Daughters of Genghis Khan formed a phalanx of shields around their Mongol homeland. They marked the nation's borders and protected it from the four directions ad they ruled the kingdoms of Onggud, Uighur, Karluk and Oirat. With his daughters in place as his shields surrounding his new nation, Genghis Khan could now move outward from the Mongol steppe and conquer the world"

...and basically that's what he did.

The down side of all of this is that after Genghis Khan died, Mongolia backslide on all of this progressive women stuff in a big, ugly way. Like a mass rape of any girl over 7 that took place a decade after Genghis died. Obviously not everyone shared his views.

Though this book is mostly about strong Mongolian women, I found that some of my favorite parts were learning little things about the Mongolian culture.

Here's a fun fact: Let's say that a son is going off to war or something. As he leaves, his mother will stand in the doorway of her ger (a ger is their home structure. It's like a yurt) and thrown ladles full of milk in the direction that he is going. The milk represents a path made of white stones. If there was such a path, the rider would be able to ride during the night because of the reflection of the moon making it easier to see.

Here's another: The Mongols thought that you'd leave a little piece of yourself in certain objects when you died. Since they were such a horse-centric culture, they thought men left part of themselves in their horses manes. Often the horses manes would be made into banners and left at a great warriors grave. For women it was the coverings of their ger. They were made from felt that the women would pound and work and form and craft that really made it apart of themselves.

There was also a massacre scene that made the Red Wedding from Game of Thrones look like a Sunday in the Park.

The writing in this book was so good, there were so many times I stopped and thought "well that was a beautifully crafted informative sentence. I love that sentence". Like this one "The Mongol Empire ended abruptly on a snowy day in 1399 when the sex-crazed spirit of a rabbit jumped on Elbeg Khan and captured his soul".

  I give this book a solid 3.75. Informative, interesting, a good length. Woohoo!



  1. I don't read a lot of history books, but it sounds like this one would be quite palatable! The Mongol queens remind me of the horse-riding, mother of dragons Khaleesi Daenerys Targaryen from the Game of Thrones.

    1. Totally a colder weather version of the Mother of Dragons!


Thank you so much for your comment. I'd love to talk books with you!