“Secret history of the Mongols”

This article is also available in: Italiano

“Secret history of the Mongols” is the first text to tell of the Mongolian epic, focusing on its absolute maximum exponent, or Genghis Khan. The book, however, will highlight especially the human events that surrounded this character, finally allowing us to move away from stereotypes.

Secret history of the Mongols

This adaptation of what is recognized today as the oldest Mongolian text (written two decades after Chingis Khan‘s death) tells the Mongols’ own version of the origin of their nation, the life of Chingis Khan, and the creation of an empire that stretched across Eurasia in the Thirteenth century. Kahn has adapted the scholarly English of Francis Woodman Cleaves’ erudite translation in colloquial English, making this exciting narrative accessible to all readers. It is written “as an act of research and imagination,” an example of story-telling as history which offers not only an accurate and dramatic description of Mongolian culture and heritage, but wisdom and insight into the humanity of this small group that ruled much of Asia, Russia, and the Middle East for nearly two hundred years. Although it opens in a mythical past, The Secret History of the Mongols quickly becomes a treasure-trove of factual information, not only about the life and career of Chingis Khan, but also about the Mongolian people. It describes in fascinating detail the daily life, social structures, and customs of the tribes of Central Asia, and in terms of accuracy and immediacy eclipses the more familiar Travels of Marco Polo. An overview of medieval Asia, maps, lineage charts, a glossary of proper names, and a bibliography are included. This expanded edition includes a Seventeenth century account of Chingis Khan‘s death and a recent essay by the author. (This in the English version translated by Paul Kahn, but we had read a different in Italian without this.)

The flavor of the steppe

The text is able to bring the reader directly to Mongolia between the 12th and 13th centuries, allowing us to truly fully understand what was the basis on which the Mongolian empire was shaped. Even more than on the people, however, the work will lead to discover the figure of Genghis Khan, a character far from exemplified by a banal “king of the barbarians”. The story of Temüjin is in fact decidedly more tied to human than military relationships and in this book we can savor all this fully.


Without the support of Jamuqa, Subetai, Börte and many others, we will never have heard in any way mentioning this Mongolian and this is perceptible on every page, as well as by Khan himself, who paid maniacal attention in choosing to who to trust. Fascinating, then, how the whole condition of nomadism is treated with great naturalness, thus allowing the reader to fully understand the Mongolian reasons, definitely more related to survival than anything else.

Better than a nice fantasy

The book is absolutely recommended for everyone, especially those who are passionate about history or fantasy. Thanks to the very particular setting, the historical time and the complexity of the names, it could easily appear as an older brother of the “Game of Thrones”, however showing us concrete and real episodes. Except in the chapter of the military organization (however fascinating to understand the functioning and roles in the Mongolian state), the text flows with extreme fluidity, giving you several hours between entertainment and learning.

Jamuqa with Genghis Khan

Very important detail to underline as it incredibly enlarges the amount of people to whom it can be donated. For every fan of Asia, however, it is a volume at the limits of the indispensable for historical importance and charm.

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