Feb 29, 2016

Dean Delivers, Mongolian Style

Men's book club review Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World Jack Weatherford
Tuesday's dinner was an impressive act of culinary celerity.  Dean rushed back from a father-son ski trip at Kirkwood to research and prepare an all-Mongol feast. (Meaning the food, not the guests--or not all of them anyway.)  With Mongolian beef and scallions accompanied by buuz (those delicious steamed dumplings) and a Mongolian carrot salad, Dean met his own--and our--high standards.  The Tsingtao beer and San Marino Cellars washed it all down nicely.

The only false note, Dean, was the pure butter shortbread in your yogurt dessert.  Unlike the rest of your menu, it wasn't home-made and its provenance was disturbing.  (Did I see a Walker's box in the trash? You know Genghis never made it past Gaul!)

The Book
Jack Weatherford's history of Genghis Khan makes a bold claim:  that as Khan and his progeny advanced westward, and established their dominion throughout the Caucasus, the Middle East, and into central Europe, their ideas and technology helped produce the Age of Enlightenment.  Who knew that this barbarian on horseback had such a civilizing effect?

We didn't, and so we questioned Weatherford's thesis and wondered if his research was as rigorous as it purported to be.  (His constant references to the so-called Secret History and his refusal to footnote any of his conclusions didn't inspire confidence.)  Our most reliable cynic--who shall go unnamed--offered an alternate sub-title:  "...and the Great Mongolian Blow Job."

Cynicism aside, we were treated to a litany of fun facts by Weatherford.  The Mongols were the first all-cavalry warriors and their speed accounted for much of their success.  They were the first to use gunpowder and shrapnel-laden projectiles in war.  They invented paper currency and standardized monetary units of measurement throughout their empire. They institutionalized diplomatic immunity, eschewed torture, guaranteed freedom of religion, created a professional class of administrators, and offered advancement based on merit not family. Among those they conquered, they decapitated the aristocracy and created new democratic structures loosely modeled after their khuriltai.  They invaded and united China, laid out modern Beijing, and built the Forbidden City.  Whew! But, as Larry notes with ethnic pride, they never conquered Japan.  (Editor's own ethnic observation:  nor did they take the Philippines, leaving that task for Larry's ancestors some 500 years later.)

Weatherford posits that the Mongolian empire was brought down by the lowly Chinese rat and its rapid transmission of the bubonic plague.  Wait, what?  Oh, who cares.  A fascinating story--albeit one laced with repetitive details and dubious scholarship--prompted us to give Weatherford a decent 6.5.

Next Up
John hosts us in March and, in light of his mother's recent diagnosis, asked us to select from several titles about the very difficult subject of death and dying.  We picked Atul Gawande's Being Mortal.  Until our next meeting, we'll continue to keep John's family in our thoughts.