The best books about Mongolia

Who picked these books? Meet our 11 experts.

11 authors created a book list connected to Mongolia, and here are their favorite Mongolia books.
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Book cover of All the Horses of Iceland

Kate Heartfield Author Of The Valkyrie

From the list on transporting you to a foggy valley in medieval Europe.

Who am I?

I've always been fascinated by the way history feels inherently uncanny, as we inhabit the same places as people long dead. I suppose that’s why the novels I write tend to be in historical settings, and they tend to have a speculative twist. For much of my working life, I was a journalist, so I love the research part of writing historical fiction. I tend to be drawn to old stories, and I especially love looking at those stories from angles I haven't seen before. Two of my novels bookend the European Middle Ages: The Valkyrie, set in the 5th century CE, and The Chatelaine, set in the 14th century CE.

Kate's book list on transporting you to a foggy valley in medieval Europe

Discover why each book is one of Kate's favorite books.

Why did Kate love this book?

This is a slim book and it's told in an intimate, lyrical voice that feels like it's speaking directly to you from the period – which, in this case, is the 9th century CE.

All the Horses of Iceland follows a Norse trader through Rus to Mongolia in the company of Khazars. It's a ghost story, with notes of sadness mixed with wonder. And while it is possible to trace the journey and pick up on historical signposts, the book doesn't acknowledge that it knows when and where its reader might be – which bolsters the illusion of reading something very old.

By Sarah Tolmie,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked All the Horses of Iceland as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A hypnotic historical fantasy with gorgeous and unusual literary prose, from the captivating author of The Fourth Island.

Everyone knows of the horses of Iceland, wild, and small, and free, but few have heard their story. Sarah Tolmie’s All the Horses of Iceland weaves their mystical origin into a saga for the modern age. Filled with the magic and darkened whispers of a people on the cusp of major cultural change, All the Horses of Iceland tells the tale of a Norse trader, his travels through Central Asia, and the ghostly magic that followed him home to the land of…

Bones of the Master

By George Crane,

Book cover of Bones of the Master: A Journey to Secret Mongolia

Gary Geddes Author Of Kingdom of Ten Thousand Things: An Impossible Journey from Kabul to Chiapas

From the list on for would-be travellers.

Who am I?

After writing and editing fifty books and being the recipient of a dozen national and international literary awards, it’s obvious that I’m not so much a travel writer as a writer who travels a lot and is sometimes compelled to share what he discovers, or fails to discover, along the way. I’m not one of those “lonely tourists with their empty eyes / Longing to be filled with monuments,” that poet P.K. Page describes. I constantly ask myself: “What compels you to abandon the safety and comforts of home for the three Ds of travel: Danger, Discomfort, and Disease?” Itchy feet, insatiable curiosity, or the desire to step outside the ego and the routines of daily life? All of the above. I avoid the Cook’s Tour, travel light, and live on the cheap. 

Gary's book list on for would-be travellers

Discover why each book is one of Gary's favorite books.

Why did Gary love this book?

While taking tea with his Buddhist monk neighbour Tsung Tsai, who brings the water to a boil nine times before putting in the tea, George Crane is advised: “Georgie, I am going to travel to China to place a monument on the grave of my master. You are going to come along and write a book about it.” George is flabbergasted: ”Who’s going to give money to an unknown like me to write such a book?” The monk advises him to try and, sure enough, a publisher is found. They set off on this long pilgrimage, transporting a huge granite slab. The journey is full of wonderful moments as these two very different personalities interact, George usually the butt of Tsung Tsai’s humour. One of the book’s secrets: always travel with a friend.

By George Crane,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Bones of the Master as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In 1959 a young monk named Tsung Tsai (Ancestor Wisdom) escapes the Red Army troops that destroy his monastery, and flees alone three thousand miles across a China swept by chaos and famine. Knowing his fellow monks are dead, himself starving and hunted, he is sustained by his mission: to carry on the teachings of his Buddhist meditation master, who was too old to leave with his disciple.

Nearly forty years later Tsung Tsai — now an old master himself — persuades his American neighbor, maverick poet George Crane, to travel with him back to his birthplace at the edge…

China Marches West

By Peter C. Perdue,

Book cover of China Marches West: The Qing Conquest of Central Eurasia

Grayson Slover Author Of Middle Country: An American Student Visits China's Uyghur Prison-State

From the list on the Uyghur Genocide.

Who am I?

I traveled to Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in the summer of 2019, where I saw for myself many of the tools of surveillance and control that the Chinese Communist Party has used to turn the region into an open-air prison. Since returning to the United States, I have tried to draw attention to the Uyghur genocide through my published articles and through my book, Middle Country, where I tell the story of the Uyghur genocide by weaving facts, history, and analysis into a narrative account of the week I spent in Xinjiang. I hope that my book can make this profoundly complex and multifaceted issue more accessible to the average person.

Grayson's book list on the Uyghur Genocide

Discover why each book is one of Grayson's favorite books.

Why did Grayson love this book?

Peter C. Perdue gives an exhaustive account of the Qing Dynasty’s conquest of Xinjiang - which, according to many historians, was the first time a Chinese Dynasty consolidated its rule over the whole of the region. This history has important implications for claims regarding the legitimacy of Chinese rule over Xinjiang.

By Peter C. Perdue,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked China Marches West as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From about 1600 to 1800, the Qing empire of China expanded to unprecedented size. Through astute diplomacy, economic investment, and a series of ambitious military campaigns into the heart of Central Eurasia, the Manchu rulers defeated the Zunghar Mongols, and brought all of modern Xinjiang and Mongolia under their control, while gaining dominant influence in Tibet. The China we know is a product of these vast conquests.

Peter C. Perdue chronicles this little-known story of China's expansion into the northwestern frontier. Unlike previous Chinese dynasties, the Qing achieved lasting domination over the eastern half of the Eurasian continent. Rulers used…


By Robert Shea,

Book cover of Shike

J. K. Swift Author Of Acre

From the list on with realistic fight scenes.

Who am I?

I love a good fight scene! It doesn’t need to be long and gruesome, but it must be visceral and make me nervous for those involved. Don’t get me wrong, I also love a good first-kiss scene but unfortunately, my past has made me more adept at recognizing and writing one over the other. I started training in martial arts at the age of nine and continued for thirty years. I don’t train much these days but I took up bowmaking a few years back and now spend a lot of time carving English longbows and First Nations’ bows. I recently also took up Chinese archery.

J. K.'s book list on with realistic fight scenes

Discover why each book is one of J. K.'s favorite books.

Why did J. K. love this book?

An oldie, but I loved this book! It was actually two books when originally published (Time of the Dragons and Last of the Zinja). Set mostly in Mongolia and Japan, it tells the story of a warrior monk who falls in love with a Japanese princess who becomes a consort to Kubilai Khan (Ghenghis Khan’s grandson). As a kid, I loved the TV show Kung-Fu with David Carradine and Jebu (the main character) is a much bigger, badder version of Cane. Like Cane, Jebu is a half-blood but his barbarian side is the one that shows through so he is huge and red-haired. Lots of good action in this one. 

By Robert Shea,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Shike as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Beautiful young Taniko struggles under oppression as the mistress of the cruel Kublai Khan, and Jebu, a young monk, is transformed into a fierce warrior, in a saga of the ancient Orient during a time of bloodshed

The Baron's Cloak

By Willard Sunderland,

Book cover of The Baron's Cloak: A History of the Russian Empire in War and Revolution

Paul W. Werth Author Of 1837: Russia's Quiet Revolution

From the list on Russian history—with an imperial twist.

Who am I?

I have been studying Russia and its history for over 30 years and find that it continues to intrigue me. Having previously focused my attention on religion and its imperial dimensions (including The Tsar’s Foreign Faiths, with Oxford University Press in 2014), I have more recently sought to understand the importance of Russia’s nineteenth century and I am now exploring the history of Russia’s territory with a view to writing a history of the longest border in the world. I teach at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas.

Paul's book list on Russian history—with an imperial twist

Discover why each book is one of Paul's favorite books.

Why did Paul love this book?

This is a book of uncommon imagination and historical reconstruction. It focuses on the life of the eccentric Baron von Ungern-Shternberg and uses the Baltic German aristocrat’s adventures to reveal key characteristics of the late Russian Empire and the early Soviet years. Especially striking is the book’s geographical scope, which ranges from Austria to Mongolia and stops at many places in between. Written in engaging and fluid prose, the book is a truly original work of historical imagination that allows one to understand Russia and its place in the wider world—and in Asia, in particular.

By Willard Sunderland,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Baron's Cloak as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Baron Roman Fedorovich von Ungern-Sternberg (1885-1921) was a Baltic German aristocrat and tsarist military officer who fought against the Bolsheviks in Eastern Siberia during the Russian Civil War. From there he established himself as the de facto warlord of Outer Mongolia, the base for a fantastical plan to restore the Russian and Chinese empires, which then ended with his capture and execution by the Red Army as the war drew to a close.

In The Baron's Cloak, Willard Sunderland tells the epic story of the Russian Empire's final decades through the arc of the Baron's life, which spanned the vast…

Book cover of In the Empire of Genghis Khan: A Journey Among Nomads

Robin Cherry Author Of Garlic, an Edible Biography: The History, Politics, and Mythology Behind the World's Most Pungent Food--With Over 100 Recipes

From the list on traveling that are also insanely funny.

Who am I?

Robin Cherry is a Cleveland-raised, Hudson Valley-based author of Garlic: An Edible Biography and Catalog: An Illustrated History of Mail Order Shopping. When not zeroing in on the microhistory of unusual things, she writes about food, wine, and travel. Her father’s family hails from Moldova which may explain why two of the five books on this list are about, or include, chapters on, Moldova. The fact that two concern Mongolia is inexplicable as she’s never been there. Her story on visiting Moldova was included in Lonely Planet’s 2016 Travel Anthology. 

Robin's book list on traveling that are also insanely funny

Discover why each book is one of Robin's favorite books.

Why did Robin love this book?

As a child, Irish author Stewart dreamed of riding a horse across Mongolia and this book is the fulfillment of his dream. In the heart of the book, Stewart travels 1,000-miles across the vast steppes of Mongolia on horseback. He encounters stunning scenery, a hilarious nomad wedding brawl, and “a vast medieval world of nomads apparently undisturbed since 1200.” This book is worth it just for my favorite exchange.  While Stewart was watching the wrestling competition at  Mongolia’s annual Naadam Festival, he asked a fellow observer why the wrestler’s jackets had “long sleeves but an open front that left the chest bare.” “Keeps the women out,” he muttered.  Turns out Mongolian women are fearsome wrestlers. 

By Stanley Stewart,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked In the Empire of Genghis Khan as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Vivid, hilarious, and compelling, this eagerly awaited book takes its place among the travel classics. It is a thrilling tale of adventure, a comic masterpiece, and an evocative portrait of a medieval land marooned in the modern world. Eight and a half centuries ago, under Genghis Khan, the Mongols burst forth from Central Asia in a series of spectacular conquests that took them from the Danube to the Yellow Sea. Their empire was seen as the final triumph of the nomadic "barbarians." In this remarkable book Stanley Stewart sets off on a pilgrimage across the old empire, from Istanbul to…

Stand on the Sky

By Erin Bow,

Book cover of Stand on the Sky

Mahtab Narsimhan Author Of Mission Mumbai: A Novel of Sacred Cows, Snakes, and Stolen Toilets

From the list on to travel the world without leaving home.

Who am I?

I’ve always been an avid reader. At school, during recess, I would find places to hide so the teachers wouldn’t find me and insist on sending me out to play. Exploring other countries also fascinated me but, growing up, we did not have the money to travel the world. Books became my means of travel. I especially love books written by authors who have lived or grown up in that setting. It’s why I find writing stories in an Indian setting easy and satisfying. The highest compliment from my readers is when they feel immersed in my stories and come away feeling like they’ve been to India and now want to eat an Indian meal. 

Mahtab's book list on to travel the world without leaving home

Discover why each book is one of Mahtab's favorite books.

Why did Mahtab love this book?

This story of a young girl, Aisulu, who bucks tradition to become an eagle hunter is simply heart-wrenching and a fabulous read. The research is thorough, and I was steeped in the Kazakh (a nomadic tribe in the mountains of Mongolia), even as the plot advanced with emotional twists and turns for the main characters. The voice of Aisulu is spot on. All the supporting characters but especially her brother Serik, and her aunt and uncle are richly drawn. 

Erin spent a summer with the Kazakh eagle hunters and had sensitivity readers review her work for authenticity. This book won the Governor General Award (the highest in Canada) in 2019 and totally deserves it! 

By Erin Bow,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Stand on the Sky as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

2019 Winner of the Governor General's Literary Award? An exquisitely written, uplifting middle grade debut by acclaimed author, Erin Bow, about a young girl who defies her family's expectations in order to save her brother and become an eagle hunter, perfect for fans of PAX. It goes against all tradition for Aisulu to train an eagle, for among the Kazakh nomads, only men can fly them. But everything changes when Aisulu discovers that her brother, Serik, has been concealing a bad limp that risks not just his future as the family's leader, but his life too. When her parents leave…

The Secret History of the Mongols

By Paul Kahn, Francis Woodman Cleaves,

Book cover of The Secret History of the Mongols: The Origin of Genghis Khan

Wayne E. Lee Author Of The Cutting-Off Way: Indigenous Warfare in Eastern North America, 1500-1800

From the list on war beyond the state.

Who am I?

I've been writing about and teaching military history for many years (I'm a professor at the University of North Carolina), mostly focused on the pre-industrial world, and mostly about the maelstrom of the North Atlantic colonial experience (including warfare in Ireland, England, and in North America). I quickly decided that I needed to do more to understand the Native American perspective, and that also meant understanding the very nature of their societies: Not just how they fought, but how they imagined the function of war. This book is the product of constantly returning to that problem, while also putting it into a world comparative context of other non-state experiences of war. 

Wayne's book list on war beyond the state

Discover why each book is one of Wayne's favorite books.

Why did Wayne love this book?

Overall, my list focuses on books that deal with warfare by non-states in the pre-modern world. 

The nomads of the Eurasian steppe are a primary example of such warring peoples, even as they fought in a world filled with states. The "Secret History" was composed by the Mongols, after their rise to imperial power, but it was about their pre-imperial wars with each other and with similar nomads.

It showcases the values, motives, and methods of pre-imperial Mongols. It is a fascinating insight into how they viewed their place in the world and the role of war in it. There are a number of reasonable translations, this one is readily available.

By Paul Kahn, Francis Woodman Cleaves,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Secret History of the Mongols as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Recounts the genealogy and life of Genghis Khan, stories of his ancestors, the rise of the Mongol Empire, and the culture and customs of thirteenth-century Mongolia

Wolf Light

By Yaba Badoe,

Book cover of Wolf Light

Gita Ralleigh Author Of The Destiny of Minou Moonshine

From the list on magic realism chosen by a children’s author.

Who am I?

I'm a writer and poet who loved reading books set in fantasy worlds like Narnia as a child. When I began writing for children, I realised my own magical experiences had been on family trips to India, where goddesses and temples, palaces swarming with monkeys, ice-capped mountains, and elephant rides were part of everyday life. The term ‘magic realism’ seemed to better fit my own fantasy world, Indica. Here, elemental magic is rooted in the myths and culture of young hero Minou Moonshine, expanding her experiences and guiding the search for her destiny. The children’s books I've chosen also contain supernatural and magical elements which are intrinsic to the protagonist’s world – no wardrobe needed!

Gita's book list on magic realism chosen by a children’s author

Discover why each book is one of Gita's favorite books.

Why did Gita love this book?

Wolf Light dazzled me with its original premise. Three girls, born in different lands on the same day – Zula from Mongolia, Adoma from Ghana, and Linet from Cornwall – communicate through magic.

Zula is a shaman’s daughter, and her father shows her how to connect with her sisters, all destined to be guardians of the earth. Zula’s mountain home is threatened by copper-mining, Adoma’s forest by gold prospectors, and Linet is the guardian of the Linet Lake.

When their homelands are threatened, the girls must use their shared powers to defend them, at great cost to themselves.

By Yaba Badoe,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Wolf Light as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'She weaves ancient storytelling magic into words of exceptional beauty... Everyone should read Badoe' Sophie Anderson, author of The House with Chicken Legs.

A leopard dances under the moon.
A wolf prowls.
A red-beaked bird flies free.

Three girls born on the same day in wolf light are bound together to protect the world. They can dazzle or destroy. They have wind-song and fire-fury at their fingertips, but their enemies are everywhere.

From the bleak steppes to the tropical forests of Ghana and the stormy moors of Cornwall, the lands they love are plundered and poisoned. The girls must rally…