The best books about the Mongols

3 authors have picked their favorite books about Mongols and why they recommend each book.

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In the Empire of Genghis Khan

By Stanley Stewart,

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

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. 


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. 


I wrote...

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

By Robin Cherry,

Book cover of Garlic, an Edible Biography: The History, Politics, and Mythology Behind the World's Most Pungent Food--With Over 100 Recipes

What is my book about?

Garlic! Garlic is the Lord Byron of produce, a lusty rogue that charms and seduces you but runs off before dawn, leaving a bad taste in your mouth. Called everything from a rustic cure-all to Russian penicillin, Bronx vanilla, and Italian perfume, garlic has been loved, worshipped, and despised throughout history. This book takes you on a grand tour of its fascinating role in history, medicine, literature, and art; its controversial role in bigotry, mythology, and superstition; and its indispensable contribution to the great cuisines of the world. It includes over 100 garlicky recipes.

Genghis

By Conn Iggulden,

Book cover of Genghis: Lords of the Bow

Conn Iggulden is no stranger to historical battle fiction. Like others on this list, at least a dozen other novels could have been selected in this spot. Yet, Lords of the Bow expresses a savage bleakness in Genghis Khan’s earliest campaigns against the Xi Xia and Jin that will linger in the mind of any reader.

Mr. Iggulden’s writing regarding the Battle of Badger’s Mouth is incredible – not only for the complexities of the Mongol-Jin battle but equally due to Mr. Iggulden’s use of terrain and weather to raise tension. The battle is brief on the page, and overtaken by the extensive preparations of the Mongol and Jin armies immediately prior to combat, yet Badger’s Mouth leaves a distinct impression in a vast and growing sea of military historical fiction.


Who am I?

I am fascinated by how societies conduct war. Who is expected to fight, and how are they organized? How is technology developed, implemented, and improvised in the heat of battle? And, most importantly, how do its participants make sense of the carnage around them? History is replete with tales of savagery and courage, of honor and depravity. Perilously few of these have been formed into novels, leaving an incomplete and disjointed understanding of thousands of years of struggle. Many authors, including those listed here, paved the path for holistic depictions of historical battle fiction – my hope is to contribute tales from oft-neglected societies, beginning with Belisarius and the 6th-Century Roman Empire.


I wrote...

The Last Dying Light: A Novel of Belisarius (The Last of the Romans)

By William Havelock,

Book cover of The Last Dying Light: A Novel of Belisarius (The Last of the Romans)

What is my book about?

Twilight has come to the husk of the Roman Empire, mired in corruption and decay. As a new dynasty ascends to the purple, a band of patricians hatch a desperate scheme to restore the Empire to its glory. Their first task is to bring peace to the provinces, including the distant northern lands of Chersonesus, where towns are being slowly razed by an unseen enemy, all signs of life erased in their wake.

The new Emperor calls upon his undermanned armies to voyage across the Euxine Sea. Once there, however, the Empire’s soldiers find few survivors within the hinterlands, and pervasive darkness inhabiting its mists. They are not alone, and have only a promising young general to lead them through the carnage ahead.

Of Battles Past

By Bryn Hammond,

Book cover of Of Battles Past

The magnificence of the first in the Amalgant series is the immersive reconstruction of Mongol social, political, and religious worlds, as well as the lives of its people. Hammond resistantly reads histories produced by hostile cultures, instead privileging the earliest and most comprehensive Mongol tellings of their own lives, The Secret History of the Mongols. This is no dry historical account of cultural norms, steppe relations, or material artifacts, but an intimate and humane telling of the personal tragedies and struggles that would change the world as the war-orphaned Temujin grows to be the man we know as Chenggiz Khan.


Who am I?

I'm a retired historian of early Islam and writer of historical fiction set in medieval Iraq, Turkic, and Persian lands. I write and love to read novels that “do history.” In other words, historical fiction that unravels the tangles of history through the lives of its characters, especially when told from the perspectives of those upon whom elite power is wielded. My selections are written by authors who speak from an informed position, either as academic or lay historians, those with a stake in that history, or, like me, both, and include major press, small press, and self-published works and represent the histories of West Africa, Europe, Central and West Asia, and South Asia.


I wrote...

The Unseen: The Sufi Mysteries Quartet Book Three

By Laury Silvers,

Book cover of The Unseen: The Sufi Mysteries Quartet Book Three

What is my book about?

It is 908 CE, the waning days of the Sunni Abbasid caliphate. A body is discovered in Baghdad shot in the exact manner of Shia martyr slain some two hundred years earlier. Many suspect the murder signals a coming attack on the Shia community. The city is on edge as political, religious, and personal factions are exposed, sending the caliph’s army into the streets. Ammar and Tein, detectives with Baghdad’s Grave Crimes Section, and Tein’s sister Zaytuna, have to clear the case one way or another before violence erupts. The investigation offers no easy resolution as the three seek out the killer among those vying to gain power over the meaning of the past for the future, not just caliphal authorities and scholars, but also old women, children, and wayward sons.

Shike

By Robert Shea,

Book cover of Shike

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. 


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.


I wrote...

Acre

By J.K. Swift,

Book cover of Acre

What is my book about?

Brother Foulques just wants to stay in Acre and perform his sworn duties as a Knight Justice. Instead, the young Hospitaller Knight of Saint John must undertake a dangerous journey from the Holy Land to a remote village nestled deep in the Alps, the "Spine of the World." His mission: buy 500 peasant boys and return them to Acre to be trained as Soldiers of Christ. Pursued across the Mid-Earth Sea by slavers, Brother Foulques and his charges are about to be thrust into a confrontation with the greatest warriors the East has ever known: the Mamluks. Once warrior-slaves, the Mamluks have overthrown their masters and now turn their eyes on Christendom itself. What chance does one Hospitaller and an army of children have?

Under and Alone

By William Queen,

Book cover of Under and Alone: The True Story of the Undercover Agent Who Infiltrated America's Most Violent Outlaw Motorcycle Gang

Vietnam vet William Queen was capping a 20-year law enforcement career in 1998 when the ATF agent wangled an invitation to join the San Fernando Valley chapter of the notorious Mongols motorcycle club under the code name Billy St. John. He spent the next 28 months rising undercover to the rank of treasurer and vice president, allowing him to provide documents for the arrest and indictment of 54 members by 700 officers in four different states. Queen’s 2005 bestselling true crime memoir of his Mongols days ranges from bone-chilling to side-splitting for terror and laughs. Although Mel Gibson reportedly bought the screen rights, a movie has yet to appear.

Who am I?

During my 45-year career as a newspaper and magazine journalist, I covered a wide range of events on a daily basis. As a police and courts reporter for two daily newspapers, I spent many hours researching and writing about crime and legal affairs. As a reader, I’ve enjoyed true crime. As the target of a true-crime myself in 1980, however, I became more fascinated with the sub-genre of the true-crime memoir in which a participant in a true-crime shares insider details of the story without seeking pity or glorification from the reader through objectivity and self-deprecating humor. It’s a fine line. When an author manages to walk it, however, the result proves inspirational.


I wrote...

Luggage by Kroger: A True Crime Memoir

By Gary Taylor,

Book cover of Luggage by Kroger: A True Crime Memoir

What is my book about?

Luggage by Kroger is my memoir of a year when, as a Houston newspaper reporter, I survived a true-life Fatal Attraction adventure that culminated with my attempted murder in 1980 at the hands of a notorious female attorney. Twice optioned for movies, this story made me the poster boy for true-life Fatal Attraction appearances on Oprah, Regis, 48 Hours, and other television programs. Since its publication in 2008, Luggage by Kroger has been a fixture on the Kindle Store’s lists of bestselling true crime and criminology titles, attracting rave reviews and winning five national book awards.

The Secret History of the Mongol Queens

By Jack Weatherford,

Book cover of The Secret History of the Mongol Queens: How the Daughters of Genghis Khan Rescued His Empire

I couldn’t put it down when I read it, maybe because I am a woman. The most famous 13th century tale about Genghis Khan and his creation of Mongolia doesn’t mention women’s involvement in the creation of Mongolia. Jack Weatherford, a famous writer and historian, noticed a line in the Secret History of the Mongols which might have indicated a censorship in the story. He further explores the censored parts of the Secret History only to find fascinating and active involvement of women in Mongolian history. Anyone who is interested in history, truth, and women’s empowerment will find this book amazing. Jack writes so well and his books are always a fast read.  


Who am I?

I'm a Mongolian woman deeply interested and engaged in politics, human rights and history. Until I reached 25, my country was a communist state and I wasn't allowed to learn many things including foreign language other than Russian. Life, school, and books surrounding me had not only legal but also very strong ideological restrictions dictated by communism. As the most attractive melodies were ‘banned music’ and most beautiful love songs were ‘banned songs’, I grew up hungry to learn the true stories hidden behind all the bans. Later, I decided to write historic fiction on the important stories that were not taught to us in schools but necessary for Mongolians and the world to understand. 


I wrote...

The Green Eyed Lama

By Oyungerel Tsedevdamba, Jeffrey Lester Falt,

Book cover of The Green Eyed Lama

What is my book about?

Based on a true story, The Green-Eyed Lama, will transport you to the rugged but beautiful northern border of Mongolia. It opens with a love story between a handsome Buddhist lama (priest) and a beautiful nomadic herder woman. Far from an ideal match according to their social roles, the pair struggle for acceptance in the remote traditional herder community in which they live. The timing of their love affair could not be worse. It is 1938 - the year Joseph Stalin commands Mongolia’s communist government to crush Buddhism nationwide.

Stories like The Green-Eyed Lama were totally banned by the communist leadership until Mongolia’s 1990 democratic revolution. And even today the history depicted in the book is not fully taught at schools.

Wolf Totem

By Jiang Rong, Howard Goldblatt (translator),

Book cover of Wolf Totem

Rong’s Wolf Totem is not a typical Cultural Revolution book, and its focus is on relationships between humans and the wildlife of the grasslands. The protagonist is an urban youth, who’s a Han (the majority ethnic group in China), sent to inner Mongolia for “reeducation.” While trying to raise a wolf cub captured from the wild, he encounters a cultural clash between the Han Chinese and the locals, learns about the wolf and other wildlife, and reflects on history, nature, and humanity. 


Who am I?

Born and raised in China, I grew up on a remote state-run farm where my parents, as condemned intellectuals during Mao’s Cultural Revolution, lived for 20 years. It wasn't until mid-80s they were allowed to return. I have heard many stories and read many books about this tumultuous period in China. I didn’t know much about my parents’ personal experiences until I was in my 30s. Today’s China is very different but I believe that history extends its roots deep into the present. As a writer, what interests me the most is the impact of history on individuals and society. My latest book is a historical wartime novel set in China and Europe.


I wrote...

Beautiful as Yesterday

By Fan Wu,

Book cover of Beautiful as Yesterday

What is my book about?

Mary and Ingrid are sisters who were born and brought up in China but now reside in the United States. Mary is the older of the two; seemingly a devoted wife, mother, and churchgoer. Yet she is tormented by adultery, a grudge toward her parents, and her despair at work. Her estranged sister Ingrid has never settled for anything; she prefers her bohemian friends’ culture to her own and is haunted by her college boyfriend’s tragic death. When their widowed mother travels to the United States for the first time, they can’t avoid a family get-together. Amid all it stirs up, it becomes clear that the uneasy relationship between the sisters has roots deeper than either had ever acknowledged—and extends to their parents and their homeland.

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