Book Review: The Secret History Of The Mongol Queens

The Secret History Of The Mongol Queens:  How The Daughters Of Genghis Khan Rescued His Empire, by Jack Weatherford

The title of this book is not entirely accurate, not without a proviso.  This book is really two shorter books in one, both of which deal with the thorny subject of feminist history relating to the Mongol Empire.  How you feel about this book will largely depend on how you feel about the author’s rather irritating approach, overselling and trying just a bit too hard.  I found much to appreciate here but I also found the tone of the author to be a bit off-putting, and in a book like this tone makes a big difference.  This book would have been a vastly better book if the author had simply talked about the history of the Mongol queens of this book–not all of which are literal daughters of Genghis Khan, and the most important of which lived some three hundred years or so afterward–rather than trying to bang the gender studies war drum about some kind of supposed conspiracy to keep these queens lost to history.  Perhaps this book was not being written to fair-minded men like myself, but rather to feminist readers who have a higher tolerance for this sort of thing than I do [1].

This book is divided into three parts and thirteen chapters that, along with an epilogue that looks at the relationship between Mongol history and Christopher Columbus’ voyages, takes up about 300 pages of material.  The book opens with the author’s interest in some missing information in the Secret History of the Mongols that contain some praise for Genghis Khan’s daughters.  After this there are four chapters that look at the queens of the Mongol empire during the period of the first couple of khans, when they still had some power.  After that the second part looks at how the Mongol princes destroyed the power of queens and in many cases killed those queens who became too powerful or too influential during a period where the Khans themselves became the puppets of powerful generals who sought to keep weak rulers on the throne.  The third part of the book then looks at the most important Mongol queen of them all, Manduhai, whose loyalty to a young Mongol ruler who became her husband was responsible for unifying the Mongols after a period of chaos and disorder, making her a figure that is still held with a great degree of respect even by contemporary Mongolians.

There is genuine history to be found here, much of it evidence that as is the case in many areas, women have been notably important in trying to hold together realms despite the fact that women have long been at a disadvantage because of the role of combat in deciding historical questions.  But the history this book tells is not particularly secret–the author has little information about what was included in the missing portions of the Secret History that this book alludes to, and the queen that the author focuses on is not particularly secret, but rather a well-known figure in Mongol history.  If you want to cheer on the figurative and literal daughters of Genghis Khan who tried to keep the Mongols united and prosperous and successful despite the failings of many Mongol male leaders, this book certainly gives opportunities for that, but this book is not quite all that it is touted to be.  As is often the case with this sort of book, there is more hype than actual history here, more smoke than fire, but as a student of Mongol history, there is still a great deal here worth reading if you are willing to blow the smoke away and get down to the sober reality of what is being discussed.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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3 Responses to Book Review: The Secret History Of The Mongol Queens

  1. says:

    So what were some remarkable things or intresting things that the Daughters did to keep the kingdom together? This piqued my intrest but didn’t enlighten my knowledge about the daughters.

    • Well, according to the author, Genghis Khan placed a great deal of importance on his daughters ruling over allied peoples while his sons-in-law were called to help the Mongol army in endless wars. This rulership of key parts of the Mongols by women lasted a couple of generations before some of the later khans started killing powerful women. The author spends most of his time, though, talking about a Mongol princess who married a crippled and much younger husband and together fought against the peoples who were oppressing the Mongols at that time, even appearing in battle with her lame husband at her side, a heroine who is still honored today by the Mongols.

  2. Pingback: Book Review: A Brief Political And Geographic History Of Latin America | Edge Induced Cohesion

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