Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Last of the Christmas Reading

So, at last, six months later, I get to mention the last of my reading over Christmas break. No worries, I haven't been able to read much of anything since. That fact is frustrating. The wonderful thing about becoming a tenure track faculty person in a couple of months is that I will not have duties this time next year other than to pursue my research agenda (and Heroic Age, and SASLC, and an encyclopedia....but I digress).

Anyway, way back when as I refreshing my mind in prehttp://www.blogger.com/post-create.g?blogID=6221357paration to become a professional medievalist, I bought a whole bunch of books to read. Among them was this one: The Devil's Horsemen: The Mongol Invasion of Europe by James Chambers. I never got around to reading it. In my defense, the stack was pretty high, and you know, I lived above a drinking establishment, and there was Civilization and Quake to play, and there was a paper to research to submit with my applications and it didn't have to do with Mongols. But I've been carrying this around for a long time and decided it was time I gave it its due.

So to the book. Chambers is, or was, an amateur military historian, of the sort that only Britain really can have. He was also a journalist. Thus, the book is largely narrative. As an introduction to the Mongols, narrative was just the thing. Chambers relates events from disparate locales and traces seemingly unrelated events across a wide expanse of territory showing that these events divided by thousands of miles conspired to create other events that affected China and Hungary, for example. He is best, I think, when he is describing Mongol tactics.

The book is light on references. But Chambers makes up for it. The appendix and bibliography has a full list of primary and secondary works. Chambers often quotes the primary works, though he is honest that in the cases of works in Arabic, Chinese, Persian etc, he is dependent on French, German, Latin, and English translations. But the references are there nonetheless and should I ever get around to look them up or include them in a class (hey, I've put Italo Calvino, Marco Polo, and ibn Batuta into conversation, why not add some sources about the Mongols?). And everyone has heard of Ghengis Khan, but few will have heard of Subadei, equally a military genius. It was he who brought the Mongols to Europe, and it was he who suggested further attacks into Europe to the Khan. In some cases one can not but hear the "wa wa wa" music to read of the mistakes of the Europeans, or the loss of territory and life because noblemen wouldn't support their king in his efforts to protect their land.

Chambers also describes the political infighting following the Great Khan's death. The empire imploded. Perhaps not as badly as other places in other times, but nonetheless a Mongol empire that included Europe was within grasp but too many hands in the pot do rather spoil the dish, or the empire...whichever.

This is a good read for those like me who don't know much of anything detailed about the Mongols. I imagine it has remined in consistent print for about 30 years now because of this and because it is useful for teaching high school or introductory level history in colleges. But if you're like me, then I'd recommend the book.


Steve Muhlberger said...

"The wonderful thing about becoming a tenure track faculty person in a couple of months is that I will not have duties this time next year other than to pursue my research agenda ..."

you poor sucker! They will slam you onto every powerless, paper-pushing committee they can!


theswain said...

Hi Steve,

Oh, I know! But, fortunately there is no summer requirement which means pretty much everyone disappears after commencement until August unless you want to teach summers. I am so taking next summer off...I haven't had a vacation of any kind in 11 years already.

So I'm hoping that between mid-May and end of July, I can read some books.