Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Book Review: The Formless Empire by Christopher Mott

Another review in my series of books relating to the Mongols from Pen and Sword Books.

The Formless Empire: A Short History of Diplomacy and Warfare in Central Asia by Christopher Mott.

I have read plenty of books that focus on the Mongols and I was looking forward to this book in the hope that it would give me a broader idea of the history of Central Asia and how the Mongols fit into it.

In many ways, the book was successful at that. The history is interesting and covers everything that I was looking for. It expands on a region that has a long and often tumultuous story with colourful characters and powerful empires vying for control, with varying levels of success. Starting before the Mongols and coming right through to the present, the book gives a thorough grounding in the  development of various empires as they rose and fell in the Central Asian area. There is a lot of important history in here that, certainly a western reader, will find new and fascinating.

Unfortunately, I also have a lot of problems with the book. The author strongly posits his theories of the development of the various empires and appears to be trying to instil a new description into history academia, that of "Formless Empire"! His description of the aforesaid Formless Empire is in my opinion, nothing more than that of a Nomadic Empire, or at most a Post-Nomadic Empire. I don't feel that the term Formless Empire needs any stronger position than that of the book's title, in which it feels like a generic term that in many ways capture the nature of the empires that came and went throughout the Central Asian area.

The book is also written in a very academic style. In fact, I would suggest that it was written as an academic paper that has then evolved into what should be a popular history book but falls short due to the overly complex language that the author seems to favour.

The author seems to favour certain terms, now clearly they have relevance to the subject of the book, however, when he uses the term HEGEMONY on virtually every page of the book it soon goes down the road of becoming a drinking game - how far down the page will I get before he mentions hegemony! Also terms like "rump state" crop up regularly. I assume that the language is standard in university history departments, but they need a little more explanation in popular history books.

The Conclusion of the book is also difficult. Most of the chapter is spent going over the history already covered in the main body of the book, although it does finish up with a look to the future, and the possible directions that Central Asian diplomacy could take.

I did get a lot out of the book and it is certainly a valuable addition to my library of books about this region, however, I would only recommend it if you are prepared to struggle through the overly complex language.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Book Review: The Mongol Art of War by Timothy May

I have recently received five books for review, from Pen and Sword Books.

I have been fascinated by the rise of Chinggis Khan  (Genghis Khan) and the Mongol Empire for many years. I have watched many documentaries, read at least a couple of dozen books, and of course watched the few movies that have been made on the subject.

So when Pen and Sword asked me if I would consider reviewing some of their books I had a look through their website and noticed that they had several books relating to the Mongols and some of the other nomadic, steppe peoples. I found five in particular that interested me and asked them if I could possibly review one or two of those titles.

They very kindly sent me all five! So I have my work cut out. Over the next few months, I will be reading and then posting reviews of these five titles.

First up we have The Mongol Art of War by Timothy May. Currently available as an ebook, but soon to be published in paperback as well.

The book is subtitled Chinggis Khan and the Mongol Military System, and this sums up the book very well. For anyone who is interested, especially a wargamer, this book is an ideal introduction to the military side of the Mongol Empire. The first chapter gives a concise history of the rise and eventual fall of the Mongol empire, with examinations of the major campaigns and important battles.

After that, it moves on to a closer look at specific aspects of the Mongol war machine. Recruitment and Organisation, Training and Equipment, Logistics, Espionage, Tactics and Strategy etc. Finally, the book looks at the opposing forces and their strategies.

I found the book to be very well-written, easy to read and understand and very thorough in its scope and coverage. The book is not lavishly illustrated, having only a few black and white photos and then some line drawings showing battle strategies.
In the ebook format, this is more than adequate as Kindles are not great at showing images anyway (or at least, black and white ones like mine aren't).

Beyond my personal interest in the subject, I feel that this book would be an excellent reference for a wargamer wishing to start Mongol army. It covers the structure of the forces at some depth and also goes into detail about the relevant battlefield strategies.

I found the book so useful that I plan to buy the paperback edition to use for reference, to go along with the ebook that I have at present...

Monday, 11 January 2016

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