On The Trail of Genghis Khan

I’ve admitted before that I have a soft spot in my heart for Genghis Khan.  My Own True Love and I dearly love a road trip, especially if it includes a historical site or three.

How could I resist On The Trail of Genghis Khan–the story of a Road Trip Through History on the grand scale?

In On The Trail of Genghis Khan: An Epic Journey Through the Land of the Nomads Australian adventurer Tim Cope tells the story of his trek on horseback from Mongolia to Hungary: a 6,000-mile journey across the Eurasian steppes.

Cope’s plan was to follow the westward expansion of the Mongols, who created the largest land empire in history under the leadership of Genghis Khan. He hoped not only to understand the lives of the Mongols and the nomadic peoples who preceded them, but to look for living traces of nomadic heritage. He expected the trip to take eighteen months; instead it took more than three years.

The narrative alternates between epic scope and day-to-day bumbling. With limited facility with the Mongolian language and even less horsemanship, Cope seems to be ironically named in the beginning chapters. His horses were stolen six days into his trek. He struggled with his gear, ran low on food, made dangerous choices, and was regularly saved by the kindness of strangers.

Cope’s experiences would be interesting enough in themselves, but he gives his story a bigger context by interweaving it with both the history of Genghis Khan’s armed horsemen and accounts of their modern descendants. Modern Mongolian nomads who live in traditional felt tents with televisions powered by car batteries. Cattle herders struggling to survive in post-soviet Kazakhstan. Hungarian horsemen who have romanticized their nomadic past.

On The Trail of Genghis Khan will appeal to anyone interested in adventure or nomads—past or present.

This review previously appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers.

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