Thursday, March 26, 2020

Review: Barbarians at the Wall: The First Nomadic Empire and the Making of China by John Man

Title: Barbarians at the Wall: The First Nomadic Empire and the Making of China
Author: John Man
Publication: January 23rd 2020 by Corgi
Genre: Nonfiction, History, Ancient History
Purchase it on: Amazon | Book Depository | Google Play
Rating: 4/5

'Man does for the reader that most difficult of tasks: he conjures up an ancient people in an alien landscape in such a way as to make them live.' - Guardian

The people of the first nomadic empire left no written records, but from 200 BC they dominated the heart of Asia for 400 years. They changed the world. The Mongols, today’s descendants of Genghis Khan, see them as ancestors. Their rise cemented Chinese unity and inspired the first Great Wall. Their heirs under Attila the Hun helped destroy the Roman Empire.

We don’t know what language they spoke, but they became known as Xiongnu, or Hunnu, a term passed down the centuries and across Eurasia, enduring today in shortened form as ‘Hun’. Outside Asia precious little is known of their rich history, but new evidence reframes our understanding of the indelible mark they left on a vast region stretching from Europe and sweeping right across Central Asia deep into China.

Based on meticulous research and new archaeological evidence, Barbarians at the Wall traces their epic story, and shows how the nomadic cultures of the steppes gave birth to a ‘barbarian empire’ with the wealth and power to threaten the civilised order of the ancient world.

I've previously enjoyed Amazons: The Real Warrior Women of the Ancient World by John Man so when I saw Barbarians at the Wall: The First Nomadic Empire and the Making of China at the bookstore I decided to buy it to see if I would like another one of his books. And I did! Which made me insanely happy because it's always nice to discover a new author and continue to enjoy their books. 

This book is about the Xiongnu, the first nomadic empire. It also focuses on their relationship with ancient China. This was a topic I knew next to nothing about but it was so fascinating to read about their story. I was very much hooked and I also really liked looking at the photographs included in the book. 

This quote from Guardian says it all really: 

'Man does for the reader that most difficult of tasks: he conjures up an ancient people in an alien landscape in such a way as to make them live.'

This author certainly did all that and especially with a nonfiction that is hard to do but somehow he really managed it. 

About the author:
John Anthony Garnet Man is a British historian and travel writer. His special interests are China, Mongolia and the history of written communication. He takes particular pleasure in combining historical narrative with personal experience.

He studied German and French at Keble College, Oxford, before doing two postgraduate courses, a diploma in the History and Philosophy of Science at Oxford and Mongolian at the School of Oriental and African Studies, completing the latter in 1968. After working in journalism with Reuters and in publishing with Time-Life Books, he turned to writing, with occasional forays into film, TV and radio.

In the 1990s, he began a trilogy on the three major revolutions in writing: writing itself, the alphabet and printing with movable type. This has so far resulted in two books, Alpha Beta and The Gutenberg Revolution, both republished in 2009. The third, on the origin of writing, is on hold, because it depends on access to Iraq.

He returned to the subject of Mongolia with Gobi: Tracking the Desert, the first book on the region since the 1920s. Work in Mongolia led to Genghis Khan: Life, Death and Resurrection, which has so far appeared in 18 languages. Attila the Hun and Kublai Khan: The Mongol King Who Remade China completed a trilogy on Asian leaders. A revised edition of his book on Genghis Khan, with the results of an expedition up the mountain on which he is supposed to be buried, was upcoming in autumn 2010.

The Terracotta Army coincided with the British Museum exhibition (September 2007- April 2008). This was followed by The Great Wall. The Leadership Secrets of Genghis Khan combines history and leadership theory. Xanadu: Marco Polo and the Discovery of the East was published in autumn 2009, and Samurai: The Last Warrior, the story of Saigō Takamori's doomed 1877 rebellion against the Japanese emperor, was published in February 2011.

In 2007 John Man was awarded Mongolia's Friendship Medal for his contributions to UK-Mongolian relations.
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  1. That quote from the Guardian is the best reason to read his books -- it's hard to find someone that can do all that with a topic so off the beaten path (so to speak)

  2. I love finding an author that I love with more than one book😁 Glad you loved this, it sounds fascinating!

  3. I am glad you could learn so much from this book and I don't know about the Normandic people and their relation to Ancient China either! I love when you an read more by an author you already know you love.


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