KUBLAI KHAN: The Mongol King who Remade China

Financial Times (London, England)

April 22, 2006 Saturday

KUBLAI KHAN: The Mongol King who Remade China

by John Man

Bantam Press Pounds 20, 383 pages

Thanks to Coleridge, Kublai Khan is widely remembered for a stately
pleasure dome conjured from the mists of an opium-assisted dream. It is
not much of a memorial for a Mongolian warlord, Genghis Khan's favourite
grandson, who was once the leader of an empire that stretched over
one-fifth of the world's
inhabited land area.

Rather than lounging around in Xanadu, Kublai wrestled with the
intricacies of governing 13th-century Asia as well as scouting out new
countries to invade. He had a yearning for conquest, to extend his
dominion that ended in failure when he attempted to follow his defeat of
China by invading Japan.

In Kublai Khan, John Man gives a lively account of his life, portrayed as
a study in vaunting ambition and its corollary, discontent: "How could he
not be, if he was to be true to his grandfather's mission - to set the
bounds of empire wider still and wider, until all the world acknowledged
the fact of
Mongol supremacy?" Although some of the book's parallels are over-egged
("As CEO, Kublai was committed to Mongolia Inc."), it brings the last of
the great Khan's empire-building feats into focus.

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