Saturday, February 27, 2010

need some book recs, please

So I'm almost done reading Jack Weatherford's biography of Genghis Khan (called Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World).

That guy's life was so freakin' cool. Plus, the Mongols' "invasion" of (or excursion into) the rest of Asia, the Middle East, and Europe is really interesting in the way it connected worlds and empires for the first time, and offered a kind of mirror of violence for the European Crusades.

Now I want to read more (and more, and more, and more) on a variety of topics this book awakened for me. So does anyone have any recommendations (fiction or nonfiction, or even movies, for that matter) on any of the following topics?

-the Huns
-Central Asia (Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Bukhara)
-the Silk Road
-medieval Armenia/Georgia
-the Crusades (I've read a bunch, and am always looking for more)
-the medieval Middle East, like the Khwarazem/Persian empire or the Abbasid/Iraqi empire
-medieval Eastern Europe (Hungary, Bulgaria, Czech, Poland)

I like any and all ideas. Thanks!

68 comments:

Dreamstate said...

I just finished 'The Last Queen' by CW Gortner, about Queen Juana of Spain in the early 16th century. There have been a lot of books about the English side of that time period (Henry VIII really dominated the scene), but this delved into the structure of the rest of Europe at the time.

I thought is was well written and very interesting. It's a bit further west than your request, but you may still enjoy it.

moonrat said...

Dreamstate--you're not the first person who's recommended The Last Queen to me. In fact [scrolls down] it's in my Amazon queue. Perhaps I'll bump it up... seems to be universally beloved.

lynnet said...

I recently read and enjoyed Afghanistan: A Military History. It starts with Alexander and ends with the U.S. invasion, and covers most of Central Asia.

moonrat said...

thanks, lynnet. it went on the list. how's the pacing? is it readable?

Cole C said...

"Journeyer" by Gary Jennings if you're interested in moving on down the line of Kahns. It's about Marco Polo, and it crosses all the cultures between Italy and the Mongols, but he spends most of his time in the eastern end of Mongol Empire. Or at least those are the parts of the book I remember best...

moonrat said...

Cole--oo, looks tasty. Alas, 800 pages! That won't stop me, though. I have wanted to read more about him for a while. (Here's hoping the font isn't teeny tiny like some Forge books.)

Anassa said...

I've heard good things about Conn Iggulden's trilogy on Genghis Khan. Coworker loves it.

moonrat said...

Anassa--oo, starred PW reviews! Looking good.

dylan said...

Moonrat

This has nothing to do with your rec's request, but I am reading "Silk Road" based on your earlier post. And I wonder, did you ever read "Siddhartha, by Herman Hesse?

Things about Parrot's journey have been bringing that book to mind, though it is quite different and much more modest in scope.

dylan

moonrat said...

Dylan, you wonderful person, I don't even care if you end up liking it--we'll be able to talk about it together! Which will make me so happy.

I have not read Siddartha; do you recommend?

Kim Kasch said...

Sorry - no suggestions there - I just read The Men Who Stare at Goats and The Book of Lost Things - a little lighter reading ;)

dylan said...

MR

Absolutely recommend.

And it is a slim volume. I have reread it many times when I needed its message reaffirmed.

And if I didn't like Silk Road I'd have bailed by now and never fessed. I like so much about it - though the author doesn't scrimp on detail, diversion, and digression.

Do you think a book this ambitious would stand a chance in today's marketplace?

dylan

Sally F said...

Stuart Stevens' "Night Train to Turkistan: Modern Adventures Along China's Ancient Silk Road." It's engagingly written and often very funny. I read it for two reasons--an interest in the Silk Road, and because one of Stevens' traveling companions was Mark Salzman, who wrote the truly wonderful "Iron and Silk" (also nonfiction).

moonrat said...

Dylan--I think the ambition isn't a bad thing at all. I love the way Tang history is knitted right into several of the religious traditions of China and close attention to cultural points (poetry, music, holidays, etc). All in the guise of a traditional fantasy-quest. It scratches several genre itches, which writers like Neil Gaiman are making cool again.

But I do wonder if perhaps the author's race would be a more significant impediment today than it was 20 years ago. Which makes me sad.

There were a number of big laydown acquisitions in the 80s of historical novels about China that were written by white women--it was a genre (and I've read so, so many of them). They are, universally, out of print now. Some of them were very, very bad (orientalist, exploitative, sleazy) and some of them--like, I believe, Silk Road--fell into none of those traps, but were creative and original works of fiction. Alas once the trend died, "that kind" of acquisition just about disappeared and now tends to inspire a lot of eye-rolling.

As I've said, I think Silk Road is different. But... I will be very interested to hear your thoughts when you get to the end.

Colleen said...

The Great Game by Peter Hopkirk- excellent book on Central Asia.

moonrat said...

Thanks, Sally. They both look interesting.

Colleen--people on Twitter have been ALL over The Great Game. Apparently I've been missing out! It's in the Amazon cart.

--Deb said...

I don't have a related book to recommend, but I'm halfway through the same book and am also blown away. Who knew that he was such a fair-minded individual? I mean, you certainly didn't want to get on his bad side and he was ruthless, and all, but he was also remarkably fair. I'm loving it.

moonrat said...

Deb--no kidding! I'm reading about Khubilai right now, and he's pretty incredible, too--he introduced universal public education, paid government bureaucracy (so everyone could afford public services), and a highly systematized justice system with rules about taking evidence. Not much survived his reign, but his ideas were INCREDIBLE. Predate any other empire's similar social changes by centuries.

pacatrue said...

I said so on Facebook already, but loved Hopkirk's Foreign Devils on the Silk Road.

Richard A. Kray said...

Get ready to have your socks knocked clean off, Moon rat.

http://www.amazon.com/Dogs-Golden-Horde-Mars-Attacks/dp/034540954X/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1267337450&sr=1-3

Mars Attacks: War Dogs of the Golden Horde. I read this a few years ago and loved it. What's not to love? Mongolian hordes with bows and arrows, a protagonist that takes no shit ever, and murderous martians! I give it an A and wholeheartedly recommend it.

Dawn said...

I recently read "Three Cups of Tea" by Greg Mortenson (as well as his follow up book, "Stones into Schools"), and it was amazing and inspiring. I kept hearing about it but never thought to pick it up because I assumed it was one of those popular books with no depth. Was I wrong!

It's about a man, Greg Mortenson, who makes a promise to build a school in the village that took him in after he took ill failing to climb K2 on the boarder of Pakistan and China. His determination to follow through with his word snowballs into finding his purpose and devoting his entire life to educating the most remote villages in Central Asia.

I think you might be interested in it because it all occurs in Central Asia and you get a wonderful sense of the country in the last couple of decades. It was a fascinating look into another culture that I knew nothing about but should since the United States has been at war with that region for so long.

Cacy said...

i highly recommend the movie "Mongol" directed by Sergei Bodrov. it's a russian movie. soooo gooood. it's gonig to be a trilogy, second supposed to come out this year! this first installment was about the young Genghis Khan. this movie had so much going for it but my favorite aspect was his wife. she was what we in the hood call a ride or die chick. the kind of woman you expect him to be married to.

Cacy said...

mongol trailer!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2BfPgF4DF-Q

not saying you're going to drop everything and run out to Target to buy this movie immediately after watching this trailer, but you know, might want to put on on your shoes before you push play

Kaytie M. Lee said...

Gina Nahai for historical novels of Jewish Iran, especially Cry of the Peacock.

Kaytie M. Lee said...

Oh, I guess Nahai's novels are not as medieval as you want, but they are very good.

suelder said...

Silk Road: Two Thousand years in the Heart of Asia by Frances Wood

http://www.powells.com/review/2003_11_09.html

This is a beautiful, well-written book with the authority to be used as a text book for a college seminar a friend took.

If you're interested in the art of the area, visit The Newark Museum. But you also have the Asia Society in the City.

B.E. Sanderson said...

Off the top of my head: The Walking Drum by Louis L'Amour. It's an oldie, but it's an incredible book. (And his only non-Western, I think.) It's been a while since I read it, but it's set in Medieval time in the Middle East.

KHC said...

Anything by Amin Maalouf in translation. Especially "Samarkand", a fictional history of the manuscript of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, and "Leo Africanus," the story of a Moroccan who lives at the end of hte 1400's. Amin Maalouf loves to make connections between times and cultures in the greater Middle East. Interlink publishes the translations in the U.S. Enjoy!

Buffra said...

The Ornament of the World by Maria Rosa Menocal deals with the Abbasid Empire and the Muslim, Christian, and Jewish relationships in southern Spain in medieval Spain. It's really interesting.

Also, I second Silk Road and Three Cups of Tea.

Inara said...

hi moon rat! I realize you're looking for adult books, but i write YA and tend to learn best in short sentences with lots of action in between (LOL!), so I had to recommend a recent read of mine: Camel Rider by Pru Mason.

http://www.powells.com/biblio/62-9781580893152-0

It's not a perfect book, but I haven't found a ton of action filled stories like this that I could recommend to kids. The author is an Aussie who won some awards in her home country for the book. It's a story that grew out of her experiences living in Dubai and puts together an Australian ex pat and an abused camel boy who have to work together when war breaks out in their fictional Middle Eastern country.

Just thought I'd throw in something to read when you need a break from the heavy stuff... :-)

Jane Steen said...

This is not at all my area of expertise, but I put a book on my reading list recently that might fit in. It's called 1587, A Year of No Significance: The Ming Dynasty in Decline and it's by Ray Huang.

May I ask, while I've got your attention, how much time you spend on reading each day? I'm running a serious reading deficit right now and I need a Plan.

WendyCinNYC said...

I don't have a book reco, but there is a Silk Road exhibit at the Natural History Museum that's worth the trip.

A.B. Fenner said...

Hey Moonrat ... You seem to have an appreciation for the absurd, so after all of these excellent and legitimate recommendations, I submit you check out the tv movie Atilla. It stars a pre-famous Gerard Butler and is fantastically craptacular. Atilla and a glass of wine (or perhaps a drinking game) makes for a laugh-filled evening.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0259127/

moonrat said...

Richard--ha! looks awesome.

Dawn--good to know. I, too, tend to avoid bestsellers through a dumb, deep-seeded prejudice. Three Cups of Tea sounds delightful.

BE Sanderson--I've never read any Louis L'Amour, and just the other day my mom was telling me how good he is.

Wendy--I know. I need to go. I can't believe I've put it off this long!

AB Fenner--I simply have no idea how I haven't already seen this.

lale said...

Neither of these really fit, but I liked both 'Jem Sultsn' and 'The Horse Boy'- so Turkey and mongolia. :)

lale said...

Ack, that's what happens when you type with your left hand while eating mango with your right. I meant 'Jem Sultan'.

_*rachel*_ said...

Mission to Tashkent, F. M. Bailey.

This.

I second Three Cups of Tea and Hopkirk.

Pre-medieval-ish Russia/Eastern Europe: Enchantment.

I'd bet you cash G. A. Henty has something set in one of those periods. The wikipedia article has a list of his books. They're nice because they mix fun and informative, even if they are a ...bit... antiquated.

I've got other things I've read bits of for a class on Central Asia; I'll post them if you're interested.

lynnet said...

Just saw your comment. I listened to the audiobook version while driving, and I would definitely recommend having a map handy. I spent the first half of the book confused by all the unfamiliar place names. Once I familiarized myself with a map of Afghanistan, it became much easier to understand. Overall, I'd say the readability was good. I tend to have a very low threshold for unreadability.

All of these suggestions are going on my reading list as well. I'm on an Afghanistan/China nonfiction kick right now, so this is great!

michelle said...

I also highly reccomend "Mongol" the movie, stunning cinematography, gripping story, characters that grab you! Fav movie of the last few years.

michelle said...

It seems like this time period is seriously neglected by fiction writers. I would LOVE to read a great book set on the ancient silk road or in central Asia or eastern Europe or any of those places you mentioned...especially if it was a smart adventure story! I love a well written adventure!
I am reading the comments with great interest.

hampshireflyer said...

A couple of spec fic recommendations that deal with this part of the world: Geoff Ryman's 'Air' is about a central Asian village that becomes the last place in the world to be connected to cloud computing and always-on information. Set a few years in our future, or possibly right-darn-now-but-we-haven't-realised-it-yet.

Bruce Sterling's short story 'Kiosk', if you can find it, is about a south-east European wheeler-dealer who runs a newspaper kiosk and gets hold of a fabricator.

Both of them are extrapolating technology a few years down the line and speculating what social and economic events the next iteration of that tech would have on a community on the margins of global power. I'm not sure there's a name for this sub-genre of sf yet, but I wish there was so that I knew how to find more! (Also look for work by Ian McDonald and Paolo Bacigalupi, though neither of them write about those parts of the world in particular.)

Also, try Kim Stanley Robinson's 'The Years of Rice and Salt', an alternate history where Europe never dominated the world's economy. (The framing device of the main characters being reincarnations is a bit whimsical, but perhaps you could see it as grounded in non-western philosophy. I'm not enough of an expert in any non-western belief system to be able to say it authentically is!)

Emily Cross said...

I'm currently reading the Persian Empire by Tom Holland. I found his Rubicon book (rome) to be excellent and it looks like this book will be similar. Highly recommend it.

Francis Cossette said...

If you're into movies Kingdom of Heavens covers crusades and it's a good blockbuster and entertaining film.

Chloe Neill said...

If you're interested in the contemporary side of things, Paul Theroux has travelogues about (particularly) train travels through China, Asia and Russia, among others. They are fabulous reads.

moonrat said...

Emily--not sure how I've missed Persian Fire; definitely up my alley. Thanks.

Cacy--yes, Mongol is AWESOME. I had not heard it was the first in a trilogy; that's terribly exciting to hear.

Kaytie--Cry of the Peacock looks excellent. I've read more modern stories of Iranian Jews (Septembers of Shiraz, eg) but this premise is interesting.

Suelder--I own Frances Wood's book already :) nice to find someone else who's read!

moonrat said...

KHC--Omar Khayyam and his effects (on Persia and beyond) are kind of incredible. I think it's interesting, too, how many connections there were among Muslim empires in the middle ages. According to GENGHIS KHAN, when the Mongols destroyed Baghdad it was the most multicultural city in the world.

moonrat said...

Buffra--Ornament of the World looks great; fantastic reviews. Thanks.

Inara--YA is always fine!

moonrat said...

Jane--I spend about 2 hours reading everyday. I read when I'm on the subway (which knocks out an easy 1.5 hours) and I usually read when I wake up in the morning and then before I fall asleep. I'm a pretty slow reader, so I average 40 pages a day when I'm pushing.

Usually, I like to finish a book a week, which means frequently on Fridays or Saturdays I need to set aside extra hours to "clean up" a book I've been working on. Gotta keep myself on track.

More information than you ever wanted, I'm sure.

moonrat said...

lale--I'm OBSESSED with Turkey, and John Freely is a personal friend! Ha. I can't believe Jem Sultan ended up on your list!

moonrat said...

Rachel--boo, Mission to Tashkent appears to be out of print! Just means one has to work a little harder to read it.

Yup, I've read Enchantment.

I had never heard of GA Henty; wow. What a collection.

How do you know all these things?

moonrat said...

Michelle--in that case, you should read SILK ROAD, by Jeanne Larsen, the book Dylan and I are bantering about! It's a terrific adventure story set along the silk road during the Tang dynasty.

moonrat said...

hampshireflyer--hadn't heard of Ryman, either; another guy who seems to get stellar reviews. Thanks for the rec.

Years of Rice and Salt has been on my list for a while; I'm actually reading the part right now in the Genghis Khan history where the black plague takes the whole thing down (I might read a book about the black plague next...). Interesting premise.

moonrat said...

Francis--I own Kingdom of Heaven. Heehee. It's a little historically flawed (erm, Orlando Bloom's little speech at the end comes to mind...) but I enjoy the sensitive portrayal of Saladin (I'm a big fan of Saladin).

moonrat said...

Chloe--somehow, I've never read anything of his. My shame!

Froog said...

I really liked The Crusades Through Arab Eyes by Amin Maalouf. And for a modern travelogue on the Silk Road, check out The Road To Miran by Christa Paula (I don't think that's in print any more, but there are probably still secondhand copies knocking around on Amazon. Actually, I really covet one myself.... but don't have a credit card. She's an old flame, kind of, sort of, almost...)

Froog said...

By the way, did you see Sergei Bodrov's film Mongol about the young Genghis a couple of years ago. A bit free and easy with the history, but an awesome film. Said to be the first instalment in a projected trilogy.

Cupcake said...

Mongol Queens:
http://www.booklounge.ca/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9780307407153

Pretty much anything by this guy:
http://www.booklounge.ca/author/results.pperl?authorid=58328

moonrat said...

Froog--yeah, I read The Crusades Through Arab Eyes for an undergraduate paper. It is good to remember there's not one perspective on these things. Cough cough.

I JUST heard yesterday that Mongol is only the first in a trilogy! Terribly exciting.

Cupcake--thanks! Looks good.

Jane Steen said...

Moonrat, thanks for the reading stats. I have no commute as I work at home - perhaps that's the problem! I need to imagine myself onto a train. Or just get disciplined. Hmmm, like that's going to happen.

_*rachel*_ said...

You asking me how I know all these things? Well, OK:

I took Oil, Islam, and Geopolitics in Central Asia last semester, which is how I found Mission to Tashkent and Three Cups of Tea. I was able to find Mission to Tashkent through -the 2010 Best University Library-, but I'm horrible at finishing nonfiction and somehow managed to reread Ender's Game instead.

Because of that class, I can hunt down a few more books if you'd like. (Meaning: I'll see who wrote our required readings.) Oh, and that's how I found the video, too.

Enchantment I read because I read Ender's Game in middle school and now can't stop rereading the series and checking out anything else he writes.

G.A. Henty because it was in the church library and if I have to read 110+ year old boys' books to get some action and adventure, that's what I'm going to do! (My favorites are For Freedom's Cause and Beric the Briton).

moonrat said...

Rachel--awesome.

Richard Lewis said...

Fiction?

Echo Conn Iggulden's Genghis trilogy.

Imogen said...

I haven't got time in my lunch break to read all of the comments, so deep apologies if I'm repeating what's already been recommended:

1) Have you read any of the travel/history writing of John Freely? His "Strolling through Athens", "Strolling through Istanbul" and "Istanbul, the Imperial City" are both marvellously erudite and highly readable (but will leave you longing to visit/revisit Istanbul and Athens). Be sure to check out the author's biography at the front of the books - Mr Freely has had a fairly extraodinary life...

2) Kate Elliott's current fantasy series ("Spirit Gate" etc) is set on a fantasy-fictionalised version of the Silk Road...

moonrat said...

Imogen--thanks, Kate Elliot looks awesome.

re: John Freely: someone else above mentioned him. He's a personal friend of mine, so I'm SO thrilled to see other people value his writing!

Imogen said...

Good heavens! Lucky you to know such interesting people. Please give him my admiring best wishes next time you see him or are in touch. My elder brother has just given me his book on Crete and it is having exactly the same tantalising effect as his other work; I want to be in Chania, RIGHT NOW!

moonrat said...

Imogen--you know his daughter, Maureen Freely, is a writer/translator, too? She translates Orhan Pamuk (I believe she won him his Nobel, personally). But she has a number of novels, too, and I think she's terrific.

pacatrue said...

Moonie, I've read the first of the Kate Elliot Spirit Gate trilogy. I enjoyed it. I appreciated how the story develops organically and how I still do not know what was myth and superstition and what was truly supernatural. It could be a bit slow and I never latched on to any of the characters. I await your review!

Mischa KK Bagley said...

May I modestly suggest my own novel "The Confession of the Panther Woman" whose antagonists come from Uzbekhistan, the home of the Black Death, where the disease is endemic, and from where it travelled along the Silk Road to those Black Sea ships that were bound for mediaeval Europe?