A somewhat random list on other readings on Mongolia

In preparing to be Study Leader for the Smithsonian tour Mongolia: the land of the nomad again this summer, I decided to at least skim some of the more popular stuff on Mongolia. So I also decided I might as well offer my thoughts on these books here. Obviously, any that I really like will show up in the recommended readings section. The ones here were either okay, or not so okay. One or two may end up here that are quite good, but for various other reasons I decided not to include them in the recommended readings. These aren't really reviews in the standard sense of the term, but more thoughts and reactions to them. I trust most people can look up reviews on the web or (gasp!) at a library.

Blunden, Jane. 2004. Mongolia: the Bradt travel guide. Chalfont St. Peter, UK: Bradt travel guides.
This is the travel guide listed on the recommended readings for the Smithsonian tour. It's okay. It is much better than the editions of the Lonely Planet guide I'm familiar with, but you'd actually have to work to be worse than those, I think. The information is reasonably accurate and extensive. It includes sections on history, culture, religion, etc., as well as the expected stuff on what to bring, what to see, etc. The guide covers the aimags as well as the capital, and fairly extensively covers the natural parks. Having said that, there some things that are wrong. The map of UB, for example, misplaces several things, including at least one hotel and one embassy. And even allowing for the time lag between when something is written and when it appears in print, Millie's, the ex-pat hang-out, loation is wrong. (It had moved at least once before the book came out, and has moved again, at least once.) It also isn't as up-to-date as one might expect and hope with banking information. What is there is accurate, but they neglect to mention that there are ATMs in Ulaanbaatar that you can use (at least some!) debit cards in. While the book is published in the UK, it does include visa (and other) information for travellers coming from other places. That's helpful, but in this light it seems odd that no mention is made of the possibility of flying to Mongolia from Japan or Korea (now preferred by many Americans). So, in short, far from perfect, but it will do. And better than the Lonely Planet guide.

Middleton, Nick. 2001. The Bloody Baron: wicked dictator of the east. London: Short Books.
A children's book. On the "Mad Baron" Ungern-Sternberg, one of the many colorful characters from the history of early twentieth century Mongolia. To be honest, I have no idea why any would write a children's book on him. But it is the only book in English I can think of on the Baron. It's short - I read it in maybe an hour - and a bit odd in some places, even for a children's book. (Why describe a visit by a shaman, and then never explain what one is?) But still a reasonably accurate account all things considered. For more on the Baron, check out Ossendowski's Beasts, Men and Gods.

Roux, Jean-Paul. 2003. Genghis Khan and the Mongol Empire. New York: Harry N. Abrams.
Some nice pictures, but that's about all that this little book has to recommend it. The other thing is the excerpts of source material at the end. It's basically a coffee table book, complete with glossy paper, in a paperback size. The text itself can't really be recommended. "Barbaric and uncultivated race"?! (pg. 17). It obviously wasn't edited by someone who knows Mongolia -- non-standard terms and spellings for names are used throughought. Some dates are wrong (the celebration of the 800th anniversary of Chinggis Khaan's birth was in 1962, not 1955). A few passages just don't make sense. "What may have played the biggest role in favor of the Mongols despite internal or foreign wars, conclusively marginal, was the establishment of peace and order" (pg. 66). Many assertions are wrong, or at best very misleading. You get the idea. And what history is okay is really too abbreviated to be of much use to anyone who knows anything about Mongolia, and for those that don't, there are much better sources to start with (see the recommended readings section).

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