A short annotated list to get you started on Mongolia

From time to time people ask me what is a good book on Mongolia. Sometimes they are a bit more helpful and know what they want to read about (the Mongol Empire, contemporary events, etc.) but, alas, not always. This is a short bibliography of books intended to answer that question. It is far from comprehensive. I assume most people who've found their way here are bright enough to look in a bibliography of a book they found useful or otherwise continue their search once they get started. So I haven't listed lots of books on a similar subject. And, unfortunately, some areas of Mongolian history and current affairs remain more or less neglected, particularly for readers who aren't specialists. But with those caveats, I think this list should provide a decent jumping off point. I have, for the time being at least, intentionally left out various historical accounts. They will probably be added in later. These shouldn't be read as reviews per se, but more like thoughts / reactions to the books. This is particularly true for the standard works, like Morgan and Bawden's, since it has been so long since I've just sat and read them from cover to cover.

Atwood, Christopher. 2004. Encyclopeda of Mongolia and the Mongol Empire. New York: Facts on File.
This is simply a masterpiece. It's a bit expensive - $85 - but it's an invaluable reference tool, with over 600 entries, and lots of photos and maps. The emphasis is more on the Mongol Empire than contemporary Mongolia, but it is wide-ranging, and chances are you can at least get a rough idea of almost whatever topic you want to look up from here. My copy always stays handy, for when I need to double-check dates and such.

Baabar. 1999. Twentieth century Mongolia. Cambridge: White Horse Press.
Okay, this is a biased listed. I edited the English version of this. (I was given a VERY short amount of time to do it in, so way too many mistakes made it into print.) This is actually Volume I of what is eventually supposed to be a 2 volume work. It covers up to 1946. The pre-twentieth century stuff is well done, but not groundbreaking. The twentieth century stuff however, in some areas at least, is the most complete and current you can find. Unfortunately, an expensive book. If you ever go to Mongolia, you can find it there as The history of Mongolia for a LOT less.

Bawden, Charles. 1989. The modern history of Mongolia. London: Kegan Paul.
Probably the standard book for the history of Mongolia from 1691 to the mid-20th century. Not always the easiest to find stuff in, but one of the first places I turn to when I need to check something. The socialist era stuff is now a bit dated, but still useful.

Bruun, Ole and Ole Odgaard. 1996. Mongolia in transition: old patterns, new challenges. Richmond, Surrey: Curzon.
Unfortunately, rather dated by now. But still one of the few collections to talk about Mongolia after the democratic revolution of 1990.

Humphrey, Caroline and David Sneath. 1999. The end of nomadism?: society, state and the environment in Inner Asia. Durham: Duke University Press.
This includes a good look at issues surrounding livestock, privatization, etc. in post-socialist Mongolia.

Jagchid, Sechen and Paul Hyer. 1979. Mongolia's culture and society. Boulder: Westview Press.
As far as I can think of, the only attempt at a comprehensive ethnography. The title is self-explanatory. Based on Inner Mongolia -- so not necessarily accurate for contemporary Mongolia. Also, tends to focus on 'traditional' culture and society. But given all that, it has information you won't find in too many other places -- taboos, etc.

Kaplonski, Christopher. 2004. Truth, history and politics in Mongolia: the memory of heroes. London: RoutledgeCurzon.
Probably a bit too academic for most readers. I include it here not out of vanity, but because it contains (Chapter Three) the only even semi-comprehensive account in English of the democratic revolution of 1990. You can now read Chapter One (the Introduction and background) over on the publications page.

Man, John. 2005. Genghis Khan: life, death and resurrection. New York: Thomas Dunne Books.
I liked this book. I actually a fair bit of time debating whether to put it here or "Other Readings" section. I was just about to put it in the other section, since it is a more popular book, but in the end, it ended up here. Yes, it's more popular, but if it gives people a taste for Mongolia and the urge to read further, that's enough to recommend it. It's a popular book, basically recounting the history of Chinggis Khaan along with John Man's travels following the trail of Chinggis. The recounting isn't particularly new - there's only so much material to work with after all. There's not tons of detail, but hopefully it will inspire people to go and read more. (The bibliography is competent.) I won't swear there are no errors in the historical account, but I didn't see anything glaring. What I do like about the book is that Man brings a sensitivity and understanding to the topic (and the Mongols he meets) that's rare for more popular books, but given some of the people he acknowledges in the book, I'd have been surprised if they hadn't rubbed off on him. What I also like in particular is the his approach to the Secret History. Rather than approaching it as a sacred text, or a historical document to be taken at face value, he asks obvious questions about how and why certain things are presented the way they are in it. While this seems an obvious approach, it isn't too often taken in Mongolian studies.

Morgan, David. 1986. The Mongols. Oxford: Blackwell.
A good general introduction to Mongolian history. He deals mostly with the Chinggisid conquests, and the Empire. Probably my first recommendation for a non-specialist who wants to know about Chinggis, Ogedei, Khubilai, etc. This one is relatively easy to find, and has a decent bibliography.

Onon, Urgunge. 2001. The Secret History of the Mongols. Richmond, Surrey: Curzon.
Onon's translation of The Secret History, the chronicle contemporaneous with Chinggis Khaan. There are other translations out there, but I like Onon's as offering the best combination of readability and accuracy of all the ones I've read so far.

Ratchnevsky, Paul. 1991. Genghis Khan. Oxford: Blackwell.
Probably the best single introduction to Chinggis Khaan.

Rossabi, Morris. 2005. Modern Mongolia: from khans to commissars to capitalists. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Currently the only book-length review of the situations and challenges facing post-socialist Mongolia. It focuses largely on economic developments, and is a sustained critique of the dangers inherent in approaches taken by international agencies (such as IMF and World Bank) and donor countries, especially when they attempt to impose abstract models that aren't appropriate to a region or culture. There are a few things to take note of. I think in summarizing various events (especially in politics) Rossabi doesn't contextualize things enough, so one can come away with a misleading impression of events or people. There are also some historical mistakes. Still, it's worth having a look at. (I have a fuller review coming out in the journal China Quarterly, so if you have access to that, check it out. Not sure exactly when, but late 2005, I think.)

Weatherford, Jack. 2004. Genghis Khan and the making of the modern world. New York: Crown Publishers.
Probably the only book on Mongolia to make the NY Times best-seller list. A good read. In addition to a biography of Chinggis and his accomplishments, talks about the Mongols in the context of the larger world.


The story of the weeping camel. 2005.
Brilliant. Makes me homesick for Mongolia, even though I haven't spent much time with camel herders. The story is about a camel herder's family, and what happens when a camel rejects her calf. But to me, the story is almost secondary. The film - nominated this year for an Oscar in the "feature documentary" section - is simply wonderful at depicting life in rural Mongolia. It just feels so real, and brings back memories of the short time I've spent in the gov'. Even the slow pace of the film is important in this regard. The subtitles are well done (at least those in English!) although I do wish some of the little bits that aren't translated were - they add so much more to color and feel of the place. Definitely worth watching.

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