In all four episodes of Context released so far, we’ve focused on big picture historical events; on how environment and economics and politics and science shaped the rise of the modern world. History is chaotic, but it’s always been my impression that by focusing on patterns instead of persons, forces instead of figures, it’s easier to make some sense of it, to trace its general direction. Jack Weatherford’s book from 2004, Genghis Khan, and the Making of the Modern World, provides an exception. Genghis Khan was so influential that it’s worth zooming all the way in.
To understand how Europe began to shake off its medieval provincialism, how the Islamic world lost much of its momentum, and how China’s unparalleled technology under the Sung dynasty began to trickle beyond its borders and reshape the fortunes of the West, it’s well worth studying the legacy of this single Mongolian man.