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New Medieval Books: The Secret History of the Mongols

The Secret History of the Mongols

Translated by Christopher F. Atwood

Penguin Classics
ISBN: 978-0-241-19791-2

A translation of a 13th-century account of the life and reign of Chinggis Khan, this is by far the most important source we have about the Mongols from the time they established their empire across Eurasia.


This story is told mostly in prose, but with lengthy passages of alliterative verse, sometimes presented as direct speech, sometimes presented in the voice of the narrator. Intimate scenes from Chinggis Khan’s childhood, violent quarrels and bloody steppe battles are all pictured as if the author had witnessed them personally. Dates are given in the twelve-animal cycle, with the first one corresponding to 1201 during Chinggis Khan’s early campaigns. Chinggis Khan himself passed away in 1227, and the history covers the period up to, but not quite including, the death of his son Ökodei Khan in 1241.


Who is this book for?

This is our best source for one of the most influential figures in history, so it should be a book that many medievalists should be familiar with. Those who study the Mongols or their interactions with the many other parts of the medieval world will definitely want a copy, although there are other translations of this work.

The translation only takes up half of this book, with the other half consisting of explanatory appendices and detailed footnotes. The large amount of extra information makes this book even more valuable to scholars.


The translator

Christopher P. Atwood is a Professor of Mongolian and Chinese Frontier and Ethnic History at the University of Pennsylvania, where he focuses on the Mongols.

You can watch Christopher speaking on the topic ‘Reading the Secret History of the Mongols: from Qubilai Khan to the Eighteenth Century,’ where he notes that he made his translation to be “a staple for the Anglophone world undergraduate curriculum.”

You can learn more about the book from the publisher’s website

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