Sunday, January 4, 2015

Book Review: Osprey Mongol Warrior, 1200-1350. Osprey Warrior 84.

Mongol Warrior, 1200-1350. Osprey Warrior  84.
Written by Stephen Turnbull, and Illustrated by Wayne Reynolds.

Scope – big
Completeness –  Good
Appeal - good
Accuracy –good as far as I know

In 2004, I had the privilege of attending Cornell University and studying East Asian Studies and Chinese history. During this time, at least one of my fellow grad students and I had a discussion about Osprey books. His views were negative, but not necessarily due to the contents. According to him, if you have credentials they wish, Osprey will work hard to recruit you to write a book for them (he said he’d received this treatment. I find that claim believable, but did not see evidence of it.)  He also said that most academics, including his advisor, look down on people who write Osprey books. The combination had led to some dramatic conversations and stressful but humorous events in his life. 

But speaking as someone with some academic training in history (I ultimately earned a master’s degree in the subject) although Osprey books can be a bit hit and miss, this one came through for me in a clutch. I was taking a seminar on Marc Polo and the Mongol Empire with Dr. Charles Peterson, now retired, and had my heart set on writing a paper on the logistics of the Mongol Horde. What did those folks eat and how did they maintain themselves as they rode from one end of the Eurasian landmass to the other and back, conquering everything in their path.  Professor Peterson thought I’d have trouble finding that information and encouraged me to choose a different topic. But I was determined to look deeper into this.

Although I tried the usual academic databases for scholarly papers on the subject of what the Mongols ate, I just wasn’t finding the information.

However, when I purchased this Osprey book, bing! –there it was. A very good and properly sourced description of what the Mongol warrior ate when he was on campaign. I tracked down the sources, tracked down other articles by the same author (John Masson Smith), began looking at his sources, and had successfully tapped into the vein and soon had written a good paper on the subject that I am still proud of to this day. (If I had it to do over again, I would also track down who had cited the paper that excited me, but that’s another matter. We live, we learn, we hone and improve our skills and historical research and scholarship is the same way.)

So, how is this book anyway? Quite good. It’s 64 pages long, with a section of beautiful full color paintings in the front and black and white illustrations throughout. The contents are concise yet seem quite complete for people who wish to understand the Mongol Warrior of this period and how he and the army he fought with were such a success.

Recruitment, Training, Appearance and Dress, Daily Life, Campaign Life, Tactics and how the Mongol armies of the time adapted to the new challenges they met on their far flung wide reaching campaigns, as well as a glossary, bibliography, and index are all addressed in this informative yet concise book. I recommend it highly.   

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