The Mongol Empire is almost always introduced in terms of size: the biggest land empire, unprecedented in extent. Despite the scale the Mongols operated on, they have only had scaled-down entries in book series from academic publishers that help to rank areas of history as more or less prestigious.
In his debut short story collection, Jonan Pilet explores the lives of Mongols and expats, looking for a sense of home within the nomadic culture. Based on the author’s insights having grown up in Mongolia, the series of interlinked narratives capture the cultural turmoil Mongolia experienced after the fall of the Soviet Union, painting a vivid picture of Mongol landscapes, Western interactions, and the rise of cultural tensions.
Biographies have much to offer as a way into the past. Lives are messy, and avoid neat conclusions about history—frustrating things, they refuse to fit a preconception. Human lives have a complexity that can keep history-writing honest. To navigate subjectivities keeps us alive to the truth that the work of history, too, is subjective.
Mongolia is sometimes seen as one of the few examples of a successful youth-led revolution, where a 1990 movement forced the Soviet-appointed Politburo to resign. In Young Mongols: Forging Democracy in the Wild, Wild East, Aubrey Menard profiles many of today’s young activists in Mongolia, in a wide array of different areas like pollution, feminism, LGBT rights, and journalism.
Young Mongols is a book full of energy. Aubrey Menard has interviewed young Mongolian activists at work across different sectors of society; these she profiles together on the basis of a common commitment to make society more equal, more functional, more inclusive. Their participation in Mongolia’s social and political betterment is told with respect and enthusiasm, and most readers will find their passion irresistible.
Humanism, secularism, pluralism: these were the spirit of the age in the exchange system known as the Mongol Empire. So Roxann Prazniak finds in Sudden Appearances: The Mongol Turn in Commerce, Belief, and Art. Prazniak’s starting place is art history, but her study of artistic exchange opens out into a wide view of the intellectual and cultural world under Mongol globalization in the 13th century.
When a work of non-fiction opens with “On the last day of his old life, the dinosaur hunter went to the beach,” it’s a strong hint that tragedy is in store.