Kublai Khan

How the barbarians of the steppes shaped civilisation

It’s boom time for nomad history. It started some eight years ago, when Bloomsbury published a study of central Asia from an Oxford academic. This might have been a fringe book, but the author’s breadth of knowledge and analysis was exceptional, the narrative was gripping, the cover was beautiful and the publisher had high hopes, in spite of my quibbling review. Their punt paid off. Peter Frankopan’s The Silk Roads has sold more than two million copies and counting. It has also helped renew interest in central Asia, which had mostly been the preserve of travel writers and niche historians, including the great René Grousset. At the siege of Zhongdu,