Since the time of the ancient Greeks we have been fascinated by accounts of the Amazons, an elusive tribe of hard-fighting, horse-riding female warriors. Equal to men in battle, legends claimed they cut off their right breasts to improve their archery skills and routinely killed their male children to purify their ranks.
For centuries people believed in their existence and attempted to trace their origins. Artists and poets celebrated their battles and wrote of Amazonia. Spanish explorers, carrying these tales to South America, thought they lived in the forests of the world’s greatest river, and named it after them.
In the absence of evidence, we eventually reasoned away their existence, concluding that these powerful, sexually liberated female soldiers must have been the fantastical invention of Greek myth and storytelling. Until now.
Following decades of new research and a series of groundbreaking archeological discoveries, we now know these powerful warrior queens did indeed exist. In Amazons, John Man travels to the grasslands of Central Asia, from the edge of the ancient Greek world to the borderlands of China, to discover the truth about the warrior women mythologized as Amazons.
In this deeply researched, sweeping historical epic, Man redefines our understanding of the Amazons and their culture, tracking the ancient legend into the modern world and examining its significance today.
Saladin remains one of the most iconic figures of his age. As the man who united the Arabs and saved Islam from Christian crusaders in the 12th century, he is the Islamic world’s preeminent hero. Ruthless in defence of his faith, brilliant in leadership, he also possessed qualities that won admiration from his Christian foes. He knew the limits of violence, showing such tolerance and generosity that many Europeans, appalled at the brutality of their own people, saw him as the exemplar of their own knightly ideals.
But Saladin is far more than a historical hero. Builder, literary patron and theologian, he is a man for all times, and a symbol of hope for an Arab world once again divided. Centuries after his death, in cities from Damascus to Cairo and beyond, to the Arabian Peninsula and the Gulf, Saladin continues to be an immensely potent symbol of religious and military resistance to the West. He is central to Arab memories, sensibilities and the ideal of a unified Islamic state.
In this authoritative biography, historian John Man brings Saladin and his world to life in vivid detail. Charting his rise to power, his struggle to unify the warring factions of his faith, and his battles to retake Jerusalem and expel Christian influence from Arab lands, Saladin explores the life and the enduring legacy of this champion of Islam, and examines his significance for the world today.
Genghis Khan is one of history's immortals: a leader of genius, driven by an inspiring vision for peaceful world rule. Believing he was divinely protected, Genghis united warring clans to create a nation and then an empire that ran across much of Asia.
Under his grandson, Kublai Khan, the vision evolved into a more complex religious ideology, justifying further expansion. Kublai doubled the empire's size until, in the late 13th century, he and the rest of Genghis’s ‘Golden Family’ controlled one fifth of the inhabited world. Along the way, he conquered all China, gave the nation the borders it has today, and then, finally, discovered the limits to growth.
Genghis's dream of world rule turned out to be a fantasy. And yet, in terms of the sheer scale of the conquests, never has a vision and the character of one man had such an effect on the world.
Charting the evolution of this vision, John Man provides a unique account of the Mongol Empire, from young Genghis to old Kublai, from a rejected teenager to the world’s most powerful emperor.
The Ninjas today are the stuff of myth and legend in comics, film and electronic games. But once they were real, the medieval equivalent of the SAS: spies, saboteurs, assassins. In their secrecy, under-cover skills and determination to survive, they were the opposite of the overt, self destructive samurai. Could they fly? Make themselves invisible? Of course not.It was just that their skills gave them a magical aura. As a result, martial artists and story-tellers have turned them into fantasy creatures, from James Bond to Mutant Turtles.
In Ninja John Man goes in search of the truth. In a journey to the heartland of the ninjas, he takes us from their origins over 1,000 years ago, through their heyday in the civil wars that ended with Japan’s unification in 1600. But that was not the end of the ninja ethos. That re-emerged in World War Two as a little-known counterpart to Japanese militarism. Ninja ways live on in the real ‘last of the ninjas’, Hiroo Onoda, who held out in the Philippine jungle for 30 years.
The name 'Samurai' is synonymous with the ultimate warrior. With their elaborate armour, fierce swordsmanship and code of honour, the samurai have become iconic figures whose influence can still be felt today . From Kurosawa's epic Seven Samurai to the figure of Darth Vader in Star Wars, to Manga comics and video games, the figure of the fighting samurai still inspires us today. In John Man's new book we discover the truth behind the legend.
From his birth in the shadow of the great volcano Sakurajima, to his glorious death by ritual suicide and disembowelment, Saigo Takamori was the ultimate Samurai leader. His fall brought about the end of hundreds of years of Samurai tradition and in many ways marks the birth of modern Japan. Saigo was a man trapped by paradox: a faithful servant to the emperor, and yet a leader of rebel troops; a mighty Samurai warrior, and also a master of Chinese poetry. His life, and ultimately his death, offer a window into the hundreds of years of culture and tradition that defined the samurai.
**A SOURCE FOR MARCO POLO, A NETFLIX ORIGINAL SERIES**
Marco Polo's journey from Venice, through Europe and most of Asia, to the court of Kublai Khan in China is one of the most audacious in history. His account of his experiences, known simply as The Travels, uncovered an entirely new world of emperors and concubines, great buildings - 'stately pleasure domes' in Coleridge's dreaming - huge armies and imperial riches. His book shaped the West's understanding of China for hundreds of years.
John Man travelled in Marco's footsteps to Xanadu, in search of the truth behind Marco's stories; to separate legend from fact. Drawing on his own journey, archaeology and archival study, John Man paints a vivid picture of the man behind the myth and the true story of the great court of Kublai Khan.
Genghis Khan is history's greatest conqueror. As a teenager he was an outcast fleeing enemies on a mountain in northern Mongolia, an exile, a nobody. Yet it took only twenty years for Genghis to build the largest land empire in history - four times the size of Alexander's, twice the size of Rome's.
How did he do it? What lessons does his life reveal about the nature of leadership? What is 'greatness' in leadership? What traits did Genghis possess exactly? Were they unique, or might some apply in other times and other places - even here and today?
In Leadership Secrets of Genghis Khan, John Man re-examines the life of Genghis Khan to discover the qualities, characteristics and strategies that made him the great leader that he was. The answers are sometimes surprising. Genghis was far from just the tyrant that history records, but rather a leader of exceptional vision and modernity. And many of the secrets of his success are as valuable and applicable in today's competitive business world as they were in rallying the Mongol hordes.
In 1450, all Europe's books were handcopied and amounted to only a few thousand. By 1500 they were printed, and numbered in their millions. The invention of one man - Johann Gutenberg - had caused a revolution. Printing by movable type was a discovery waiting to happen.
Born in 1400 in Mainz, Germany, Gutenberg struggled against a background of plague and religious upheaval to bring his remarkable invention to light. His story is full of paradox: his ambition was to reunite all Christendom, but his invention shattered it; he aimed to make a fortune, but was cruelly denied the fruits of his life's work. Yet history remembers him as a visionary; his discovery marks the beginning of the modern world.
The idea behind the alphabet - that language with all its wealth of meaning can be recorded with a few meaningless signs - is an extraordinary one. So extraordinary, in fact, that it has occurred only once in human history: in Egypt about 4000 years ago. Alpha Beta follows the emergence of the western alphabet as it evolved into its present form, contributing vital elements to our sense of identity along the way. The Israelites used it to define their God, the Greeks to capture their myths, the Romans to display their power. And today, it seems on the verge of yet another expansion through the internet.
Tracking the alphabet as it leaps from culture to culture, John Man weaves discoveries, mysteries and controversies into a story of fundamental historical significance.
China's Great Wall north of Beijing is one of the world's most famous sights. Millions every year climb the line of stone snaking over mountains. We all feel we know the Wall. But we are wrong. It is too big, too varied, too complex to be captured by a few images or a day-trip.
Myths surround it. Many believe that the stone barrier marches across all China, that it has been in existence for over 2,000 years, and that it is the only man-made structure visible from the Moon. In fact, most of it is made of earth, and much of it is not there at all. It cannot even be seen from earth orbit, let alone the Moon. Estimates of its length vary from 1,500 to 5,000 miles. Even its name is deceptive - it is not an it, a single entity, but many walls (hence the uncertain length), built at different times.
Yet behind the confusion are great simplicities. The many walls are united by two ideas - self-protection and unity - which go back to the First Emperor, who founded the nation in 221 BC. For 2,000 years, the Wall marked the border between China and nomadic peoples to the north and west. Mutual hostility inspired centuries of attacks, counter-attacks and Wall-building, until the northward spread of China in the 20th century made the Wall redundant.
For this riveting account, John Man travelled the Wall from the far western deserts to the Pacific, exploring the grandest sections and many 'wild' ones. He is the first writer to describe two unknown walls in Mongolia. He covers two millennia of history, from the country's first unification to the present day, when the Great Wall, built and rebuilt over centuries of war, has become a symbol of tranquillity.
The Terracotta Army is one of the greatest, and most famous, archaeological discoveries of all time. 6,000 life-size figures of warriors and horses were interred in the Mausoleum of the First Emperor of China - each is individually carved, and they are thought to represent real members of the emperor's army. This is the remarkable story of their creation, the man who ordered them made, their rediscovery and their continuing legacy as a pre-eminent symbol of Chinese greatness.
The First Emperor, Qin Shi Huang, was king of the Chinese state of Qin and the first man to unite China into a single empire. He built the first Great Wall and brought a single written script to the whole country. He was an inspired and ruthless ruler, but one also beset by paranoia and a desire for immortality. He is still considered the founding father of the modern state of China. On his death in 210 BC he was buried in a giant mausoleum near modern-day Xi'an. Legends of the treasures contained therein still tantalize the imagination today.
In 1974 local farmers digging a well for water broke through into the burial mound and found the first of the Terracotta warriors. Further excavations have revealed the full splendour of the buried army. But the majority of the mausoleum is yet to be opened, including the burial chamber itself - myth tells us that amongst the treasures yet to be uncovered is a vast map of the First Emperor's kingdom with rivers marked with channels of flowing mercury. The story of the First Emperor and the Terracotta Army is a fascinating one, not least for the discoveries yet to be made.
In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure dome decree
Kublai Khan lives on in the popular imagination thanks to these two lines of poetry by Coleridge. But the true story behind this legend is even more fantastic than the poem would have us believe. He inherited the second largest land empire in history from his grandfather, Genghis Khan. He promptly set about extending this into the biggest empire the world has ever seen, extending his rule from China to Iraq, from Siberia to Afghanistan. His personal domain covered sixty-percent of all Asia, and one-fifth of the world's land area.
The West first learnt of this great Khan through the reports of Marco Polo. Kublai had not been born to rule, but had clawed his way to leadership, achieving power only in his 40s. He had inherited Genghis Khan's great dream of world domination. But unlike his grandfather he saw China and not Mongolia as the key to controlling power and turned Genghis' unwieldy empire into a federation. Using China's great wealth, coupled with his shrewd and subtle government, he created an empire that was the greatest since the fall of Rome, and shaped the modern world as we know it today. He gave China its modern-day borders and his legacy is that country's resurgence, and the superpower China of tomorrow.
The name Attila the Hun has become a byword for barbarism, savagery and violence. His is a truly household name, but what do we really know about the man himself, his position in history and the world in which he lived? This riveting biography reveals the man behind the myth.
In the years 434-454AD the fate of Europe hung upon the actions of one man, Attila, king of the Huns. The decaying Roman empire still stood astride the Western World, from its twin capitals of Rome and Constantinople, but it was threatened by a new force, the much-feared Barbarian hordes. It was Attila who united the Barbarian tribes into a single, amazingly-effective army. He launched two violent attacks against the eastern and western halves of the Roman empire, attacks which earned him his reputation for mindless devastation, and brought an end to Rome's pre-eminence in Europe.
Attila was coarse, capricious, arrogant, ruthless and brilliant. An illiterate and predatory tribal chief, he had no interest in administration, but was a wily politician, who, from his base in the grasslands of Hungary, used secretaries and ambassadors to bring him intelligence on his enemies. He was a leader whose unique qualities made him supreme among tribal leaders, but whose weaknesses ensured the collapse of his empire after his death.
Genghis Khan - creator of the greatest empire the world has ever seen - is one of history's immortals. In Central Asia, they still use his name to frighten children. In China, he is honoured as the founder of a dynasty. In Mongolia he is the father of the nation. In the USA, Time magazine, voted Genghis Khan 'the most important person of the last millennium'. But how much do we really know about this man? How is it that an unlettered, unsophisticated warrior-nomad came to have such a profound effect on world politics that his influence can still be felt some 800 years later?
How he united the deeply divided Mongol peoples and went on to rule an empire that stretched from China in the east to Poland in the west (one substantially larger than Rome's at its zenith) is an epic tale of martial genius and breathtaking cruelty. John Man's towering achievement in this book, enriched by his experiences in China and Mongolia today, is to bring this little-known story vividly and viscerally to life.
John Man is a historian and travel writer with a special interest in Mongolia. After reading German and French at Oxford he did two postgraduate courses, one in the history of science at Oxford, the other in Mongolian at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London.
John has written acclaimed and highly successful biographies of Genghis Khan, Attila the Hun and Kublai Khan as well as Alpha Beta, on the history of the alphabet, and The Gutenberg Revolution, on the invention of printing.