Wednesday, September 08, 2010


By Rene Grousset

This masterful history by one of France’s most distinguished scholars piqued my youthful interest with its tales of wild tribes in remote places of Asia. I still keep The Empire of the Steppes on my shelf as a reference work and simply as an interesting read.

Rene Grousset was what used to be called an Orientalist, before Edward Said made that a dirty word. His specialty was Asian history. Here he tackles no less than 3,000 years of Central Asian history. He sketches the ongoing clash of Nomad Hordes vs. Civilization (Skythians vs. Assyria, Huns vs. Rome, Persia, India & China, Mongols vs The World) with special attention to the notable conquerors. Attila, Jenghis Khan, and Tamerlane all get close attention. But Grousset also looks at how nomad groups such as the Magyars, Turks, Moguls, and Manchu changed from hostile marauders to members of the civilizations they once attacked and even the defenders of civilization against other waves of barbarian invaders.

Though often dry, and forced to compress vast amounts of history into small packages, Grousset still allows himself flourishes. You can read Empire of the Steppes and see for yourself why Harold Lamb and Robert E. Howard were fascinated the turbulent, destructive, warlike, and creative peoples of the Central Asian Steppes.

-Dave Hardy


Miguel Martins said...

Hi Dave,

I agree with you, every REH-fan (or Lambite) should check René Grousset's book. What's not to like in barbarians destroying crumbling civilizations?


"From time to time, however, from among the nomads a man of strong personnality would arise, well informed of the ruinous state of the sedentary empires..."

Dave Hardy said...

Well written history is every bit as entertaining as historical fiction. I like to move back and forth.