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In the history of the modern world, there have been few characters more sadistic, sinister, and deeply demented as Baron Ungern-Sternberg. An anti-Semitic fanatic with a penchant for Eastern mysticism and a hatred of communists, Baron Ungern-Sternberg took over Mongolia in 1920 with a ragtag force of White Russians, Siberians, Japanese, and native Mongolians. While tormenting friend and foe alike, he dreamed of assembling a horse-borne army with which he would retake communist controlled Moscow.

In this epic saga that ranges from Austria to the Mongolian Steppe, historian and travel writer James Palmer has brought to light the gripping life story of a madman whose actions fore shadowed the most grotesque excesses of the twentieth century.

Published: Basic Books on Feb 10, 2009
ISBN: 9780786744282
List price: $15.99
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I've been fascinated by this period of Mongolian history ever since I found a musty old copy of Ossendowski's Beasts, Men and Gods in a used bookstore years ago, so I was very happy to find a new look at those times in this book. Finding sources or historical writing on this period is difficult, at least here in the US, since Outer Mongolia almost seems to be a fictitious country in itself. Fortunately, James Palmer has travelled the East and waded through the various scraps and pieces of its history and pulled together a picture of a fascinating, if horrendous, figure who stamped his mark upon the era. Ossendowski's book, while purportedly true, reads like a pulp adventure novel, and his account of Baron Ungern certainly makes a modern reader believe that he must have been made up. Not so, of course. The Baron, or Bloody Baron, or Bloody Mad Baron, as he has variously been called, was all too real a person, and his insane, murderous actions were all too common during this period.There is a perception in the modern West that Buddhism is perhaps unique amongst the world's major faiths in not lending itself to the kinds of wars and conflicts that, for example, Christianity and Islam have been such prominent players in. And while its certainly true that Buddhism has been a relatively peaceful religion, history, and certainly this history, shows how even the dharma can be turned towards violence, and how ethnic divisions, superstitions and unjust conditions can be exploited by cunning leaders to turn even the most peaceful doctrine into a permission for bloody conflict. Ungern was a curious mix of Christian, occultist and mystical Buddhist wannabe, driven by a belief in prophecy and armoring himself with magical charms (who can say they didn't work? He certainly never took a bullet on the battlefield with those charms hanging from his neck). In some ways the template for the kind of Aristocratic European Occultist that would later become such a stock character by way of the Nazis, his life and exploits make for fascinating reading, even if only as a cautionary tale about the kind of beast that wars and prejudice can create out of man. My only complaint about this book is the lack of photographs. The author describes a number of photos of the Baron at various points in his story, but none of them are included outside of the dust jacket. I hope the publisher can add these in future editions.read more
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Baron Ungern-Sternberg is possibly one of the most vile humans to have ever walked the earth. That said, he makes for very interesting if disturbing reading. I came across this title by accident when researching nonfiction for the classroom on the Russian Revolution. While I don't think this is a title I would use in the classroom as it focuses more on Mongolia and Ungern-Sternberg than the battles between the communists and the royalists. It could be an interesting extension reading for students to undertake on their own. There are a few points in the timeline of the book that I didn't think were quite precise enough, but the important part of the book is less about the actual dates and more about the evil that can be brought to life by one person.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
A fascinating story of a thoroughly repellent character who manages to go from being the scion of German-descended nobility in Estonia to being the ruler of Mongolia, during the chaos of the Russian Civil War. The author pulls no punches in describing his protagonist's flaws, but he also credits him properly for his courage and daring, and those qualities which led him to accomplish so much. There are some fascinating insights into the not-at-all peaceful nature of Tibetan Buddhism, too.The writing is clever: "Western Buddhism resembles Unitiarianism without the harsh dogma."The introduction discusses the author's research, and more generally, his impressions of the people and the religion of Mongolia. He writes about things which no tourist bureau would discuss, but his writing makes me far more interested in seeing the places where these events took place than any tourist brochure could.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
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I've been fascinated by this period of Mongolian history ever since I found a musty old copy of Ossendowski's Beasts, Men and Gods in a used bookstore years ago, so I was very happy to find a new look at those times in this book. Finding sources or historical writing on this period is difficult, at least here in the US, since Outer Mongolia almost seems to be a fictitious country in itself. Fortunately, James Palmer has travelled the East and waded through the various scraps and pieces of its history and pulled together a picture of a fascinating, if horrendous, figure who stamped his mark upon the era. Ossendowski's book, while purportedly true, reads like a pulp adventure novel, and his account of Baron Ungern certainly makes a modern reader believe that he must have been made up. Not so, of course. The Baron, or Bloody Baron, or Bloody Mad Baron, as he has variously been called, was all too real a person, and his insane, murderous actions were all too common during this period.There is a perception in the modern West that Buddhism is perhaps unique amongst the world's major faiths in not lending itself to the kinds of wars and conflicts that, for example, Christianity and Islam have been such prominent players in. And while its certainly true that Buddhism has been a relatively peaceful religion, history, and certainly this history, shows how even the dharma can be turned towards violence, and how ethnic divisions, superstitions and unjust conditions can be exploited by cunning leaders to turn even the most peaceful doctrine into a permission for bloody conflict. Ungern was a curious mix of Christian, occultist and mystical Buddhist wannabe, driven by a belief in prophecy and armoring himself with magical charms (who can say they didn't work? He certainly never took a bullet on the battlefield with those charms hanging from his neck). In some ways the template for the kind of Aristocratic European Occultist that would later become such a stock character by way of the Nazis, his life and exploits make for fascinating reading, even if only as a cautionary tale about the kind of beast that wars and prejudice can create out of man. My only complaint about this book is the lack of photographs. The author describes a number of photos of the Baron at various points in his story, but none of them are included outside of the dust jacket. I hope the publisher can add these in future editions.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Baron Ungern-Sternberg is possibly one of the most vile humans to have ever walked the earth. That said, he makes for very interesting if disturbing reading. I came across this title by accident when researching nonfiction for the classroom on the Russian Revolution. While I don't think this is a title I would use in the classroom as it focuses more on Mongolia and Ungern-Sternberg than the battles between the communists and the royalists. It could be an interesting extension reading for students to undertake on their own. There are a few points in the timeline of the book that I didn't think were quite precise enough, but the important part of the book is less about the actual dates and more about the evil that can be brought to life by one person.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
A fascinating story of a thoroughly repellent character who manages to go from being the scion of German-descended nobility in Estonia to being the ruler of Mongolia, during the chaos of the Russian Civil War. The author pulls no punches in describing his protagonist's flaws, but he also credits him properly for his courage and daring, and those qualities which led him to accomplish so much. There are some fascinating insights into the not-at-all peaceful nature of Tibetan Buddhism, too.The writing is clever: "Western Buddhism resembles Unitiarianism without the harsh dogma."The introduction discusses the author's research, and more generally, his impressions of the people and the religion of Mongolia. He writes about things which no tourist bureau would discuss, but his writing makes me far more interested in seeing the places where these events took place than any tourist brochure could.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
I have no excuse whatsoever. It took me a long time time to read this book. I mostly attribute this to family emergencies, although, to be truthful, that seems rather lame, but family emergencies did indeed play a role..I believe this book's purpose is to acknowledge the fact that evil existed long before, during, and infinitely after Hitler's regime. Such is life.. More later. It's getting late. I'm tired.
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This is the biography of Baron Ungern-Sternberg, an obscure but fascinating and extraordinary man from the annals of early 20th-century history. He has striking similarities to Adolf Hitler: a sadistic and stunningly anti-Semetic madman with delusions of grandeur who was convinced he had been chosen to save the world, who was popular with the people at first and had many military victories, but whose excesses eventually cost him his cause, his country and his life. Ungern, a monarchist who saw Judaism and Bolshevism as the worst of evils, took over Mongolia in the nineteen-teens. He believed white people were decadent and tainted, and it was up to the Asians to save them. He was insanely suspicious of everyone and vicious and creative in his punishments of supposed traitors, Jews and Communist sympathizers. Very soon even the Mongolians, whose country he had liberated, got sick of him, and he wound up being captured by the Russians and, having tried to commit suicide and failed, was executed for treason.This biography is done in a very literary style, often reading like a good novel. In addition to the details of Ungern's life it has a lot of information about Chinese, Russian and Mongolian society during that time period, as well as clearing up some misconceptions about Tibetan Buddhism (it was not the ludicrously peaceful and serene religion the Westerners perceive). The epilogue gives a good summary of what happened in Mongolia after Ungern's death, as well as some speculation as to how things would have gone if he hadn't done what he did.I would highly recommend this book to people interested in Russian or East Asian history. I can't believe I'd never heard of this guy before; he was quite a character.
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