The Bloody White Baron: The Extraordinary Story of the Russian Nobleman Who Became the Last Khan of Mongolia

The Bloody White Baron: The Extraordinary Story of the Russian Nobleman Who Became the Last Khan of Mongolia

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by James Palmer
     
 

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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…  See more details below

Overview

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.

Editorial Reviews

Jason Goodwin
Uncomfortable but fascinating reading, it weaves together the weird alliances, murderous dreams and improbable careers that emerged in the aftermath of World War I and the fall of czarist Russia…What makes The Bloody White Baron so exceptional is Palmer's lucid scholarship, his ability to make perfect sense of the maelstrom of a forgotten war. This is a brilliant book, and I'm already looking forward to his next.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

Ancient and modern savageries unite in the colorful antihero of this scintillating historical study. Baron Ungern-Sternberg (1886-1921) was a czarist officer who became a leader of anti-Bolshevik forces in Siberia during the Russian civil war. He was a staunch monarchist and anti-Semite, whose sadism heightened the brutality of an already vicious conflict. He was pushed by the Red Army into Mongolia, where his reactionary impulses, accentuated by an attraction to esoteric Eastern religions, grew downright medieval. Hailed as a reincarnated god by locals who perhaps mistook him for a prophesied Buddhist messiah, Ungern-Sternberg dreamed of leading an Asian empire against the decadent West and instituted a fleeting dictatorship under which resisters were flogged to death, torn apart or burned alive. Journalist Palmer pens a vivid and slightly wry profile of this larger-than-life figure who rode into battle bare-chested and necklaced with bones, and lucidly dissects Ungern-Sternberg's protofascist worldview, with its motifs of racism, feudal hierarchy, regenerative bloodshed and mystic communion with primitive virility. The result is a fascinating portrait of an appalling man-and of the zeitgeist that shaped him. Maps. (Feb.)

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Kirkus Reviews
Historian and travel writer Palmer spins the recherche story of a megalomaniac German Russian reactionary who invaded Mongolia during the Russian Civil War. The author portrays the extravagant, doomed 1920 campaign of the German Russian aristocrat Freiherr Roman Nikolai Maximilian von Ungern-Sternberg to create an empire in Mongolia. Growing up amidst several military-minded feudal-lord families in Estonia, he maintained a perverse intractability true to his name (ungern means "unwillingly" in German) and was expelled from several schools for his thuggish behavior. He finally found his calling in the military. An interest in Eastern religion and the occult propelled him into the lands of the East, first during the Russo-Japanese War. Then, as the old imperial order began to crumble with the outbreak of World War I, he was mobilized on the Eastern Front and became infamous as an undisciplined, ruthless officer, notable for fighting in duels and delivering sadistic punishment. Fiercely anti-Semitic and anti-Bolshevik, Ungern-Sternberg soon had a new enemy to fight-the Red Army. He hooked up with another renegade on the fringes of the tsarist empire, Captain Grigori Semenov, raised an army and established an execution camp in Transbaikal, Siberia, before pushing into the border garrison town of Urga, Mongolia, in a grand scheme to unify the Mongol people, then under China rule. Ungern-Sternberg entered Urga as the great liberator, reinstalling the living Buddha Bogd Khan on the throne and frightening the Russians with his piratical, roguish ways. He was even heralded as a savior and Buddhist hero, a designation that would prove to be short-lived. Ungern-Sternberg became increasingly viciousin his despotism, which makes for some tough reading. But Palmer is to be commended for his dogged research and contextual knowledge of Mongolian history. An immensely readable off-the-beaten path history.
From the Publisher

Economist
“James Palmer’s account of [Baron Ungern-Sternberg’s] brutal and ill-starred life is elegant, waspish and evocative.

Russian Life
“This is an epic biography (ranging from WWI battles, to the Civil War, to Manchuria) told in an easy style that infects the reader with curiosity, peeling back myths to reveal the strange and twisted man that was Ungern-Sternberg.”

Bookforum
“Palmer effectively evokes both the enormous scope and the small absurdities of war.”

Simon Sebag-Montefiore, Sunday Telegraph
“The rise and fall of Baron Ungern-Sternberg is one of the most demented, savage and grotesque stories of modern times. Palmer, with his special knowledge of Mongolia and enthusiasm for Ungern's blend of lunacy, politics and war, delivers an enjoyable, exciting biography that recounts the crimes and conquests of this monster compellingly, colourfully and with cinematic relish.”

New York Times
“What makes ‘The Bloody White Baron’ so exceptional is Palmer’s lucid scholarship, his ability to make perfect sense of the maelstrom of a forgotten war. This is a brilliant book, and I’m already looking forward to his next.”

Michigan War Studies Review
“[C]olorfully written.... Palmer’s absorbing biography of Ungern brings to life a sinister but important man who helped shape events in a remote part of the world in the early twentieth century.&rdquo

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780786744282
Publisher:
Basic Books
Publication date:
02/10/2009
Sold by:
Hachette Digital, Inc.
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
304
Sales rank:
940,753
File size:
663 KB
Age Range:
18 Years

Meet the Author

James Palmer has traveled extensively in East and Central Asia. In 2003 he won The Spectator’s Shiva Naipaul Memorial Prize for travel writing. He has worked with Daoist and Buddhist groups in China and Mongolia on environment issues. He lives in Beijing.

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