Synopses & Reviews
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.
"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." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"James Palmer's account of [Baron Ungern-Sternberg's] brutal and ill-starred life is elegant, waspish and evocative." Economist
"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." Russian Life
"Palmer effectively evokes both the enormous scope and the small absurdities of war." Simon Sebag-Montefiore, Bookforum
"This story, like most of the other personal stories in Palmer's extraordinary book, is not here by accident: he uses it to give the reader some hint of what originally intrigued him, horrified him, and drew him to write about one of the bloodiest chapters in the history of Mongolia." Anne Applebaum, New York Review of Books
(read the entire New York Review of Books review
In the history of the modern world, there have been few characters more sinister, sadistic, and deeply demented than Baron Ungern-Sternberg. An anti-Semitic fanatic whose penchant for Eastern mysticism and hatred of communists foreshadowed the Nazi scourge that would soon overtake Europe, Ungern- Sternberg conquered Mongolia in 1919 with a ragtag force of White Russians, Siberians, Japanese, and native Mongolians. In The Bloody White Baron, historian and travel writer James Palmer vividly re-creates Ungern-Sternberg's spiral into ever-darker obsessions, while also providing a rare look at the religion and culture of the unfortunate Mongolians he briefly ruled.
About the Author
James Palmer has traveled extensively in East and Central Asia. In 2003 he won The Spectators 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.