There was once a blue-gray wolf who was born with his destiny preordained by Heaven Above. His wife was a fallow doe. --LEGEND OF THE ORIGIN OF GENGHIS KHAN, FROM SECRET HISTORY

Temujin is born. In the 1160s, Mongolia is a perhaps 30 nomadic tribes, with a total population between 1.5 million and 3 million. Roughly half are Turkic-speaking peoples who predate the Mongols themselves. From this same territory an even earlier people, the Xiongnu, raided China for centuries; they may have been the same people as the Huns, who scourged Europe in the fourth and fifth centuries.

The Secret History offers a wealth of detail on Temujin's rise to power. At first, life is difficult. When Temujin is nine, his father, Yisugei, a minor chieftain, is poisoned by Tatar tribesmen. It is revenge, for Yisugei once robbed them. To survive, Temujin and his brothers catch fish and snare marmots, and their mother gathers berries.

As a young man he makes allies. One is Jamuqa, who becomes his anda, or blood brother. Another is Toghril, a leader of the Kereyit tribe. When the Merkit tribe kidnaps Temujin's teenage bride, Borte, in a raid, these friends muster warriors to rescue her.

In manhood Temujin gradually brings several tribes under his control by conquest or bestowal of booty. Defeating the Tatars, who killed his father, he is merciless. All but the smallest males are killed; children and women are enslaved. The Tatar tribe ceases to be. (In Europe, however, a variation of the name, " Tartars, " was for centuries used to refer to the Mongols.)

Alliances shift. Temujin's friends Jamuqa and Toghril oppose his growing power. Temujin crushes Toghril's army in a fierce three-day clash. Then, in 1205, he defeats the Naiman, his last powerful enemy tribe. With them is Jamuqa, who is captured. "Let me die quickly," he asks. Temujin grants his blood brother's wish.

In 1206, at a kuriltai, or great assembly, Temujin is enthroned as Genghis Khan--"strong ruler" or perhaps "oceanic ruler," hence ruler of the world. He is about 40.

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