Mannerheim’s Dagbok

The first page of Mannerheim's diary, or dagbok in Swedish, of his journey across Asia.

Harry Halén, a philologist and the foremost expert on Gustaf Mannerheim’s Asian expedition, has just edited a masterful new edition of Mannerheim’s travelogue. Like his original diary, or dagbok in Swedish, this three-volume book is in Mannerheim’s mother tongue. Co-published by Svenska litteratursällskapet in Helsinki and Atlantis Books Stockholm and weighing more than 10 pounds, it has been called “an ethnographic gold mine.”

Mannerheim’s diary was first published in English in two volumes in 1940 and reprinted in 1960. A Chinese translation appeared in 2004 and Halén released a revised (and much improved) English translation in 2008, but this is the first edition in Swedish.

Halén, who was a tremendous help to me in my Mannerheim research, must consider this book his magnum opus. The volumes are visually stunning, and Halén has painstakingly edited Mannerheim’s diaries and removed literally thousands of linguistic mistakes, factual errors and typos that plague previous editions.

The three volumes come in their own sheath.

Rarely do you find a publisher that does such exquisit craftmanship on a book.

Rarely do you find a publisher that does such exquisite craftsmanship on a book.

The books' design is both beautiful and classic, evoking the grand traditions and artistry of 19th-century travelogues.

The opening pages of the book show Mannerheim seated at the Russian consulate in Kashgar, China.


Mannerheim took more than 1,200 photographs during his two-year expedition to China. Many of these photographs have been reproduced in the three volumes. Photo editor and book designerPeter Sandberg (with some digital editing assistance from Leena Huima) needs to be congratulated on the visually sharp and finely tuned reproductions. I have looked at original prints in the Helsinki archives, and many of the photos are gritty, speckled or poorly exposed. The type of film used also made many Chinese and ethnic minorities look unusually dark. These flaws have been corrected, and the resulting photographs are simply extraordinary. The photos are arguably the best collection of Xinjiang photos from the turn of the century.

Photo editor Peter Sandberg has succeeded in creating visually compelling volumes.

The facial complexion on these Kalmyk monks has been lightened.

Evocative photographs, beautifully reproduced, give the volumes visual umph!


One of the biggest surprises for me is a map in the opening pages of the book. Mannerheim drew this map of his route through China from Kashgar to Beijing (then Peking). Maps in other editions were reproduced by a cartographer in 1940. This map, however, was drawn by Mannerheim’s own hand.

A hand-drawn map by Mannerheim of his route through China.

This satellite map of Mannerheim's route on the volumes' endpapers is disappointing and feels out-of-place. I would have preferred a black-and-white reproduction or perhaps even Mannerheim's hand-drawn map.

Diagrams and Tables

Mannerheim originally wrote his diary in small black notebooks, which are similar to Moleskines which have become very popular in recent years. His handwriting is neat and consistent, which is surprising given the difficult conditions under which he often had to write. Halén has introduced many of Mannerheim’s small drawings and diagrams into the three volumes along with tables in which Mannerheim detailed local populations and agricultural production, among other things

Here are diagrams in Mannerheim's original hand-written diary.

Here are those same diagrams reproduced in Halén's new Swedish edition.

A small drawing of a hut in Halen's new Swedish edition.

Tables have been introduced into Halén's new edition.

A masterful new edition and magnum opus.