I bought this with a bit of trepidation. I've read quite a bit in this area and almost all books seem to fall into one of two categories--either a shameless apologia of all things Islam, ala Edward Said, or a dry recitation of facts without interesting intepretation or comment, apparently in fear that any sort of serious criticism may lead to a fatwah--ala Karen Armstrong. I was pleasantly surprised to find in this book a knowledgable author who presents as balanced an approach as one is likely to find on this subject, presented in a most appealing style with relevant commentary and even serious criticism at a number of points. My only disappointment was in the author's approach to current issues. His clear bias toward almost a total Islamic view of curent events was a bit off-putting. For example, he makes no mention of the fact that Arab nations shamelessly and intentionally refused to allow Palestinian Arabs to assimilate into their countries after Israel was established for the express purpose of keeping alive the Israeli/Palestinian discord. He makes no reference to America's efforts to aid Muslims in the Balkans, Kuwait or ,yes, even Iraq and Afghanistan. He fails to say anything about the murder of Theo Van Gogh, the death sentence fatwahs placed on Salmon Rushdie and Ayaan Hirsi Ali or the shameless surrender of fundamental rights of free speech and free press (and the underlying reasons therefore) surrounding the Danish cartoons of Mohammed. Even after the Munich Olympics (which he never refers to), the Iranian takeover of the U.S. embassy, the Lockerbie bombing and 9/11, he seems to imply that virtually everything the U.S. and the West in general has done for the last 50 or so years is totally indefensible and solely responsible for the current antagonisms between the two sides and that Muslims are just defenseless victims. (I probably overstated that last point.) Nonetheless, if you have an interest in this subject, it is not likely you will find a more informed, better written or more balanced and nuanced work on the subject than is here presented, given the current state of world affairs.
I procrastinated listening to this for a while, but devoured it in less than a week once I started. Ansary reads his work well, the pace is fast enough to prevent sections from dragging, but he manages to fit in enough detail to tell the story. What makes this so interesting is that he is not trying to give a comprehensive, detailed account of history, and in some places, he's not even worried about accuracy, so much as he is trying to tell you the history and the stories that Muslims tell themselves. Well worth the listen.
My reading and listening tastes are eclectic.
This was an eye opening listen. I always figured different groups would have different perspectives on history based on their experiences, and this book certainly confirms that. It also gave me new insight on the "conflicts" between Western and Islamic cultures. The reader certainly added to the material presented. It can be a challenge to follow some parts, simply because of my own unfamiliarity with the area's geography, but that cleared up when I consulted a map.
This is a remarkably good book for anyone interested in learning about history of Islam. Mr Ansary presents historical facts in a style which is easy to follow. He maintains the neutrality of an independent observer of the story without inserting his own biases into it. I was born and raised as a Muslim. I thought I knew history of Islam but this book has brought a wealth of information which is all new for me. I have learned a great deal about decades of Islamic history from this book.
I am going to listen to it and read this book again. It cuts through a lot of stereotypes and misinformation about Islam and Muslims.
I will highly recommend this book to anyone but specially to Muslims who want to learn about history of their religion.
Listening to Mr Ansary narrate this book was like having a knowlegable and learned friend explain the historical facts in a well informed and calm manner. I congratulate Mr Ansary for compiling such a wonderful source for increasing our understanding of history of Islam.
The author weaves a good story, which is what the book is all about. Namely, two conflicting cultural and religious narratives which inform and shape many aspects of life. Ansary does a good job depicting a whole tapestry, woven from both religion and culture and the ways in which they interact. He endeavors to retain an almost anthropological degree of objectivity. He provides explanations without necessarily approving of them.
I would recommend this to ANYONE seeking to understand this culture!
This book presented itself as being currently relevant on what the heck is this thing called Islam. Ansary introduces a common sense concept of the West, the East, the Middle and parallel world histories. He states his rationale for the concept and then proceeds to "tell the story" of the Middle while providing handholds and resting points for this citizen of the West. He takes you from year "Zero" and the first revelations to Mohammad. through the glories of the Caliphates, the great Schism, the conquests and empires; the declines in the face of the West's successful application of technology and current petroleum driven return. Ansary states his goal is telling the parallel Islamic story to an interested person. He more than meets that goal.
Tamim Ansary placed me well in the mind-frame of today's Muslim, looking back at nearly 1400 years of proud cultural heritage, and wondering what happened to such a promising place in global development. From the onset, this book challenged my preconceptions of a culture struggling against modernity and an ideology that western civilization is the goal toward which "developing" nations should strive. It defined for me what is Islam and what it means to have one's ancestry in this religion, ideology, and culture.
I found Tamim Ansary approach to helping one understand the Islamic early ideal of moral living very interesting. It makes it clear to understand why western culture know so little of Islamic history. Looking forward to part II.
They should be experienced roughly in unison. Both the written version and the audio need to be experienced with maps in hand, easily available on the internet. I would suggest at least occasionally referring to the text, read a chapter, listen for awhile, etc. This is because the terms used, the names, the places, are not familiar to the western ear, and it helped me to see the terms in print.
There were no particular moments that I consider memorable, I couldn't stop listening and reading and will listen again soon. The essential aspect is the overall look at history from the viewpoint of Islam, and not yet another scholarly tome written by a western author who is writing from the western point of view.
Tamim is an excellent narrator, and I appreciate the mild irony and humor he applies to both Islam and Christianity, and the actions of the leaders, from time to time. Not often is it successful that the author narrate his own work, yet I have no criticisms, the narration is great. His other narrations that I have experience with are the West of Kabul, East of NY, and Games Without Rules. I consider these to be Ansary's trilogy, the 3 books through which I have learned the most about Afghanistan/Islam/middle east history.
It made me sad to realize the inevitability, the power of fanatics of the major religionS to bring the world to the edge of destruction.
I approach (my learning of) the area in question as a cluster. I go through the historical novels and the history of the region through as many points of view as possible. I would suggest starting with Destiny Disrupted, then Games without Rules. After that I would read, in no particular order: The Kite Runner, A thousand Splendid Suns (these 2 by Hosseini), Far Pavilions (Kaye), West of Kabul. Next I am going to read "Revenge of Geography", and anything about India, the crusades, Pakistan, Iran, and the Ottoman Empire that I can find. This should keep me busy for awhile! My next audio book is "The Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate". Then, the works of Ahmed Rashid.