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Islamic Empires Reviews

Islamic Empires by Justin Marozzi

Islamic Empires

Fifteen Cities that Define a Civilization

Justin Marozzi

3.56 out of 5

4 reviews

Category: History, Non-fiction
Imprint: Allen Lane
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
Publication date: 29 Aug 2019
ISBN: 9780241199046
  • The Sunday TimesMust Read
4 stars out of 5
18 Aug 2019

"an outstanding history of Islam"

this is a fine book that helps recentre our understanding of the past by focusing on cities about which little is known in Europe, in spite of their enduring importance and the role they have played in history. It is a compelling and personal account by an author who knows, cares and has thought deeply about his subject matter. It is a new Hudud al-Alam, the famous 10th-century Persian geography book, for the 21st century — informing, revealing and delighting in some of the parts of the world that everyone should know about.


2 stars out of 5
28 Aug 2019

"Violent conquest and louche hedonism in a wide‑eyed glorification of the Islamic golden age"

I lost count of the number of beheadings and executions in this book, all told with a grisly relish. Muslim chroniclers are Marozzi’s sources, of course, but like all chroniclers they exaggerate for political reasons or simply to impress the reader; it is unlikely, for example, that the eighth-century Abbasid general Abu Muslim “killed 60,000 people in cold blood”. Then there are the enervating lists of expensive stuff: after his death Harun al-Rashid, the caliph best known from the Arabian Nights, apparently left “4,000 turbans” and “1,000 pieces of the finest porcelain”; a later caliph had “7,000 eunuchs” and “4,000 black pages”. Marozzi has a wide-eyed credulity about such numbers to match that of those literalistic Muslims wedded to every detail of the prophet’s life story.

4 stars out of 5
17 Aug 2019

"Magnificence and ruination go hand in hand in this vivid tale"

Travelling with these traders were adventurers and social commentators such as Ibn Khaldun and Ibn Battuta, who provide Marozzi with much of his source material. He adopts their hyperbolic style too; expect long lists of exotic cargoes and the palaces and mosques they filled, from Cordoba to Cairo, Jerusalem to Isfahan. As modern-day visitors to Dubai have sometimes found, too much opulence can sometimes be wearing.

4 stars out of 5
Tim Mackintosh-Smith
15 Aug 2019

"beautifully paced"

Justin Marozzi has not only picked the perfect frame — the city, often literally framed by its wall, pierced by the proscenium arches of its gates — he has given us 15 cities, one for each century. He has peopled them with characters from potentates to prostitutes and he has painted them in colours from splendid to sombre... What might have been formulaic is fun, and full of surprises... Apart from the travels and memories, the reading that went into this book is enormous. Very occasionally, the result might go a madrassa too far. But nearly always, the balance between telling detail and telling the story is spot on. The prose, too, is beautifully paced, sprightly but never tiring. And the city portraits build up into a panorama of Islamic civilisation as full as any history, and far more entertaining.