Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes by Tamim Ansary
|Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes by Tamim Ansary|
|Reviewer: Sue Magee|
|Summary: An overview of world history as seen through Islamic eyes - page-turningly good and eminently readable. This should be read by everyone. Highly recommended.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 416||Date: July 2009|
|Publisher: PublicAffairs US|
I enjoyed history at school and whilst we didn't always work our way through it chronologically I came, over time, to have a working knowledge of the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. I knew about the rise of Christianity and spoke knowledgeably about medieval England, the Renaissance and the Reformation but was perhaps less taken by the Industrial Revolution and all that followed. I was au fait with the east but it was mainly from the perspective of exploration – or even exploitation. It was an education based on the virtues of the solid, white, English, Christian middle classes and it completely ignored histories from the perspective of other religions.
Tamim Ansary was born in Afghanistan and now lives in San Francisco – he's seen history from both perspectives and prodded by the fact that there's so little about history through Islamic eyes, even in school text books he's set out to give a history of the world as seen by Muslims. I thought the book would be dry and rather worthy; in fact it's anything but. Ansary is a story teller and over the past couple of days there have been several occasions when I've felt resentful about what I've been doing. I wanted to get back to the book and find out what happened next.
Let's begin by saying what the book isn't. As it covers some fifteen hundred years of the history of the faith professed by over a billion people and coming in 416 pages it's can't be detailed. Ansary says that we should think of it as the story that he would tell if we met in a coffeehouse. It's not a scholarly thesis or a textbook and is probably best regarded as the starting point for further exploration, but at the end of it you will have an exploration of how Muslims see world history. Look at the book as a description of the broad sweep of history – the arc as Ansary would have it – and you will be delighted with what you read.
It's not restricted to what happened, although the why is necessarily limited, but not to the point where you fail to understand the situation. There's most detail about the first fifty years (from 622 on the western calendar and year zero on the Muslim) which covers the Prophet Mohammed and the birth of the Khalifate. The descriptions of the effect of the death of the Prophet are particularly moving and it was easy to understand why Ali and the first three caliphs were never as one. It's always been explained to me in ideological terms before, but all was clear when the human element was included.
The style of the book is conversational and accessible. Over the last two decades I've struggled to understand quite why the Sunni and Shiite tribes were so set against each other – Ansary tells of the schism which split the two and everything falls into place. I loved the inclusion of plenty of maps, which brought everything into perspective. I was so nearly put off this book because I thought it would be hard work to read – in fact it's an absolute delight.
I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.
I found similar inspiration about the Hindu world in An Indian Odyssey by Martin Buckley – which you might enjoy if Destiny Disrupted appeals to you. We can also recommend The New Threat From Islamic Militancy by Jason Burke.
Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes by Tamim Ansary is in the Bookbag's Christmas Gift Recommendations 2009.
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You can read more book reviews or buy Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes by Tamim Ansary at Amazon.com.
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