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Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes

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We in the west share a common narrative of world history. But our story largely omits a whole civilization whose citizens shared an entirely different narrative for a thousand years. In Destiny Disrupted, Tamim Ansary tells the rich story of world history as the Islamic world saw it, from the time of Mohammed to the fall of the Ottoman Empire and beyond. He clarifies why ou We in the west share a common narrative of world history. But our story largely omits a whole civilization whose citizens shared an entirely different narrative for a thousand years. In Destiny Disrupted, Tamim Ansary tells the rich story of world history as the Islamic world saw it, from the time of Mohammed to the fall of the Ottoman Empire and beyond. He clarifies why our civilizations grew up oblivious to each other, what happened when they intersected, and how the Islamic world was affected by its slow recognition that Europe-a place it long perceived as primitive and disorganized-had somehow hijacked destiny.


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We in the west share a common narrative of world history. But our story largely omits a whole civilization whose citizens shared an entirely different narrative for a thousand years. In Destiny Disrupted, Tamim Ansary tells the rich story of world history as the Islamic world saw it, from the time of Mohammed to the fall of the Ottoman Empire and beyond. He clarifies why ou We in the west share a common narrative of world history. But our story largely omits a whole civilization whose citizens shared an entirely different narrative for a thousand years. In Destiny Disrupted, Tamim Ansary tells the rich story of world history as the Islamic world saw it, from the time of Mohammed to the fall of the Ottoman Empire and beyond. He clarifies why our civilizations grew up oblivious to each other, what happened when they intersected, and how the Islamic world was affected by its slow recognition that Europe-a place it long perceived as primitive and disorganized-had somehow hijacked destiny.

30 review for Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes

  1. 4 out of 5

    Paul Bryant

    Right time, right place, right style, this is 100% recommended. This is vast but fast history : you have to hang on to your hat, or whatever you hang on to, which might not be a hat, since the kind of hats which a strong wind might snatch from your head are rarely worn today. In this book a lot of obscure places and people go rushing by, like a speeded up film, like a boiling river. Obscure to a Western reader, that is, but I’m going to hazard that Transoxiana, Khorasan, Ctesiphon, and the exact Right time, right place, right style, this is 100% recommended. This is vast but fast history : you have to hang on to your hat, or whatever you hang on to, which might not be a hat, since the kind of hats which a strong wind might snatch from your head are rarely worn today. In this book a lot of obscure places and people go rushing by, like a speeded up film, like a boiling river. Obscure to a Western reader, that is, but I’m going to hazard that Transoxiana, Khorasan, Ctesiphon, and the exact difference between Umayyads, Abbasids, Fatimids and Safavids might tax your regular Muslim on the street too. Tamim Ansary writes in a chatty, slangy, motormouth style. Like a friendly history professor. You’re out for a beer with this guy and you ask the fatal question – what’s up with these Muslims anyhow? What are they all about? Forty hours later, Tamim is still talking. Telling you how, why, all about it, from the top to the bottom, with many glints of humour to get you through some very harrowing stuff. Sometimes the chat is a little too casual, and he comes across as your uncle trying to prove he’s down with the kids by doing the frug, not the best choice: One city they attacked in northern Afghanistan was called – well, I don’t even know what it was called originally. P153 For three years he and his band roamed the wilds, looking for a new kingdom : kinging was all he knew, and king was the only job title he was seeking. P190. Between 1500 and 1800 western Europeans sailed pretty much all over the world and colonised pretty much everything. P217 The sultan never made another attempt on Vienna but his contemporaries saw no sign of weakness in this. “Conquer Vienna” remained on his to-do list always. P221 But really, I don’t care because this was surely a beautiful change from your usual pompous history writing. Tamim lays out the usual story we already kind of know for the first half of the book. This is where Islam erupted – is there any other word? – okay, exploded – will that do? – out of Arabia in the 8th century and was all over North Africa and the Levant and on into Persia and Northern/Central India before you could say whatever mild expletive was common in those far-off days. There was a golden age of relative peace. There was art and science. In the 10th, 11th and 12th centuries it was unarguable that the centre of human civilisation was located in the great Muslim empire, and meanwhile, Europeans were illiterate crawlers in the mud (“ooh, some lovely mud over here, Derek!”), and eaters of beetroot and gruel, and had a life expectancy of 23. By the Middle Ages that early sense of Islam against the world had long given way to Islam as the world CRUSADER MOSQUITOS The first crack in this golden period came with the Franji Wars, or as Westerners know them, the Crusades. Before then, Muslims hadn’t noticed the West at all – why would you? So here comes the first real shift of perspective. In Western history the Crusades loom large. They were a big deal. They changed a lot of things. For Islam – not so much. They were annoying, like a swarm of mosquitos. You had to slap them down. There was no sense to the thing but it was purely a local phenomenon and it didn’t last long. One hundred years, then normal service was resumed. The big thing, where the world of Muslims came crashing down, was the Mongol invasion. That’s right, Genghiz Khan. Then after him, Tamburlaine, who was worse. Muslims had to figure out why God allowed pagans to kill them all. But that’s an easy one for religious types. The Jews wrote a whole book about it, it’s called The Bible Part One, or as the Christians call it, Jesus : the Prequel. (And God being just, the Christians got their turn with the Black Death. "Why are you doing this to us??" "Mwaaah-ha-haah!") In each case the answer is the same – God smote you all because you’re doing it wrong. It was a wake up call. Obviously not for the ones smited, they won’t be waking up ever again, but you remnant that’s left, you better get back to where you once belonged, pronto. SORRY FRANCISCO, YOU'RE REDUNDANT Tamim does a great job summarising the effects of the Reformation in Europe. For him, this was the thing which kickstarted the whole European project, which he contrasts with the Islamic project. You’d had the Renaissance, but you needed a few other concepts to add to the mix before you could get lift-off, and one of the main components was : the idea of the secular. This does not exist in Islam. Everything is God’s, everything is to be explained by Islamic thought. Luther’s revolutionary act was to proclaim that the Christian can deal directly with God. That there is no need for this complex machinery of priestly intercession. That the priests are actually obfuscatory interlopers when they’re not out and out crooks. That they should go. In Islam, there wasn’t the superstructure of a church hierarchy, and the idea was always that you didn’t need a priest to speak to God. So Tamim says the Muslims didn’t need a Reformation and never got one. Therefore they never got the modernisation that came out of a reformation. Hmmm. So Luther’s thought revolution had this extra European twist : legitimising the authority of individuals to think what they wanted about God implicitly legitimised their authority to think what they wanted about anything. This did not mean contradicting the faith; it just meant that faith was one thing and explaining nature was another; they were two separate fields of enquiry and never did the twain have to meet. Tamim tells us that the great revival of Western science which followed had often been anticipated by Muslim scientists. Blood circulation, the spectrum, the experimental method, all had been discovered by Muslims in previous centuries. But nothing had come of any of them. The steam engine provides a case in point. What could be more useful? What could be more world-changing? Yet the steam engine was invented in the Muslim world over three centuries before it popped up in the West, and in the Muslim world it didn’t change much of anything. Why ever not? Possibly because Muslims made their great scientific discoveries just as their social order started crumbling And also, possibly because of something Ray Bradbury beautifully describes in a story called “The Flying Machine” – a guy during the Ming dynasty in China invents a working flying machine, like the Wright brothers. He hot-foots it to see the Emperor, who observes a demonstration, and is impressed. He immediately orders the man’s execution. JUST SIGN HERE, HERE AND HERE. THANK YOU. After the rise of Islam and a couple of golden centuries comes the slow not-so-graceful fall. The Muslim world began to be sliced and diced by the West, sometimes so subtly the empire or khanate or whatever didn’t realise what was going on until they were trussed up like a Turkey. The Western businessmen, government agents and flying-carpetbaggers, along with a few armies here and there, got the Muslims signed up on the dotted line every which way. India, Indonesia, Persia, the Ottoman Empire, Egypt, everywhere became either a direct or indirect colony of the West. Muslims could not, finally, refuse the glittering baubles, the manufactured items. They came to the conclusion – some of them, that is – that they had to modernise. The whole of Muslim history for the last three hundred years can be seen as a complex struggle between the Muslims who think you can modernise without losing your soul, without selling out Islam, without becoming defiled, and those who think this is just a pipe dream. You can see which side of the fence Osama Bin Laden, the Taliban and Khomeini were on. You can also see how hard it is to figure what the Arab Spring has produced – modernisers or traditionalists? What happens if you promote democracy in countries which then elect governments who hate you? AMERICA - WHAT WENT WRONG? Tamim gives an excellent account of how the USA turned from being heroic in Muslim eyes – yes! Can you imagine that? – it was much admired at the time of the League of Nations, when the USA was coming on strong as an anti-colonialist supporter of liberation for all nations – to the embodiment of evil for most Muslims (I think that’s a fair summary). There were two big ones which turned the whole thing – one, I had barely heard of – this was the 1953 CIA coup in Iran which deposed the democratic modernist who wanted to nationalise the oil industry and installed a King who would give all the oil revenues away to American companies. The second big one was Israel, especially the 1967 war. After that the road to 9/11 was set. I could discuss many more fascinating points and turn this review into a Grayesque marathon – it’s long enough already, I hear you cry – but I’ll stop now. Except to say – grab a copy, it’s brilliant!

  2. 5 out of 5

    Grace Tjan

    Being neither Muslim nor Western, but nevertheless a citizen of what CNN and other Western media regularly dub “the world’s largest Muslim nation*”, I often feel baffled by the so-called “clash of civilizations” between these two entities. And lately, not just baffled, but also profoundly disturbed by the scale and frequency of sectarian violence in my country, the majority of which allegedly perpetrated by those the author of this book calls “jihadists”. The overwhelming majority of Indonesians Being neither Muslim nor Western, but nevertheless a citizen of what CNN and other Western media regularly dub “the world’s largest Muslim nation*”, I often feel baffled by the so-called “clash of civilizations” between these two entities. And lately, not just baffled, but also profoundly disturbed by the scale and frequency of sectarian violence in my country, the majority of which allegedly perpetrated by those the author of this book calls “jihadists”. The overwhelming majority of Indonesians are no doubt moderate and tolerant, but there is no denying the fact that acts of violent extremism have increased exponentially and that at times, the perpetrators seem to have acted with impunity. Is this the inevitable result of a Huntingtonian clash of civilizations? Tamim Ansary, an Afghan-American “secular Muslim”, thinks that it is something else altogether: “The conflict wracking the modern world is not, I think, best understood as a “clash of civilizations”, if that proposition means we’re-different-so-we-must-fight-until-there’s-only-one-of us. It’s better understood as the friction generated by two mismatched world histories intersecting.” The key word here is “mismatched” --- the West and the Muslim world have been developing more or less separately for centuries and have been talking at cross purposes for much of their (relatively recent) shared history: “Did the perpetrators of 9/11 really see themselves at striking a blow against freedom and democracy? Is hatred of freedom the passion that drives militantly political Islamist extremist today? If so, you won’t find it in jihadist discourse, which typically focuses, not on freedom and its opposite, nor on democracy and its opposite, but on discipline versus decadence, moral purity versus moral corruption, terms that come out of centuries of Western dominance in Islamic societies and the corresponding fragmentation of communities and families there, the erosion of Islamic social values, the proliferation of liquor, the replacement of religion with entertainment, and the secularization of the rich elite along with the ever hardening gap between rich and poor. One side charges, “You are decadent.” The other side retorts, “We are free.” These are not opposing contentions; they ‘re nonsequiturs.” Ansary is no apologist and is not interested in sweeping away potentially divisive issues under the rug of political correctness: “On the other side, I often hear liberal Muslims in the United States say that “jihad just means ‘trying to be a good person,’” suggesting that only anti-Muslim bigots think the term has something to do with violence. But they ignore what jihad has meant to Muslims in the course of history dating back to the lifetime of Prophet Muhammad himself. Anyone who claims that jihad has nothing to do with violence must account for the warfare that the earliest Muslims called “jihad.” Like the holy books of other so-called Abrahamic religions, the Koran contains verses that might be interpreted as advocating violent acts. Likewise, he doesn’t shy away from the darker side of Islamic history. Islam, though originally conceived as an admirably “epic, devotional social project”, was also a political entity. And very soon after Muhammad’s death, it became an empire. An empire of epic proportions that stretched over continents and ruled millions of non-Muslims. Long before Westerners colonized the Muslim world, Islamic empires ruled over large swathes of Christendom. And like other empires, including those that adhered to Christianity or other religions, it was not immune of the usual bloody internecine fighting --- some involving Muhammad’s close relatives and companions --- and oppression of people who became their subjects. Ansary tells the rest of Islamic history in a light, conversational style that is eminently readable, even if he necessarily simplifies certain aspects of it (perfectly understandable, considering that he has to cover 1,300 years of history in a relatively slim book). We learn of the different interpretations of Islam, ranging from the comparatively liberal, tolerant Sufism to the literal, rigid Salafism and Wahabism. We also learn of the theological and racial factors that gave birth to Shiism and other schisms in Islam. We are reminded of how Islamic scholars “saved” the works of Greek philosophers, long forgotten in the West, and of the reasons why despite of that, science and technology failed to develop during the Abbasid Caliphate’s golden age. And of how the Crusades, a pivotal event in European history, was barely a blip in the Muslim narrative (the most traumatic event in Islam’s history is instead the 13th century Mongol invasion, which had an impact akin to the Black Death in Europe). The most interesting, and pertinent part of the narrative for me is the chapters that cover the interaction between the West and the Islamic world in the last two centuries, as the roots of the current conflict could be traced to the events that happened in those crucial eras. The gist of it is that Western colonialism and continuing meddling in Muslim countries, aided by their corrupt and/or westernized elites, fuels extremist rage: “Helping the Iraqis was a way to weaken Iran and possibly keep the Soviets at bay. Here again as a catastrophic intertwining of the Muslim and Western narrative still about secular modernism versus back-to-source Islamism, the other still about superpower rivalry and control of oil, though couched in rhetoric about democracy and totalitarianism.” And also: “In the Muslim world, the difference was not just economic but cultural and therefore the gulf between the worlds fed alienation and produced a more anti-colonialist flavor of resentment, but against the nation’s own elite. This resentment led to occasional civil unrest. Since these culturally divided countries had no democratic institutions to mediate disputes, governments casually resorted to force to suppress disorder.” A plausible explanation for conflicts in Muslim countries in the Middle East, but probably not entirely adequate to explain sectarian violence in other Muslim countries which are democratic, and where Western interference is minimal, like Indonesia. I wish Ansary had spent some pages discussing such countries, but perhaps they are considered too peripheral in comparison to the Middle East to worth analyzing. * Indonesia is not a Muslim country, in the sense that it is not based on Islam (or any other religion). Indonesia’s state ideology, Pancasila, and its constitution guarantee the freedom of religion for all of its citizens.

  3. 5 out of 5

    David

    History books are frequently dry and factual, even when not written as textbooks, and when they're not, they tend to reveal the author's biases or axes to grind. Tamim Ansary, however, sets out to tell the history of Islam through Islamic eyes, not as an apologetic for Islam that ignores its less edifying historical episodes and its troubled present, nor as a Westerner viewing Islam as, at best, an exotically misunderstood Oriental tradition, and at worst, the religion of terrorists and oppresse History books are frequently dry and factual, even when not written as textbooks, and when they're not, they tend to reveal the author's biases or axes to grind. Tamim Ansary, however, sets out to tell the history of Islam through Islamic eyes, not as an apologetic for Islam that ignores its less edifying historical episodes and its troubled present, nor as a Westerner viewing Islam as, at best, an exotically misunderstood Oriental tradition, and at worst, the religion of terrorists and oppressed women in burkas. Tamim Ansary, an Afghan-American, suggests that Islam and the West have for much of history existed in two parallel worlds, only rarely intersecting until the violent last few decades. The Dar-al-Islam, or the entire region that Ansary calls the "Middle World," between the European-dominated West and the Chinese-dominated East, grew, expanded, experienced theological and political revolutions, technological and scientific and literary evolution, and several foreign invasions much more significant than those Crusades that everyone today thinks were the most significant East-West interaction before the modern day. The vast majority of Muslims, even during the height of the Crusades, simply didn't notice the West, which for most of Islam's early history, was an impoverished backwater land of savage, squabbling kingdoms while the Middle East and North Africa was full of wealth and education and glorious cosmopolitan cities. The Crusaders seized some cities and killed a bunch of people and certainly left some profound historical legacies, but didn't materially affected the Islamic world as much as we think they did. The Mongols, on the other hand... they effed the Muslim world up. I already knew a lot of Middle Eastern history from my time as an Arabic linguist for the Army. (They made us learn a bit of history and cultural along with the language at DLI.) But it was recited to us by Arabic instructors of varying levels of pedagogical ability and enthusiasm, and came from very dry textbooks. So I vaguely remembered the Ummayads, the Abbasids, the Ottomans, the various Caliphates and Sultanates and Emirates that rose and fell from immediately after Mohammad's death until the 20th century when Muslim nation states began to congeal into more or less their present forms. But Destiny Disrupted tells the entire sweeping epic with a historian's accuracy but a storyteller's verve. You will actually get caught up in the rise and fall of dynasties and the shifting epicenters of Islamic scholarship and Arab-African-and-Persian power, the changes in Islam as it goes from populist movement to institutional social paradigm to bureaucratic theocracy. Islam is a complicated religion, like Christianity, with its sects and schisms and interactions with the power of the state. Yes, to Muslims, religion has never been a separate entity from the state, as it came to be in the West, but still, Islam served the interests of rulers, got coopted by those in power, brought down those in power, caused fragmentation and changes in government according to different factions' understanding of how a proper Islamic state should be run, and so conflicts between clergy and kings did play out in their own way in the Middle East too. If you want to have more than a superficial understanding of how Sunnis and Shias split off from each other, and why India has been the location of so much Hindu-Muslim conflict, and of course, how the United States went from a modern nation Muslims admired and respected in the early 20th century to the Great Satan it is today (yes, a big part of the reason is Israel, but that's not the whole story, and most of the rest of the reason is oil, but that's still not the whole story), then you will get it here, but as the title indicates, this is a history of the world through Muslim eyes, and so the West really only comes into the picture towards the end. There is a huge amount of history that took place between Europe and China that most Westerners know little or nothing about, and this book will not only tell you about it, but make it interesting. The author's style is a great asset to this narrative. Ansary is not above tossing in wry commentary now and then, neither sparing Westerners nor Muslims from apt observations about historical hypocrisy and inconvenient truths. Ansary does not take a religious position — he grew up as a Muslim in Afghanistan, but it's not even clear from his website whether he is a practicing Muslim today. So he doesn't try to "sell" Islam (and specifically calls out the historical revisionism of those liberal Muslims who today insist that "jihad" has never properly meant violent struggle against infidels — Ansary points out that yes it has, many times in history), but neither will he satisfy those of an anti-Islam bent who insist that Islam is fundamentally and inherently a religion of violence and oppression and intolerance of unbelievers. Those who say that Muslims are incapable of peaceful, heterogeneous coexistence in societies that value reason and democratic principles ignore the fact that such Muslim societies existed for centuries. If you are a history buff and are interested in this little-served area of history, then I think you could hardly do better than Destiny Disrupted. You will be truly educated about fourteen centuries of history spanning a huge chunk of the world. It's a really good read. If you're looking for answers addressing contemporary issues - how Israel came to be and why it's an unending canker sore to Muslims worldwide, the origins of Wahabbism (Osama Bin Laden's brand of Islamic fundamentalism), the roots of the Taliban, how the West came to become the "Great Satan" and what Iran's problem is (and what Afghanistan's problem is, and what Syria's problem is, and what Iraq's problem is, and what Egypt's problem is....) then you'll find those here, mostly in the last few chapters, but this is not primarily a book dissecting modern Islam/Western issues. It's about the whole history of the world that happened before the West was important. Excellent book, highly recommended, an unreserved 5 stars.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Summer Brennan

    First, a disclaimer: I have a Master's degree in Middle Eastern studies, and come to this subject weighted down by the suitcases of multiple theories and interpretations that advanced degrees tend to confer. However. I have long wanted to find a book that I could recommend to people (by which I mean friends, family and non-specialized colleagues) as "the book" for those wishing to understand "the Middle East," by which I and they usually mean: to understand the historical context of modern event First, a disclaimer: I have a Master's degree in Middle Eastern studies, and come to this subject weighted down by the suitcases of multiple theories and interpretations that advanced degrees tend to confer. However. I have long wanted to find a book that I could recommend to people (by which I mean friends, family and non-specialized colleagues) as "the book" for those wishing to understand "the Middle East," by which I and they usually mean: to understand the historical context of modern events located within or connected to the Muslim world. Destiny Disrupted is now the book that I will recommend, but with an important caveat. At the start of the book, Ansary tells the reader that we should think of this tale very much as "a story," as if we met him in a cafe and this is the tale that he, as an astute and knowledgeable historian, might tell us over tea. Well, over two days worth of tea, anyway, since the book is long. I think this disclaimer on his part is both wise and accurate. With it, he acknowledges that some oversimplification will occur. He acknowledges that swaths of his tale are or might be subjective. I was extremely impressed with his objectivity until almost the very end, when I, as something of a specialist myself, felt that the explanations and retelling of 20th century political machinations in the Muslim world were oversimplified and slanted pro-West. For the most part, Ansary does an admirable job of painting realistic pictures of individuals and events. He is able to succinctly explain the pros and cons of an event or a political figure: for example, a quick summary of why some people may have thought X while others thought Y, or that President X was celebrated for Y but hated by a particular ethnic minority for Z. You get the idea. However I found that this kind of just assessment was dimmed or even absent when describing the "secular modernist" leaders of Muslim countries in the twentieth century, like Bhutto. This is unfortunate, since a nuanced understanding of these leaders and the revolutions or coups that toppled them is, I would argue, more important to a useful understanding of the current geopolitical landscape than an emperor or imam of centuries past. Even so, I will certainly be recommending this book to family, friends and colleagues alike, with my own caveat that the interpretations of the last 70 years of history pertaining to Islam and the West leaves something to be desired, and that Ansary reaches conclusions that don't sit entirely comfortably with me, although they almost do. All in all, an impressive and much needed addition to the field.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    This book is an excellent exploration of not just Islamic history (dates, names, events, etc.), but also provides a fascinating insight into cultural forces of Islam. Speaking as someone with a pretty good knowledge base I can honestly say I learned a great deal from this book (beyond never accepting a dinner invitation from the Abbasids) and viewed history in a different light. Ansary rightly points out that Islamic history, one where Islamic cultures were much more advanced that European socie This book is an excellent exploration of not just Islamic history (dates, names, events, etc.), but also provides a fascinating insight into cultural forces of Islam. Speaking as someone with a pretty good knowledge base I can honestly say I learned a great deal from this book (beyond never accepting a dinner invitation from the Abbasids) and viewed history in a different light. Ansary rightly points out that Islamic history, one where Islamic cultures were much more advanced that European societies, are relegated to very small slices of world history text books. After reading this, it is difficult to understand why when Islamic cultures are major players in world history. The most important aspect of Islam the author (who is himself a Muslim) stresses is that Islam is not about individual salvation but about the community. Many Muslims throughout history and today have harkened back to the very first community of Muslims, when Mohammad still lived among them, as an ideal to strive for. In that society the leaders were humble and lived among the people. Mohammad was on hand to settle disputes in a just and fair manner and there was much harmony among the Muslim community. From a Christian or Western perspective, it would be as though Jesus was never killed and lived among his followers, continuing to provide divine wisdom and guidance. While that may not have been how things actually played out, Ansary notes that the story of how it happened has influenced Islamic culture ever since. Ansary then does a diligent job highlighting the direction the Muslim community (which at this point was still confined to the Arabian Peninsula and among Arab tribes) went after Mohammad passed. The rightly Guided Caliphs, as they are known, led their community in to a vast expansion, with each victory lending further credence to God being on their side. This link between victory and divine approval was a keystone to the community for much of its early existence. The first Islamic Empire spread from Central Asia to Iberia, making it one of the largest in history. What I found fascinating was how the community absorbed and was changed by converts. What was once a close community composed of Arab tribesmen became a multiethnic Empire. At different periods various ethnic groups were the dominant force in the Muslims world. Initially it was Arabs but at various times it was Persians or Turks or some other group. The mixing and merging of different peoples also lead to a diverse expression of Muslim piety and power. However, whichever group was in power, still saw their victories heavily outweigh their setbacks. That is until the greatest calamity the Muslim world had seen to date fell upon them. No, not the crusaders from Europe. They were at worst a nuisance, really only conquering four major cities and not penetrating into the Muslim heartland. They had struck during a time of chaos within the Islamic world where the great Empires of the past had devolved into competing cities in the Eastern Mediterranean world. At times battles would be fought between armies that saw Muslims and Crusaders on both sides of the lines. The Crusaders were just another piece on the board that various Muslim rulers had to take into account. The calamity which, arguably, still resounds to this day, were the Mongols. They swept through central Asia (which had its share of advanced Islamic civilizations) destroying literally everything in their bath. They sacked (and I mean SACKED) Baghdad so hard it has yet to recover after hundreds of years, and general owned just about everyone they came across. While some parts of the Mongol population were eventually converted to Islam, the swiftness and severity of their devastation shook the very core of the Muslim world. Why had God forsaken them? Were they no longer in his favor? What did they do wrong? While some within the community argued that in the end the conversion and defeat of the Mongols meant God still favored them, many turned to new ways to understand Islam and Allah. New schools of thought and law were developed in response to the Mongols that has resonance to this day. For me, the most interesting part of the book dealt with the response the Muslim world had to the rise of the West. The dynamism of the west driven by the emphasis on individual achievement and powered by the industrial revolution made inroads into the Muslim world (by this time mostly dominated by the Ottoman Empire and Iran). Slowly, piece by piece, these empires were places further and further under the thumb of European powers. Be it through Western technical advisers who helped reform the government and military, or the monied interest that extended loans to find these reforms, or business interests that could buy off entire portions of a country's economy the West slowly became dominant over the Muslim world. This wasn't some grand conspiracy among the various Western powers, even if the ends were the same. They were concerned about other powers gaining an advantage in The Great Game and had to make the appropriate count moves. This resulted in unsettled populations, resentment between the ruling and upper classes who benefited somewhat by these changes and the lower classes who were displaced or exploited. Ansary does an excellent job parsing the various currents and forces that flowed through the Muslim world, explaining how they reacted to the change of events and why. It was extremely fascinating to see the various responses to modernism in the Islamic world and how those responses influence the world today. Simply put this book is an essential part of any attempt to understand the modern world and especially the modern Muslim world. It is extremely well written, being accessible to novices and informative to the more well-read. It provides a unique set of fascinating insights in Islamic history and culture that I have found somewhat lacking from Western sources.

  6. 5 out of 5

    John

    I want to recommend the unabridged audio version, as read by the author. The man's a giften historian in that he's able to tell an informed and accessible story both in writing and by voice. This book fits neatly as a grand narrative of Islam and helps to set contemporary events and worldviews into a historical context. I'd call it scholarly light, emphasizing the story over analytical details, and helps stitch more focused books into a larger picture most westerners are unfamiliar with. I want to recommend the unabridged audio version, as read by the author. The man's a giften historian in that he's able to tell an informed and accessible story both in writing and by voice. This book fits neatly as a grand narrative of Islam and helps to set contemporary events and worldviews into a historical context. I'd call it scholarly light, emphasizing the story over analytical details, and helps stitch more focused books into a larger picture most westerners are unfamiliar with.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Asim Qureshi

    I was patient with this book, in terms of trying to figure out when this moment of 'a history of the world through Islamic eyes' would emerge, but it never did. Unlike books that have attempted to provide an eastern account of history, such as Amin Maaloouf's 'The Crusades Through Arab Eyes' or Carole Hillenbrand's 'The Crusades: Islamic Perspectives', what Ansary does is to provide a largely western liberal account of an eastern-centric history - it almost makes no difference that Ansary is ori I was patient with this book, in terms of trying to figure out when this moment of 'a history of the world through Islamic eyes' would emerge, but it never did. Unlike books that have attempted to provide an eastern account of history, such as Amin Maaloouf's 'The Crusades Through Arab Eyes' or Carole Hillenbrand's 'The Crusades: Islamic Perspectives', what Ansary does is to provide a largely western liberal account of an eastern-centric history - it almost makes no difference that Ansary is originally from the East. If that is what he set his stall out as, then it would not have been an issue for me as there are many accounts that are like this, but this book is very much Ansary's own analysis of this history, and it is definitely not through 'Islamic eyes'. In terms of decolonial value - this book is limited.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Lauren

    "The conflict wracking the modern world is not, I think, best understood as a 'clash of civilizations'... It's better understood as the friction generated by two mismatched world histories intersecting." -Tamim Ansary in Destiny Disrupted. History has long been my favorite subject. I loved it in primary school, all the way through choosing to dig in more with graduate studies. History of just about any time, any region, any macro or micro subject. But let's be honest - sometimes the way that hist "The conflict wracking the modern world is not, I think, best understood as a 'clash of civilizations'... It's better understood as the friction generated by two mismatched world histories intersecting." -Tamim Ansary in Destiny Disrupted. History has long been my favorite subject. I loved it in primary school, all the way through choosing to dig in more with graduate studies. History of just about any time, any region, any macro or micro subject. But let's be honest - sometimes the way that history is written is not that fun to read. Tamim Ansary does a great service writing very readable history in this 2009 book, Destiny Disputed: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes. The thing I liked most about this book was Ansary's contextual storytelling. He moves through the history of Islam from the life of the the Prophet to post-2001 in a roughly chronological way, showing the moving pieces & interconnectedness of the events in the "Middle World" (I much prefer this phrase to "middle east", which has always struck me as imperialist...) and the surrounding regions. Completely educational and well written, with some casual / witty asides that really add to the history. My only wish is that there was an update - a lot has happened globally and in this region since 2009. Highly recommended readable history!

  9. 4 out of 5

    Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship

    This is an absolutely fantastic book: an engaging, readable, at times even exciting primer on the history of the Muslim world, and world history as Muslims understand it. The author, a former textbook developer, clearly knows his stuff, but his genius is in the ability to draw many historical elements together to turn world history into a cohesive narrative that makes sense and that you might actually want to read. The writing style is engaging, though in no way dumbed-down – and yet while not r This is an absolutely fantastic book: an engaging, readable, at times even exciting primer on the history of the Muslim world, and world history as Muslims understand it. The author, a former textbook developer, clearly knows his stuff, but his genius is in the ability to draw many historical elements together to turn world history into a cohesive narrative that makes sense and that you might actually want to read. The writing style is engaging, though in no way dumbed-down – and yet while not reading, I would occasionally find myself wondering what would happen next! There are elements of biography, when the book zooms in on the lives of important individuals, but it covers many centuries of history – from a brief chapter about what is today the Middle East before the birth of Islam, up through 9/11 – in a way that feels complete and connected and provides the context for readers without much prior knowledge of Muslim history to actually make sense of it. Wars and governments, social and religious history, culture and philosophy – it’s all discussed. And aspects of Muslim and Middle Eastern history that I’m embarrassed to admit had never made a lot of sense to me finally did – it wasn’t until I read this book that I understood the difference between Sunni and Shi’a, for instance. In the western world I think we tend to be exposed to this material primarily through the news, where it’s presented as a quick summary without context that’s supposed to explain current events, but that doesn’t quite because we don’t know the background, the history, the emotional context. So I would recommend this book to anyone, even if you don’t typically read history. I get my books at the library, but I’m going to have to buy a copy of this one to re-read or refer back to as needed. It really is that good.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Jimmy

    Things happen, seemingly for a reason. But often I feel in the dark about these reasons. Often I feel like I'm only getting one tiny slice of the truth, the one that's most convenient and easily accessible to me, given my upbringing, my background, my experiences. Turning to the news won't help. The news only focuses on surface events, "the things that are happening are happening!" it proclaims in bold headlines. But how do I begin to understand the forces behind them? What we need is the news w Things happen, seemingly for a reason. But often I feel in the dark about these reasons. Often I feel like I'm only getting one tiny slice of the truth, the one that's most convenient and easily accessible to me, given my upbringing, my background, my experiences. Turning to the news won't help. The news only focuses on surface events, "the things that are happening are happening!" it proclaims in bold headlines. But how do I begin to understand the forces behind them? What we need is the news with context. News for dummies, maybe. Except we're all dummmies. How many of us understand the subtle differences between ISIS and Al-Queda? Or even Sunni vs. Shia, beyond the very basics? Instead we turn that part of our brain off and think "terrorist" or "evil". But context is everything, and without it, we see the world only from our own very limited retro-active perspective. How can we continue to broaden that context, continue to see things from a larger and larger world view so that we understand why things happen instead of just that they happen? History, at least when you're talking about traditionally-taught mainstream history (i.e. history for the rest of us, rather than history in academia), is a specific narrative that gets stronger and more homogenous with each generation simply by the power of repetition. Every story has multiple sides to it, any critical thinker knows this--and yet when we're talking about our own story, the story of humanity, why do we only care for one side of it? And because we're further from the original events, we just parrot that main narrative that's passed down to us, the one the victors wrote. It's disturbing to me that, as Tamim Ansary mentions in this book, most history textbooks have only one chapter dedicated to Islam, out of maybe 30 or 40 chapters. Nevermind the fact that it is one of the most relevant threads of current events. And even if that were not the case, it is the basis for one of the largest, most powerful and culturally rich empires in history, rivaling the Roman Empire. And even if that were not the case, it is the second largest religion, around 1.6 billion people we are ready to not think about. And even if that were not the case, it is more than a religion, it is uniquely also a community project and a political philosophy. And yet I understand that impulse not to engage. It's uncomfortable. It's difficult. It's messy and unresolvable. Good resources are hard to find and often conflicting. It's so much easier to look upon these parallel accounts as side-stories, almost inconsequential, subsumed in our own larger story. No, it's not that we deny these narratives entirely, but we look upon them as small parts of our story, rather than something completely foreign. That all past events have progressively lead step by step to our own existence, as if we (the storytellers) are the ultimate goal and purpose of human civilization. If you want to break out of that pattern, then this book is at least one such parallel story that you could investigate. Ansary focuses on the story-arc rather than mundane details. He is very good at conveying the general sweep of many parallel currents. I learned quite a lot from this book, including etymologies of several words and phrases that apparently have their origins in Islamic history. The first few chapters about Muhammad and the four caliphates are the most straight forward, and it's nice to be able to know not only their names but also have a sense of each one's personality, unique governing style, and personal philosophy. And that's very characteristic of this book. Ansary takes time to familiarize you with the backgrounds, personalities and tendencies of the people he writes about, instead of just what they did and when. Obviously, as there are more and more schisms and offshoots, it's a little harder to do that with everyone who shows up in this grand story. But he does a good enough job most of the time that I was highly engaged and flipping the pages as if I were reading a good mystery.The conflict wracking the modern world is not, I think, best understood as a “clash of civilizations”, if that proposition means we’re-different-so-we-must-fight-until-there’s-only-one-of us. It’s better understood as the friction generated by two mismatched world histories intersecting.History is a narrative, and narratives form our identities, drive our actions. For this reason, Ansary's conclusions are quite significant. He's basically saying that the Western narrative and the Islamic narrative are categorically different. It's not simply that we've left out some events. It's that the understanding of what lead to this moment is driven by two complete different understandings of the world . Thus, when we look at the same current event, we see the causes for this event to be two totally different things. It's like we're a bitter couple, each not hearing the other person in an argument, but only becoming more convinced by our own voices."Here are two enormous worlds side by side; what's remarkable is how little notice they have taken of each other. If the Western and Islamic worlds were two individual human beings, we might see symptoms of repression here. We might ask, "What happened between these two? Were they lovers once? Is there some history of abuse?"

  11. 5 out of 5

    Rex

    This is the third history I have read which tries to root its “world-story” in a perspective just east of Europe, the others being Barry Cunliffe’s By Steppe, Desert, and Ocean: The Birth of Eurasia and Peter Frankopan’s The Silk Roads: A New History of the World . Destiny Disrupted is perhaps the least scholarly of the three, but Ansary is an engaging and accessible writer, and he has tremendously more focus than Frankopan. For one wishing to get this sweeping “Middle-World” perspective This is the third history I have read which tries to root its “world-story” in a perspective just east of Europe, the others being Barry Cunliffe’s By Steppe, Desert, and Ocean: The Birth of Eurasia and Peter Frankopan’s The Silk Roads: A New History of the World . Destiny Disrupted is perhaps the least scholarly of the three, but Ansary is an engaging and accessible writer, and he has tremendously more focus than Frankopan. For one wishing to get this sweeping “Middle-World” perspective without prior knowledge, I might recommend reading these works in an order reverse of mine, and starting with Ansary. Ansary’s work also is more specifically designed to respond to the dearth in popular histories of Islam. Other reviewers have summarized his narrative, so I will not bother to recapitulate it here. Having said that I enjoyed this book, there are issues that make me qualify my recommendation significantly. Ansary is not a trained historian, as he freely admits, and he has a habit of telling stories of disputed historicity as if they were simple fact. Moreover, I noticed a number of egregious simplifications or outright errors when it came to European history, with which I am familiar by profession. For a few prominent examples, his dismissive characterization of “Dark Ages” Europe and Byzantine culture would be considered by current historians manifestly unjust, and his description of alleged Christian views on sexuality would be considered flatly heretical by any orthodox Christian authority of any period. I was cringing all the way through his “Meanwhile in Europe” chapter and others at his wildly off-base assertions, as when he calls the Vikings a “post-Crusades era” phenomenon. Many more examples of varying magnitude can be adduced: his assertions that nobody read anything but the Bible in the “Dark Ages,” scholastics like Aquinas totally ignored Islamic commentators on Aristotle, medieval Christians believed the material world is evil and not worth studying, heretics were “regularly” executed by church officials by burning at stake, Copernicus was intellectually “liberated” by the Protestant Reformation, the longbow was invented partway through the Hundred Years’ War, etc. These “slips” are more than annoying, and as I am not very familiar with Islamic history, I have good reason to wonder if similar lapses litter his main subject. That said, at least until an Islamic history expert tells me Ansary is ignorant on his own turf, or I come across a better book on the subject, I think Destiny Disrupted is still worth reading. I often appreciate his approach and interpretations of why things happened the way they did; I found his reading of industrialism particularly sympathetic, and he is careful to avoid cheap villainizing of even the most unpleasant people and ideas. More importantly, Ansary’s chief goal is to present a perspective on history rather than a strictly factual narrative, and the fact that he tells his story so well should not be entirely overshadowed by his weaknesses as an historian.

  12. 5 out of 5

    ·Karen·

    World history from the Islamic point of view, yes, but written very much with the Western reader in mind, which is fair enough, presumably Middle Worlders don't need this kind of broadstroke overview. Ansary uses analogies with concepts that will be familiar to his audience in order to make things clearer and more easily digestible: for example when describing the gap left by the death of Mohammed, he points out that when a saint dies, you can't just appoint a new one in his place, and on the ot World history from the Islamic point of view, yes, but written very much with the Western reader in mind, which is fair enough, presumably Middle Worlders don't need this kind of broadstroke overview. Ansary uses analogies with concepts that will be familiar to his audience in order to make things clearer and more easily digestible: for example when describing the gap left by the death of Mohammed, he points out that when a saint dies, you can't just appoint a new one in his place, and on the other hand when a king dies, people don't say 'Wouldn't it be good to have a king again some day?'. Mostly these analogies were extremely helpful, but I wasn't too sure about comparing the beginnings of the Muslim Brotherhood with the Boy Scouts. But what would I know. Sometimes his jokey facetious remarks irritated me a little, but, heck, I finished it, so they can't have been too distracting. It was published in 2009, so long before the Arab Spring of this year, but to Ansary's credit, he does emphasise the huge and growing gap between the privileged technocrats and the indigent rural inhabitants of Middle World countries, and how isolated the latter group are from the political process. Quite acute of him, I think.

  13. 5 out of 5

    J.S. Bangs

    World History, says Tamim Ansary in his introduction, is always the story about how we got to be where we are. It therefore always includes an implicit notion of who "we" are, and what our current place in the history of the world is. Most people with a basic college education feel that they know how history works. First there was the ancient world, from whose murky depths emerged the cultural brilliance of the Greeks and the political might of the Romans. Then the Roman Empire fell, plunging the World History, says Tamim Ansary in his introduction, is always the story about how we got to be where we are. It therefore always includes an implicit notion of who "we" are, and what our current place in the history of the world is. Most people with a basic college education feel that they know how history works. First there was the ancient world, from whose murky depths emerged the cultural brilliance of the Greeks and the political might of the Romans. Then the Roman Empire fell, plunging the world into an age of superstition and darkness, from which we finally emerged during the Renaissance. Shortly thereafter we discovered science, democracy, and industrialization. Now the First World has reached the pinnacle of human development, and all that remains is for the rest of the world to finally bring itself up to our level. This history is false. Or at least incomplete and parochial. This is the historical narrative of a particular civilization in a particular time, and it clashes and competes with alternate historical narratives told by people from outside our cultural milieu. But by conflating our history with the history of the whole world, we not only marginalize and insult those whose historical narratives are different, but we make ourselves incapable of understanding the interactions that we have with the other worlds around us. And so we come to Destiny Disrupted, Tamim Ansary's attempt to write an Islamic history of the world accessible to Western readers. According to the very brief autobiography in the book's introduction, Ansary was raised in a traditional Islamic household, but all of his formal schooling was in Western-style schools, giving him a bifurcated view of the world which he struggled to integrate. His book is part of that resolution. Destiny Disrupted is a world history, but it's a world history as understood by the Islamic world. As such, it features a very different set of actors and key events than the more familiar world history given above. The Roman Empire is a footnote in this story; the universal state which defined the classical age is the early united Khalifate. The central geographical regions are Arabia and Persia, with the latter being the cultural and intellectual center of the world for most of its history. The frontiers of civilization were the Sahara Desert in the south, the Central Asian steppes in the north, barbarian Europe in the west, and the Indus river in the east. Within this area the drama and tragedies of civilization played out, only occasionally interrupted by incursions from the outside, such as the catastrophic invasions of the Mongols or the nuisance of the Franji (Franks, i.e. Christian Crusaders). Ansary does an excellent job of presenting the narrative of this world history so that it's accessible and interesting to a reader who knows almost nothing about it. His history is not overly detailed---he occasionally skips over entire centuries with a few paragraphs---but it suffices to make one understand who the actors are and how they see the world. More importantly, he gives his narrative a sense of flow, so that every subsequent development makes sense in light of earlier ones, and one can gain the feeling that history is going somewhere and means something. And that, of course, is why it's heartbreaking when the whole story turns sideways. The period that we think of as the Renaissance, Enlightenment, and colonialism comes across in this book as a series of bitter catastrophes. It isn't simply the case that the European powers overwhelmed the Islamic world militarily---military setbacks and invasions had happened before, and anyway the Europeans didn't actually conquer the Islamic world except in a few places at the outskirts. Rather, the problem is that the Islamic powers were suddenly changed into pawns, and they found themselves being played around by foreigners who didn't have any role at all in world history up to that point. Ansary does a masterful job of getting you into the perspective of the Islamic world on this point, so that the sudden domination of Europe feels like a shock, and the crisis it precipitates is profound. There are weaknesses in this presentation, and if you have a deeper familiarity with the historical epochs Ansary visits you may find much to criticize in his approach. When he discusses the Christian middle ages, the description is so brief that it severely distorts several things, and his presentation of the Reformation is a caricature. But in some ways these distortions are part of the logic of the story. After all, the doctrinal nuances which agitated the Protestant Reformers are of no interest at all to the Islamic world, and so who actually cares if he gets them right? What is more important---and what Ansary does very well---is presenting the internal logic of the Islamic world. Ansary ends his story on a cliffhanger, with the events of 9/11 and the assurance that, contra Fukuyama, history is not over. Events since then are too recent to recount as history. Nonetheless, this book changed my perspective on one event more recent even than the publication of this book: the "Arab Spring" of 2011. Here in America, coverage of the uprisings presented them as a liberal phenomenon, a recapitulation of the revolutions in the West in which a democracy-seeking populace overthrow the old monarchs and aristocrats. But Ansary's book makes it clear that this misunderstands the history of the region. The dictators which were overthrown were not in any way the ancien regime of the Islamic world, but were what Ansary calls "secular modernists." They were committed to a secular state (run by them), modernization (by force if necessary), growing a modern, capitalistic economy (at least for the elites), and imitation of Western forms and customs. The revolt against these powers was democratic exactly insofar as it reflected the popular ethos of the Islamic heartland, for which the centrality and ubiquity of Islam is non-negotiable and the West is a corrosive foreign invader rather than a model for emulation. Events in Egypt since the revolution have largely played out along these lines, with one more secular party (the army) trying to hold on to power against a coalition of popular "Islamist" groups. (The term "Islamist" conflates a number of different streams with wildly different ideals and aspirations together, a fact which Ansary also discusses.) The error that the popular media of West made with regards to the Arab Spring is very similar to the error that we've been making all along: we assume that the Islamic world is replaying a scene from our own past, rather than enacting a drama of their own. We repeat this mistake to our peril.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Thomas

    Not a bad primer for people who know very little to nothing about Islamic history. Quite good. When I got this book I had an idea that I would gain some insight into world history as seen through Islamic eyes. I guess I got a little of that, but mostly it was a quick trip through a very vast subject. We, for instance, got to see what was happening in the Arab world when the Crusaders showed up; things like that. There was a lot of glaring omissions, though. The wealthy, gold-rich Islamic kingdoms Not a bad primer for people who know very little to nothing about Islamic history. Quite good. When I got this book I had an idea that I would gain some insight into world history as seen through Islamic eyes. I guess I got a little of that, but mostly it was a quick trip through a very vast subject. We, for instance, got to see what was happening in the Arab world when the Crusaders showed up; things like that. There was a lot of glaring omissions, though. The wealthy, gold-rich Islamic kingdoms of West Africa received no mention at all. To be fair, in order to be thorough the book would have to be several times longer than it is. All in all, this filled in a few details but didn’t rock my world. This is more or less Islamic history as I’d already pieced it together from the other books I’d read. Also, it’s amazing what you can learn just obsessively paging through historic atlases and wondering about this or that Islamic Empire and what was their deal? There are also some really good documentaries on the subject. For all the people, though, who are puzzled by developments in the Middle East and across the Islamic world, I think this is an important book. They should either read this or one very much like it. We may not solve all the world’s problems by not being ignorant, but we might be a little less confused and frightened by it all, which is a good thing. All in all, if there’s a big hole in your understanding of history that would be filled by this book, you could definitely do a lot worse.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Stuart

    Very Insightful and Fresh Perspective for Westerners If you know next to nothing about Islam - its history, tenets, and how it's shaped the civilizations of the Middle East (a term that is coined by the West) for over a millennium, and why it is has long clashed with Christianity and the Western Power (though not always), then this is an excellent introduction to these subjects told in a fairly balanced and intelligent manner. You'll gain a much better appreciation for the all the different schis Very Insightful and Fresh Perspective for Westerners If you know next to nothing about Islam - its history, tenets, and how it's shaped the civilizations of the Middle East (a term that is coined by the West) for over a millennium, and why it is has long clashed with Christianity and the Western Power (though not always), then this is an excellent introduction to these subjects told in a fairly balanced and intelligent manner. You'll gain a much better appreciation for the all the different schisms that emerged after the prophet died and different followers chose different descendants as the legitimate heirs of his teachings and philosophy. You'll also recognize the fanaticism and dogmatism and intolerance that emerges again not just infidels but other Muslims that don't subscribe to a specific view on how to live strictly according to his life and the Qoran, and just how much obsessive debates rage over the most seemingly trivial details to outsiders, and intensity of religious fervor that can erupt when there is a perceived insult again Mohammed or Islam. While I can better understand that intensity of feeling and yearning for a purity of faith and devotion, it also presents a frightening picture of intolerance and fanaticism if you are an unbeliever in any religion such as I am, and that applies not just to Islam, but to Christianity or Judaism or any religion that looks with hostility on unbelievers. It certainly points out some of the many impressive cultural and scientific achievements of Islamic scholars and scientists in the golden ages, and how things have been transformed to their current state (I don't say degenerated, but it's hard to argue otherwise). Anyway, it's piqued my interest and provided more context for understanding all the complexities of the current geopolilitical issues that relate to the Islamic, Arabic, Persian, and Turkish societies and their interactions with Western countries. We should all know more about each other to prevent the more ignorant prejudices of each side from proliferating.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Kim

    I do not think it would be a stretch to say that this book has changed my world view. A history of the world through Islamic eyes, it describes the kingdoms of Asia Minor and Persia chronologically, covering several I had literally never heard of, and explaining the various sects and rifts of Islam in a way that is engaging, memorable, highly readable, and fascinating. One learns why the Abbasids and the Fatimids split, why they are named what they are named, what the Caliphate really is, how lu I do not think it would be a stretch to say that this book has changed my world view. A history of the world through Islamic eyes, it describes the kingdoms of Asia Minor and Persia chronologically, covering several I had literally never heard of, and explaining the various sects and rifts of Islam in a way that is engaging, memorable, highly readable, and fascinating. One learns why the Abbasids and the Fatimids split, why they are named what they are named, what the Caliphate really is, how ludicrously preposperous the Crusades were, why the Muslim Brotherhood could be a force for wonderful social good, much like the YMCA in the West, why the industrial revolution happened in frigid and cramped England instead of Persia or China, why Turkey is often left out of the Muslim fold, and who the Chaldeans, Sassanians, Parthians, Amorites, Akkadians, etc. really were and why they matter to us. Among the most interesting chapters to me was the discussion of the three superpowers that divided the region and co-existed relatively peacefully for centuries: the Ottomons, the Safavids, and the Moghuls. Among the best attributes of the book is that once you reach the end, and the author puts the events of the 20th century in context, the pronouncements and policies of our government come across as not only self-absorbed but wildly uninformed, historically and factually inaccurate, and, frankly, preposterous. A must-read!

  17. 4 out of 5

    Abu Kamdar

    Very well-written but full of historical inaccuracies, I cannot recommend this as a history resource.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Ulfah

    So let me write here, first and foremost, if you’d like to understand a more thorough understanding of our world’s history unfolding during the last 15 centuries, please do try to read this book. Having been born Indonesian and spent some time in Europe, makes me question a lot of things, seeing the insights of both culture, and from time to time trying to understand why Indonesians or maybe Indonesian muslims view the Western world as it is, and why the Europeans view the muslim world as it is. So let me write here, first and foremost, if you’d like to understand a more thorough understanding of our world’s history unfolding during the last 15 centuries, please do try to read this book. Having been born Indonesian and spent some time in Europe, makes me question a lot of things, seeing the insights of both culture, and from time to time trying to understand why Indonesians or maybe Indonesian muslims view the Western world as it is, and why the Europeans view the muslim world as it is. I mean nowadays aren’t as awful as a few years ago, when more people are lacking in knowledge, and Islamophobia is on its height. But still I can sense that sort of feeling here and there (the return of the far-right wing party in Germany or the clashes they have in France, etc). Even I, when reading books with religious theme like this (well, world history through Islamic eyes, actually), always feel the need to hide the title from public view while reading it in public transportation, because I’m always afraid that people would think that I’m an extremist of some sort. Anyways, the book started off with the comforting story of the revelation through prophet Muhammad and how the first four calliphates strive after his death. This part was no new news from me, after reading it so many times from different context and different writers. What unfolds afterwards is ever more interesting for me. You see, I didn’t understand how the greatness and humbleness of the four calliphates could transform into Muawiyah’s dynasty and so on as other Islam dynasties unfolds (the Umayyads, Fatimid, Abassid and finally the Ottomans), and how different ethnic groups and different course of understanding of the core teachings of Islam were intermingling in between these changes. This book helped me to understand that. I also wonder how the Crusade war had any great impact to the crumbling of Islam golden age, when I finally understood, the crumble came from within rather from the outside (if any, the attacks by the Mongols had greater impact rather than the Crusade wars were). The history goes on, and then I got shocked again to understand, that although the Europeans didn’t intend it to be, but collonialism did change the world as we live in now. And gosh, I didn’t grasp it fully till now that most Middle eastern countries were made by the Europeans as the result of collonialism and how Wahhabi became a prominent standard of beliefs in Saudi Arabia (I always wonder how that happened!). And how the idea of nationalism is so new and kinda artificial and how the idea of being better than other ethnic group just by coming from different country is so nauseating. And my God, Britain, why made a same promise to three different parties resulting today’s ongoing conflict of Israel vs Palestine? I wonder how the next history of the world will unfold, now with the many refugees coming into Europe and the non-stopping war in Syria. But I must recall one other thing. A few days ago, I saw in facebook a picture of Kabul and Tehran ladies in the 70s, wearing Western dresses (as in, short skirts, etc), and the next pic of early 90s where the ladies of Kabul and Tehran wore burqa and or the long black hijab (people should really stop seeing muslim pics from the Middle East and see how Indonesian muslims dress! Hahaha). And the last pic, in relation to the influx of refugee to Europe, European girls wearing short pants and a horrifiying prediction of the future that they will also soon be covered with heavy hijab. Referring back to the book, one of the main premise of the book, is on how the Muslim world, in addition to using Islam as the way of life, felt that there’s an urgency of returning to the first Ummah as portrayed by the life of prophet Muhammad and the first four calliphates (which as until now, I believe, was a revolutionary era, in which women were liberated, the poor was taken care of, familial function was revived, justice was fulfilled, and so on). As centuries went by, some Muslim thinkers thought, ‘hey, we should beat Westerners on their on game by being more like them’ and in contrast, others thought ‘hey, we should be more restrictive in how we interpret the Quran and hadits’ and these two ideas were the driver of the movements, first the Secular Modernists which banned the use of hijab and the enforcement to use Western clothes as in 70s Afghanistan, Iran or Turkey, which was followed by radical conservatism that hey, Western clothes are now banned, and you should only wear heavy hijabs. I think that that picture circulating in facebook was taken totally out of context, and how funny it is when I understand the real background of such propaganda. Ah yes, we’re still spewing the old mistake of taking things in fragments rather than trying to understand the bigger view... Anyways, such a satisfying read! Thanks Mr. Ansary! ps: by the way, granted, this book is, rather than describing tons of facts (at least unlike Karen Armstrong or Tom Holland), is a way to give and overlying opinion of the chain of events that unfold. But I guess, that's what I really need and that's why I like it.

  19. 5 out of 5

    saïd

    I believe this book set out what it intended to accomplish, which was to provide an alternative view of "history" (such a narrow word, isn't it?), a field of study so often dominated—particularly in the sardonically titled "information age" of the internet—by Western anglophone scholars and their opinions. This is, mind, a book intended for a Western audience: pop history to show people that Muslims, specifically Arab Muslims, have as rich and storied a history as any vainglorious pale-skinned E I believe this book set out what it intended to accomplish, which was to provide an alternative view of "history" (such a narrow word, isn't it?), a field of study so often dominated—particularly in the sardonically titled "information age" of the internet—by Western anglophone scholars and their opinions. This is, mind, a book intended for a Western audience: pop history to show people that Muslims, specifically Arab Muslims, have as rich and storied a history as any vainglorious pale-skinned European power. (Not that we don't also have pale skin, sometimes. There's far more ethnic variety in MENA countries than most outsiders think.) Given the slippery definitions of what makes one "Western" (I do currently live in a Western country) or "anglophone" (I am currently writing in English), I don't necessarily think I'm the wrong audience for this sort of book, but I'm certainly not the primary one. I was lucky enough to have a well-rounded education which approached world history through as many perspectives as possible, using native literature and academic writings from as many cultures as possible. I fully understand and acknowledge the privilege that opportunity granted me. I didn't really expect Mr. Tamim Ansary's book to teach me anything new. Well, I was wrong about that. There was a lot this book taught me, which I'm very glad to report. But it is also not even 400 pages, and purports to cover the entire history of the Islamic world. This is laughable. Even a superficial summary, which is more or less what Ansary provides, is stretched incredibly thin over multiple thousands of years. Don't misunderstand: I enjoyed this book, and I think it's a very valuable one. After all, there's no shortage of bias in Western textbooks, in Western pop history, in Western schools. So, although I don't believe that historical inaccuracy is a field in which fighting fire with fire is preferable to presenting the facts in as objective a manner as is reasonably possible, I understand it. Precise language is important here. An historian's job is not to judge history but to study it. An educator's job is not to judge the facts but to present them. This, I think, is Ansary's greatest shortcoming: he is not an historian. By "not an historian," what I mean is that he is not a professional historian. Obviously professionals will get things wrong, while amateurs often get them right; obviously the vaulted towers of academia or whatever shouldn't be elitist. I grew up in poverty. I was lucky to get the education I have today. Ansary has provided a different take on a certain portion of history, and that's objectively valuable. But now I'm just stalling. HISTORIAN SCHMISTORIAN Everyone has a specialty. Mine, for example, is translation studies: it's not what I originally studied, but it's where I (pardon me) excel, and I know a lot about various different languages, about the intricacies of translation, about the politics surrounding the field, about the mechanics behind it. But this is translation studies, which is different from translation itself—I know a fair amount about translating to and from Chinese, for example, but I'm by no means fluent in the language; a Chinese-English translator would know far more about the practical work involved in moving a text from one of those languages to the other, because their specialty is Chinese-English translation. (I do also work as a translator of French, English, Arabic, and Korean, but that's more of a side gig at this point.) Within the field of studying history, there are many, many subsections. An historian with a background in Islamic history would be better equipped to write a more factual introduction to the history of Islam and Islamic thought. An historian with a background in mediaeval Arab scientific advancement would be better equipped to write about that period, etc. With Ansary, his bias is very evident: Persia. While Persia does indeed to be treated as important when covering the entire history of Islam, it's not the only important place. In contrast, for example, Ansary's focus on the Umayyids in Spain lacks even a modicum of the attention paid to Persia. (Look, my family is from an oft-overlooked little country in the Middle East, with an unfortunate name that often gets overshadowed by basketball players and athletic shoes and whatnot, so it's entirely possible that I have a bit of a personal dog in this fight.) INACCURACIES Obviously there's no shortage of inaccuracies and biases in Western history books. But combating inaccuracies with different inaccuracies is not actually an improvement. I don't know whether Ansary had a specific political agenda for certain "mistakes," or whether he genuinely made errors (it happens!), but they're worth noting. I won't list all of them, of course, but I'll cover a few. THE CRUSADE ERA Ansary's chapter covering the Crusades and the Mongolian Empire is a tricky one. There's this relatively popular misconception, in recent (and primarily online) non-academic spaces, that the stereotype of Europe as the pinnacle of education and the rest of the world as uneducated barbarians during the Middle Ages should in fact be the exact opposite: Europeans didn't even bathe regularly, while the rest of the world was calculating star maps and navigating the globe. This is, to put it simply, nonsense. The chapter begins ca. 1100 CE, whereupon Ansary states that:- The Italian peninsula was controlled entirely by Germanic barbarian tribes; - Europeans, with the exception of Byzantines, had not yet reached the East; - European advances in agriculture were no more than "minor innovations of no note"; - the reason trade was not established with Europe was because there was "no one worth trading with";all of which is incorrect. WASH YOUR BARBARIANS I don't like the stereotype of all of Europe as overrun by unwashed barbarian warlords for countless reasons, but perhaps chief among them is the fact that it is not actually progressive to apply the same stereotypes historically used against oppressed peoples against the oppressors. Countering a misogynistic belief that women are physically weak by saying "actually, women could beat you up, because you're so pathetic and scrawny and couldn't lift a single box of bananas!" is not actually progressive. But I digress. Such sweeping generalisations are ludicrous, and would be an immediate disqualification if applied to, say, ancient China, a mostly closed civilisation which did not welcome robust trade with outsiders until around the 17th century. And there's a lot of Europe to go around: with the advancement of agricultural techniques such as crop rotation and the further domestication of livestock, trade during the European Middle Ages was at a genuine high point. Many different cultures had put out feelers towards the East, including the quintessentially "white European" Vikings, whose good name has been besmirched of late by tying them to nationalist beliefs despite the wealth of diversity within a demographic that was linked only by a job title (spoiler: there were Muslim Vikings!). After the fall of the Western Roman Empire and the shaky political endeavours of the Eastern—Byzantium, mostly—European society did not collapse inward, leaving little but a smoking ruin during the "Dark Ages" (an historical misnomer at the least). Trade was established with Europe, as is evidenced by a whole host of primary sources, to say nothing of plentiful archaeological artefacts. Don't get me wrong: I would never, not in a million years, defend the Crusades. There is very little defensible about them, even taking the most charitable interpretation. But the solution to misinformation is not further misinformation. As for the idea that Europeans didn't wash themselves or take care of waste products: this was an issue of industrialisation, not ignorance. There's something to be said for the argument that the agricultural revolution is behind only the industrial revolution in terms of bad decisions humanity has made, but the majority of Europeans were not wallowing in their own shit. Soap was used. Bathing was done less commonly, but bathing every day or even every other day the way most modern people do isn't actually the healthiest way to stay clean. Waste products were turned into fertiliser and good soil for crops. It was in larger cities, farther away from vast farmlands, that waste removal became a problem. This was, as you might already have suspected, a problem in every single industrialised developed society around the world in the history of humanity. ONE SIZE FITS ALL Ansary's analyses of the impact Western "modernity" had on the independent and powerful Islamic world (spoiler alert: it wasn't a good impact) were incredibly solid. I would have vastly preferred a 400-page book covering how Western imperialism has influenced not only outsiders' perceptions of the Islamic world but also internal growth as well: a genuinely fascinating topic with a whole host of good company (such as the likes of Edward Said). But trying to cram nearly 2000 years of history into closer to 300 pages (excluding introductions etc.) is like watching a clown car trick with a Matchbox toy. Ansary's recap of Islamic history sped through the majority of it, with only a handful of pit stops for anything beyond a superficial detail. The best analysis was in the final quarter of the book, while the first three quarters were too hasty to be worth much of anything. CASCADES A scattered handful of errors, while frustrating, would not really diminish my opinion of someone's academic work in any significant way. Everyone fucks up, especially when there's a hell of a lot of pressure on you to do things perfectly. I get it. I really do. But these "scattered handfuls" accrued over time, to the point where, by the time we'd reached the 19th century, an unignorable percentage of what was being presented was simply wrong. Some of this was by omission; some, inconsistencies; some, what seemed to be little more than outright lying. Again: I am not professing that Western books are any better; in fact they're almost always worse on average. But these things add up. I'm also conflicted as to what Ansary's audience is. If you've studied Islamic history and/or are a Muslim, there's not going to be much "new" information contained within, and what is new is often not worth slogging through the 200 other pages in order to dig it up. On the other hand, however, if you're coming at this book without a general understanding of Islamic history, you'll likely not pick up on the mistakes which would probably be brushed off by someone more familiar with the actual happenings. The uncharitable interpretation would of course be that this is by design, that the intention was to trick the unknowledgeable into believing a certain narrative. I don't think that's what's happened, thankfully. But I'm still conflicted as to the intended audience. I think this book was a hubristic project, doomed either way. Of course it's incredibly popular with laypersons; that's not what I meant. WESTERN BIAS Yeah, I'm going there. Pretty much anyone with a basic understanding of the political landscape of the Islamic world—in history or in modernity—will be able to tell that there are multiple predominant perspectives, and Ansary writes only from one of them. This is to be expected, yet still unfortunate. But the vast majority of Westerners are not going to understand the differences between Shiite and Sunni beliefs the same way most of us won't know (or care) about the differences between Protestants and Catholics. But this is a problem. As a pop history book about Islam but with an intended anglophone audience, this book is fraught with complications. The title alone is a bit of a betrayer: no singular book can be written "through Islamic eyes," as Islamic eyes are not a monolith, and what one Muslim might find to be trash is another Muslim's treasure. Most Western readers—most people, really—don't want to be corrected, but they're also not comfortable with their ignorance, so they want to be gently appeased. This book will no doubt be a comforting, nonthreatening, safe way to learn about Islamic history. It's the White Fragility of Islam: it makes them feel better about themselves and their own biases while also allowing them to feel like progressive allies. One of the Cool Ones. THE GOOD STUFF Ansary is an excellent writer, and this book is incredibly readable where a lot of pop history is not, either relying too hard on the academic (not that I don't personally eat those up) or the layperson audience and tone. But Ansary manages to straddle that line, and he has the elegant prose and engaging storytelling ability to back it up. The core thesis of the book—that an Islamic history of the world is entirely different from a Christian (or Western but we all know what that really means) one—is correct. When he's good, he's great, and when he's not, he can almost be forgiven because he's just so damn entertaining. This is really a masterful book, regardless of my personal feelings on the matter, and I sincerely hope more of its kind are able to be produced—in English no less, to save us poor translators some work.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Willowwind

    Ansary is a remarkable story teller in the best sense of the word. Few Americans are sufficiently conversant with the history of the West, let alone Islam. Ansary takes us through the birth and decline of one of humanities most brilliant civilizations from an Islamic point of view, explaining why that culture sees things differently than the industrial west does. He also shows how the seeds of current conflict in the Middle East were sown not only by differing ideas about the world but by the ac Ansary is a remarkable story teller in the best sense of the word. Few Americans are sufficiently conversant with the history of the West, let alone Islam. Ansary takes us through the birth and decline of one of humanities most brilliant civilizations from an Islamic point of view, explaining why that culture sees things differently than the industrial west does. He also shows how the seeds of current conflict in the Middle East were sown not only by differing ideas about the world but by the actions of the various world powers pursuing their own interests ususally to the detriment of local populations. I really liked the audio version because the inflexions in Ansary's voice told its own tale. But neither is Ansary just a cultural cheerleader. Rather he is a judicious observer of social and pollitical failures are well. If you want to know the source of the conflict between Sh'ia and Sunni or how the Wahabis came to be the most powerful force in modern Islam, you will find it here as well as why the Iranians deservedly dsitrust the US. But you will also hear of the poets, mathmaticians, astronomers and scholars who preserved the literature of the classical world and passed it on to a Medieval Europe which had largely forgotten it existed.

  21. 4 out of 5

    E

    Knowing about as little about the history of the Middle World (a.k.a., Middle East to Westerners) as one can, this book offered a tremendously satisfying overview, striking the ideal balance between summary and detail, objective reporting and critical analysis. Gently derisive of both Western and Muslim prejudices and dogma, Ansary presents himself as a trustworthy guide, unafraid to critique the culture of his forebearers but refusing to betray it or declare allegiance to another. Of course, an Knowing about as little about the history of the Middle World (a.k.a., Middle East to Westerners) as one can, this book offered a tremendously satisfying overview, striking the ideal balance between summary and detail, objective reporting and critical analysis. Gently derisive of both Western and Muslim prejudices and dogma, Ansary presents himself as a trustworthy guide, unafraid to critique the culture of his forebearers but refusing to betray it or declare allegiance to another. Of course, any reader with a more detailed, prior knowledge of the region and its religion reserves the right to knock his story down and tell me everything the author got wrong.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Sud666

    Tamim Ansary was born in Afghanistan, grew up Muslim but moved to the West, and became an atheist. Thus, I find him uniquely capable of an even handed history from the perspective of the Muslim peoples. The reason his atheism is important is that had this been written by a devout Muslim there is the propensity to whitewash the ills caused by the religion, much as a devout Christian's view of the Crusades would be colored by their beliefs. Ansary highlights the achievements and the failures of th Tamim Ansary was born in Afghanistan, grew up Muslim but moved to the West, and became an atheist. Thus, I find him uniquely capable of an even handed history from the perspective of the Muslim peoples. The reason his atheism is important is that had this been written by a devout Muslim there is the propensity to whitewash the ills caused by the religion, much as a devout Christian's view of the Crusades would be colored by their beliefs. Ansary highlights the achievements and the failures of the Muslim world. The history of the world as seen by Muslims is not that different than the history as seen by those who live in the Western nations. But there are slight variations on a common theme. Anasary skillfully weaves us a tale of history through Muslim eyes. We start with the "Middle World" where we take a look at the region pre-Islam. Then we move into the seminal "Year of the Hijra" (622 CE or 0 Year AH) where we learn about Mohammed's vision and how he spread his views. It ends with his demise and the rise of Abu Bakr to become the Khalifa (Caliph in the West), meaning "Deputy". The second section covers the birth of the Khalifate and goes into the third section "Schism" covering 644-661 CE (24-40 AH). This is where the divides between different leaders of Islam cause splits in the religion. The "Empire of the Umayyads" covers the time from 661-737 CE (40-120 AH) where Imam Hussein and his followers become the Shi'i (Shia) and the concept of an Imam arises. The Abbasid Age covers 737-961 CE (120-350 AH) as Abu Muslim conquers the Persian territories and starts the Abbasid Empire. Ansary then takes a brief detour from the high and mighty to look at "Scholars, Philosophers and Sufis" covering 632-1111 CE (10-505 AH). This very interesting section details the various famous thinkers of Islam and details the rise of the Sufi mystical sect. "Enter the Truks" details 737-1095 CE (120-487 AH). This is when Turkish raiders invade the Islamic world and set up the Seljuk Empire. "Havoc" covers the period 1081-1381 CE (474-783 AH). This period might be the "best known" to western non-Muslims as it details the events of the Crusades and of famous Muslims such as Saladin. It ends with the catastrophe of the Mongol invasions. "Rebirth" covers 1263-1600 CE (661-1008 AH) and looks at the rise of three different, but existing at the same time, empires that signalled a rebirth of the Muslim world. It follows the Ottoman, Safavid and Moghul Empires and their contributions to Islam. "Meanwhile in Europe" cover 1291-1600 CE (689-1008 AH) shows that while the Islamic world may have been more advanced, they seemed to become static. Meanwhile, dynamic events in Europe will cause a shift in power between the two religions. "West Comes East" covers the 1500-1850 CE (905-1266 AH) covers the period of Western colonisation of Muslim lands. "The Reform Movements" covers 1737-1918 CE (1150-1336 AH) and highlights the efforts of thinkers to "modernize" the Islamic faith. "Industry, Constitution and Nationalism" covers 1750-1918 CE (1163-1336 AH) shows the effects of modernization and the fallout from the end of WW I. "Rise of the Secular Modernists" covers 1918-1939 CE (1336-1357 AH) shows the setup of what we see as the current Islamic world and highlights people like Jinnah and Saud. "The Crisis of Modernity" 1939-1966 CE(357-1385 AH) covers the rise of Nasser and the conflicts with the Israelis. "The Tide Turns" 1950-2001 CE (1369-1421 AH)-finishes off into our modern era with the rise of Iran, the various drubbings of the Muslim nations at the hands of Israel and finally the Taliban's rise in Afgahnistan. A masterful analysis of history from the Islamic perspective. It is very balanced and fair. It shows the various wrong done to the Muslims, as well as the grievous self-inflicted wounds caused by those who currently speak in the name of Islam. This book pulls no punches and shows both sides very fairly. As I often say there are no "good guys" on either side, just people seeking power and control. If you have ever wanted to see a different perspective then this book is for you. A superb summation of the Islamic interpretation of historial events. Well done!

  23. 5 out of 5

    withdrawn

    If you're into popular histories...If you don't mind having numerous historical errors in your histories...If you don't really have a solid historical background... read this book. I'm sure something of what I read is useful. I'll just have to find out what. Looking at the high praise coming from others for this book, I can only feel my sense of alienation deepen. I shall cleanse my palette by reading some Charles Taylor If you're into popular histories...If you don't mind having numerous historical errors in your histories...If you don't really have a solid historical background... read this book. I'm sure something of what I read is useful. I'll just have to find out what. Looking at the high praise coming from others for this book, I can only feel my sense of alienation deepen. I shall cleanse my palette by reading some Charles Taylor

  24. 5 out of 5

    Aaliyah

    It took me over a month but I FINALLY finished Tamim Ansary's fantastic global history, Destiny Disrupted. It is undoubtedly a 5/5 read for me. I haven't read much history outside of the western canon so Ansary's simple, accessible and pleasant writing style was perfect for someone with little knowledge of such a vast and complicated history. • If you are at all interested in reading about the rise and fall of the Muslim world from the 7th century to the 21st, I wholeheartedly recommend Destiny Di It took me over a month but I FINALLY finished Tamim Ansary's fantastic global history, Destiny Disrupted. It is undoubtedly a 5/5 read for me. I haven't read much history outside of the western canon so Ansary's simple, accessible and pleasant writing style was perfect for someone with little knowledge of such a vast and complicated history. • If you are at all interested in reading about the rise and fall of the Muslim world from the 7th century to the 21st, I wholeheartedly recommend Destiny Disrupted. If you'd like a little more detail on the book, check out the review on my blog. The link is in my bio!

  25. 5 out of 5

    Siria

    Destiny Disrupted is a lively, engaging introduction to world history from the perspective of the 'Middle World'—Western and Central Asia, the birthplace of Islam. It's not an academic work or a textbook, and covering such a vast swathe of history in about 400 pages means that Ansary inevitably has to gloss over some details. Yet he still manages to impressively synthesise a lot of material here into a narrative which gives the reader a sense of the broad arc of history from a Muslim/non-Western Destiny Disrupted is a lively, engaging introduction to world history from the perspective of the 'Middle World'—Western and Central Asia, the birthplace of Islam. It's not an academic work or a textbook, and covering such a vast swathe of history in about 400 pages means that Ansary inevitably has to gloss over some details. Yet he still manages to impressively synthesise a lot of material here into a narrative which gives the reader a sense of the broad arc of history from a Muslim/non-Western point of view. I will admit that before reading this I knew shamefully little about the process of European colonialism/cultural hegemony in Western and Central Asia from the 17th through to the twentieth centuries; what I read here was a real eye opener. Ansary couples all of this with some insightful analysis as to the differences in perception/discourse which at present prevent many Westerners and Muslims from being able to engage in productive dialogue. Ansary's style is conversational and accessible, though he never dumbs down his content or talks down to the reader. Highly recommended as an introduction to the history of the Muslim—and the wider—world.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Khairul Hezry

    In this compact volume encompassing roughly 1400 years of history, Tamim Ansary explains to us in layman's terms what Islam stands for, its rise, slight decline and resurgence today. I'm Muslim and even I never really understood some things like the schism between Shi'a and Sunni and how a culture that produced so many pioneers in mathematics, astronomy, medicine and other sciences is seen today by some as backward and anti-knowledge. This book explains it all and explains in a very interesting, In this compact volume encompassing roughly 1400 years of history, Tamim Ansary explains to us in layman's terms what Islam stands for, its rise, slight decline and resurgence today. I'm Muslim and even I never really understood some things like the schism between Shi'a and Sunni and how a culture that produced so many pioneers in mathematics, astronomy, medicine and other sciences is seen today by some as backward and anti-knowledge. This book explains it all and explains in a very interesting, not too academic, way. A must read by all.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Michael Perkins

    Best one-volume history of Islam I have found. The author is a Muslim, born in Afghanistan, and is a recognized expert on the history of Islam. This is a sympathetic treatment and thoroughly honest one that includes the origins of Jihad and Sharia Law, as part of his larger narrative. Recommended by Dave Eggers among others.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Alice

    This should be mandatory reading for anyone, anywhere. Wish I could meet Tamim Ansary and thank him in person for writing this.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Nadienne Greysorrow

    You must read this book! I'm not kidding. Anyone living in the Western World who has any kind of interest in how we, as a world community, can move forward together, must read this book. As a student of world history (amongst so many other things), I am often curious as to how the way the world has unfolded is viewed by peoples throughout the world. After all, the axiom, "history is written by the victorious," far too often colors what we ourselves come across on a daily basis as we are woven int You must read this book! I'm not kidding. Anyone living in the Western World who has any kind of interest in how we, as a world community, can move forward together, must read this book. As a student of world history (amongst so many other things), I am often curious as to how the way the world has unfolded is viewed by peoples throughout the world. After all, the axiom, "history is written by the victorious," far too often colors what we ourselves come across on a daily basis as we are woven into the narrative of the world. To see that such seminal events as the Crusades are looked at as minor events of no real consequence can be a real eye-opener into one's sense of, perhaps over-inflated, self importance. There is no one "true way" that the world should be. Every one, every culture, every region, every group, every person, needs to find what way best suits their own needs, wants, desires, and direction, and be the best at that that they can be. And it is up to all of us to enable each culture, group, etc., to be what it wants, just as they need to enable us to be what we want. Are there going to be clashes and conflicts? Yes, of course. Are there going to be disagreements? You bet. Are we ever going to all agree? No, never. But, if we respect one another. Understand one another. Allow one another to be. Then, perhaps, we can each move forward with minimal friction and learn how to coexist. The imposition of "my way is the best way" has been, and seemingly will continue to be, the greatest bane of humanity's existence. It's also always somewhat depressing to read world history and see how awful things have been or how awful things turned out because a very small few desired to exploit the hell out of a large group for nothing more than immediate profit, not ever thinking about how this will affect the world tomorrow. Read this book!

  30. 4 out of 5

    Elyse

    Before reading this book, the only Muslims from early history I could name were Mohammed himself and Suleiman the Magnificent (Richard the Lionheart's nemesis). The author, Tamin Ansary, is Afghan-American and describes the important Muslim leaders and political movements through the centuries. I drew a blank on most of them. This book is for the casual American/Western reader who finds themselves in the same boat as me. I think of that Disney song "It's a Small World After All" and the notion th Before reading this book, the only Muslims from early history I could name were Mohammed himself and Suleiman the Magnificent (Richard the Lionheart's nemesis). The author, Tamin Ansary, is Afghan-American and describes the important Muslim leaders and political movements through the centuries. I drew a blank on most of them. This book is for the casual American/Western reader who finds themselves in the same boat as me. I think of that Disney song "It's a Small World After All" and the notion that we all are basically the same. That may not be true except for basics like food and shelter. Secular modern democracies may never succeed in the Middle East. The author suggests that western Evangelical Christians may be the closest in political thought to conservative Muslim nations; both groups think religion should be involved in national government. It remains to be seen how this all plays out. I should probably hold on to this book for future reference.

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