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.