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  • Published: 20 October 2020
  • ISBN: 9780141981093
  • Imprint: Penguin Press
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 464
  • RRP: $24.99

Islamic Empires

Fifteen Cities that Define a Civilization




An epic history of Islam and the Middle East through the cities which best epitomized it

Islamic civilization was once the envy of the world. From a succession of glittering, cosmopolitan capitals, Islamic empires lorded it over the Middle East, North Africa, Central Asia and swathes of the Indian subcontinent. For centuries the caliphate was both ascendant on the battlefield and triumphant in the battle of ideas, its cities unrivalled powerhouses of artistic grandeur, commercial power, spiritual sanctity and forward-looking thinking.

Islamic Empires is a history of this rich and diverse civilization told through its greatest cities over fifteen centuries, from the beginnings of Islam in Mecca in the seventh century to the astonishing rise of Doha in the twenty-first.

It dwells on the most remarkable dynasties ever to lead the Muslim world - the Abbasids of Baghdad, the Umayyads of Damascus and Cordoba, the Merinids of Fez, the Ottomans of Istanbul, the Mughals of India and the Safavids of Isfahan - and some of the most charismatic leaders in Muslim history, from Saladin in Cairo and mighty Tamerlane of Samarkand to the poet-prince Babur in his mountain kingdom of Kabul and the irrepressible Maktoum dynasty of Dubai. It focuses on these fifteen cities at some of the defining moments in Islamic history: from the Prophet Mohammed receiving his divine revelations in Mecca and the First Crusade of 1099 to the conquest of Constantinople in 1453 and the phenomenal creation of the merchant republic of Beirut in the nineteenth century.

  • Published: 20 October 2020
  • ISBN: 9780141981093
  • Imprint: Penguin Press
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 464
  • RRP: $24.99

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Praise for Islamic Empires

Marozzi is an outstanding guide to the urban centres he expounds on, partly because of his deep understanding and love for the peoples and places he writes about. . . . The succession of delightful pen portraits of rulers, as well as writers, artists and scholars, makes for a riveting read. This is a fine book that helps recentre our understanding of the past by focusing on cities about which little is known in Europe, in spite of their enduring importance and the role they have played in history. It is a compelling and personal account by an author who knows, cares and has thought deeply about his subject matter. It is a new Hudud al-Alam, the famous 10th-century Persian geography book, for the 21st century - informing, revealing and delighting in some of the parts of the world that everyone should know about.

Peter Frankopan, The Sunday Times

The approach is perfect [and] the balance between telling detail and telling story is spot on. With its fine drawing and mass of minute detail, reading the book is more like poring over the framed miniatures in a manuscript: here a Moghul lolls by a pool, there a Timurid rampages across the page. The prose, too, is beautifully paced, sprightly but never tiring. And the city portraits build up into a panorama of Islamic civilisation as full as any history, and far more entertaining.

Tim Mackintosh-Smith, The Evening Standard

Deeply engaging and fascinating

Noel Malcolm, The Sunday Telegraph

Superbly crafted ... Marozzi knows the ground intimately [and] has constructed a brilliant narrative by stringing together a necklace of tales from 15 extraordinary cities.

Barnaby Rogerson, History Today

Marozzi's expertly crafted narrative ... captures the rich, varied and often complex nature of Islamic civilization by offering glimpses of not just its leaders and their institutions, but also its cultural shifts through history,

Arab News

A rich mix of historical detail, colourful description and first-hand insights. Marozzi's style mixes historical insight with the descriptive flow of a seasoned traveller.

Damien McElroy, The National

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

Richard Spencer, The Times

Islamic Empires is a seemingly boundless trove of intellectual, architectural, and actual treasures ... Marozzi writes colourful, narrative history of the finest kind: pacey, crimson, and with all the references left until the end.

Geographical Magazine

In telling the stories of 15 of the great Islamic cities, from Mecca in the seventh century via Samarkand in the 14th to Doha in the 21st, [Marozzi] ... vividly recounts the dynasties that made them centres of art, commerce, science and spirituality.

New Statesman

This impressively clever, careful, and often beautiful book is the best sort of journey. . . Our guide is never predictable, continually fascinating, and his elegant writing makes for a very comfortable ride.

Jason Burke, The Spectator

It is refreshing to read a book on Islam by someone who combines profound erudition with emotional intelligence and empathy. . . . A continuously readable narrative . . . For each of the cities included there is a well-rounded chapter, with an illuminating history, a perceptive analysis of personalities and politics, and a fair-minded assessment of its intellectual, artistic and architectural achievements.

Avi Shlaim, The Financial Times

This is a complex yet accessible book that manages, in a gentle way, to address the prejudiced misconceptions of our world.

Gerard DeGroot, The Times Books of the Year

Justin Marozzi has ridden camels across the Sahara, written illuminating accounts of Herodotus, Tamerlane and Baghdad and advised the governments of Somalia, Libya and Iraq. In Islamic Empires, comprising 15 pocket portraits of cities of the Muslimworld at a crunch point in their history, he gives us a vivid, candid and entertaining immersion into a complex subject

Barnaby Rogerson, Country Life Books of the Year

Marozzi is an accomplished and ambitious writer... Islamic Empires [is] a sweeping, vibrant and often irrepressible account of the cities most emblematic of Islam... the charm of this book lies in the fact that it is so obviously the adult sublimation of a boyhood passion for the lands and history of Islam... Like an erudite magpie, he gathers material from every available source-primary texts, both religious and historical, as well as a profusion of secondary ones-and weaves it all together with dexterity.

Tunku Varadarajan, Wall Street Journal

Islamic Empires encompasses a breathtaking panorama of human, religious, military and architectural activity and achievement, as well as destruction and decline...The author's achievement is to mix travel writing, history and journalism, and present it in prose that is at once flowing, engaging, enlightening and incisive. His ability to transport us on a magic carpet from the depths of the 7th century to the present day and everywhere in between, and to capture key moments and shifts in culture and politics, threatens to render other more conventional approaches obsolete.

Alexander Stilwell, Catholic Herald

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