© 2009 Tamim Ansary
What Ansary has achieved here is a captivating story of an empire rising in glory, stagnating, falling apart, and then struggling to find itself again. The last few chapters are on various Islamic peoples' attempts to come to grips with modernity -- needing it to catch up to the west, but disagreeing on which aspects to incorporate -- and display the kind of thoughtfulness that makes this work more valuable than just a historical survey. This is on display earlier, too, especially when writing on the role of Shi'ism, starting first as politics, taking on theological importance, and then molding Persian politics. One section, a European recap prior to beginning the industrialized portion of the book, does give me pause. He writes, for instance, that the Vikings took over England and thereafter became known as Normans. Technically the Normans did descend from Vikings, but they settled in France over a hundred years before their progeny ever entered England. In another instance, he attributes the split between Catholicism and Orthodoxy to being solely the result of Diocletian splitting the empire, and later describes Christianity as being essentially about the individual. Perhaps he's thinking of Objectivism, but I am tolerably sure Christianity involves a deity,
Aside from the chapter on Europe, Destiny is a wonderful piece of narrative history, informative and funny. Ansary sometimes sounds as if he is writing for cowboys, what with referring to people as "folks" and to disturbances as "ruckuses". It has an odd humor about it, like when he refers to the Mongolian treatment of a ruling family: they didn't want to shed royal blood, he writes, it wasn't their way. They wrapped the royals in curtains and them kicked them to death, instead. Moral crisis solved!
Although this slightly predates the Arabic spring and the rise of ISIS, both only affirm this book's relevance. For an insight into the middle east, it seems an unmatched introduction.
- On Saudi Arabia, Karen Elliot
- Ornament of the World; Vanished World, both on the Umayyads in Spain
- The Lost History of Christianity, Phillip Jenkins. Another history of the 'middle world'.
- What Went Wrong? ' The Crisis of Islam; Bernard Lewis