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 Europea place it long perceived as primitive and disorganizedhad somehow hijacked destiny.
Topics: Islam, The Middle East, Crusades, Politics, Philosophers, Informative, Ottoman Empire, Medieval Period, and Middle East
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The first thing that impressed me was history starts with Mesopotamia. For some reason, most books start Middle Eastern history with the birth of Islam. The Middle East was a mosh pit of different ethnic groups and the avoidance is understandable considering the complications. But the author does a wonderful job explaining all these migrations and gives them personality and attitude. This makes them easy to remember and enjoyable to read. For example the author states the “Assyrians acquired a nasty reputation in history as merciless tyrants”; the Chaldeans are those “who rebuilt Babylon and won lustrous place in history”; the Sassanid’s “erased the last traces of Hellenic influence”. Although some may balk at this assessment, one gets a sense of this 4000 year period in only thirty pages.
The second thing I liked about the book was this idea of telling history as a story. Most history books approach the subject as if it were a stack of facts. Mr. Ansary reminds us that history is a story with peaks and valleys. He does this by integrating social, political, military and biographical elements around a story arc. Granted details are missing and the author is biased, but after reading this book, one will have an outline of the Middle Eastern “story”. At least one version of it.
Although I enjoyed the book, there were wrenches in the obvious places. The book had a tendency to reference the West in a negative light. It's helpful to compare differences to other countries, but the constant digs at the West became annoying. Sometimes it was subtle, but I found myself rolling my eyes many times.
Even sub-Saharan Africa had Muslim converts now. Only Cathay and darkest Europe remained fully outside the realm. It seemed only a matter of time before Islam fulfilled its destiny and bathed even those regions with light. [P129]
The book is obviously biased toward the Islamic perspective, but it scapegoats thornier issues such as misogyny, slavery and violence. For me, this was the biggest problem with the book. When these issues came up, the book justified the behavior by point to similar examples in other civilizations. This reminded me of children, who justify their bad behavior by pointing out the bad deeds of others. As the quotes below show, the author wasn't always creative either.
Clearly, these women were not shut out of public life, public recognition, and public consequence. The practice of relegating women to an unseen private realm derived, it seems, from Byzantine and Sassanid practices. [P127]
Anxiety about change and a longing for stability tend to deepen traditional and familiar patterns of society. In the Muslim world, these included patriarchal patterns inherent not just in Arabic tribal life but also in pre-Islamic Byzantine and Sassanid societies. [P128]
The book has a tendency to sugar-coat history to fit its agenda. Middle Eastern history is terribly complicated and many books get bogged down with religion and border changes. The book makes this easier by only highlighting major turning points and only including a few personalities. It's also written on a high-school reading level, so it’s approachable for most readers. I didn't always agree, but the author ideas were worth my time.more