Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms

November 7, 2014

In recent weeks, Ezidis, Druze, Mandaeans and other Middle Eastern religious minorities have appeared in the world’s headlines. For the most part, these groups, unfamiliar to most Westerners, have been no more than names attached to tragedies. Gerard Russell’s Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms: Journeys into the Disappearing Religions of the Middle East appears just in […]

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Infidel Kings and Unholy Warriors

September 27, 2014

If you’ve spent much time here in the Margins, you know that I’m fascinated by historical boundaries: the times and places where two cultures meet (peacefully or, more often, not) and change each other. One of my favorite examples of a historical boundary is Islamic Spain, where Dar al Islam and Christendom met in exciting […]

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Re-Run: If You Only Read One Book On Islamic History…

February 25, 2014

Last year I discovered the best general book on Islamic history I’ve ever read:  Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes by Tanim Ansary.  I underlined as I read.  I annotated.  I put little Post-It tabs at critical points, the durable ones so I could go back to key arguments in the […]

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Re-Run: Muslim Spain–The Soundtrack

February 19, 2014

The perversity of the universe being what it is, the final stages of renovating our new-old house and finishing my book proposal have collided.  Instead of driving myself mad trying to write blog posts or letting History in the Margins go blank for a few weeks, I decided to run some of my favorite posts […]

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From The Ruins of Empire–Revisited

August 27, 2013

If you’ve been following along for a while, you’ve probably figured out that I like books that look at familiar history from another point of view. (For example, here, and here, and here.)  Pankaj Mishra’s From the Ruins of Empire: The Intellectuals Who Remade Asia,  is an excellent example.* Misra begins with the statement that […]

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Review: The Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan, 1839-42

May 9, 2013

I’ve written  on this blog before about the first British invasion of Afghanistan, and the disasters that followed.  In fact, I’ve written about it more than once.  It’s a story that never fails to fascinate me, but when I received William Dalyrmple’s The Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan, 1839-42 to review I […]

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Book-hoarding, 10th Century Style

April 25, 2013

Anyone who’s spent a significant amount of time with me in recent months, whether in real life or in some virtual space, has probably heard me bemoan the state of my office bookshelves.  As the photo above attests, they overflow. Loaded two deep and stacked rather than shelved, there is still not enough room. Worse, […]

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The Art of the Book

April 21, 2013

The Islamic world created illuminated manuscripts that rivaled anything that came out of a medieval monastery: Qu’rans, historical chronicles, stories of the prophets, the deeds of kings, lyric poetry, heroic epics, philosophy, scientific treatises, and romantic tales. Caliphs, courtiers, and wealthy merchants commissioned manuscripts from the ninth century until well into the seventeenth century, when […]

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You pays your money, you takes your choice….

January 17, 2013

Right now I’m reading a Big Fat History Book dealing with tenth century Europe.* In recent years I’ve spent a lot of time circling the boundaries of medieval Europe: the Carolingian Renaissance, Irish monks, Viking raiders, Pope Sylvester II, Muslim Spain, Muslim Sicily, the Islamic world in general. My current reading is making it clear […]

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An Islamic Map for a Christian King

January 10, 2013

  Most maps made in twelfth century Europe were based on tradition and myth rather than scientific information. The only practical maps were mariners’ charts that showed coastlines, ports of call, shallows and places to take on provisions and water. Roger II, the Christian king of Sicily, wanted a map of the known world that […]

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