Middle Eastern History

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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The Nile

June 22, 2014

In The Nile:A Journey Downriver Through Egypt’s Past and Present, popular Egyptologist Toby Wilkinson leads the reader on a historical travelogue that moves from Aswan, home of the river’s First Cataract, to Cairo’s Gezira Island, from Paleolithic rock drawings to the Arab Spring. The voyage that shapes The Nile is not simply metaphorical. Wilkinson floats […]

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The Crusades From Another Perspective

April 11, 2014

Recently I’ve been reading Sharan Newman’s Defending The City of God: A Medieval Queen, The First Crusade And The Quest for Peace In Jerusalem. It was a perfect read for March, which was Women’s History Month.* Newman tells the story of a historical figure who was completely new to me. Melisende (1105-1161) was the first […]

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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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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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From The Ruins of Empire

October 11, 2012

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.) It should be no surprise that Pankaj Mishra’s latest book caught my eye. In From the Ruins of Empire: The Intellectuals Who […]

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Ibn Who?

October 9, 2012

If you spend any time studying history in a serious way–whether in school and/or as a dedicated history nerd–you end up with a list in your head of Great Historians of the Past: Herodotus*, Thucydides, Tacitus, the Venerable Bede, Gibbon, Macaulay, Prescott. Even after their historical works were revised or even rejected by later scholars**, […]

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Alhazen: The First True Scientist?

September 19, 2012

Islamic scholar Abu Ali al-Hassan Ibn al-Haytham (ca. 965-1041), known in the West as Alhazen, began his career as just another Islamic polymath. He soon got himself in trouble with the ruler of Cairo by boasting that he could regulate the flow of the Nile with a series of dams and dikes. At first glance, […]

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