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Justin Marozzi’s latest book, published by Allen Lane in the UK and Pegasus in the US, is Islamic Empires: Fifteen Cities That Define a Civilization.

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, while Europe cowered feebly at the margins. 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, in which nothing was off limits.

Islamic Empires is a history of this rich and diverse civilization told through its greatest cities over the fifteen centuries of Islam, from its earliest beginnings 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.


“An outstanding history of Islam. Excellent, authoritative and illuminating… 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 Francopan, The Sunday Times]
“It is refreshing to read a book on Islam by someone who combines profound erudition with emotional intelligence and empathy. Marozzi is a historian, traveller, journalist and Arabic speaker who spent most of his professional life in the Muslim world. Yet he wears his learning lightly. His writing style is lively, limpid and graceful and it enables him to turn a vast amount of material into a continuously readable narrative. He uses the full panoply of sources — archives, histories, biographies, travelogues, letters, maps, pictures and photographs — to illuminating effect. Written records are interspersed with interviews with the living and personal impressions of people and places.” 
[Avi Shlaim, Financial Times]
“The approach is perfect [and] the balance between telling detail and telling the 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… An epic in 15 acts.”

[Tim Mackintosh-Smith, The Evening Standard]

“Superbly crafted… Marozzi has constructed a brilliant narrative by stringing together a necklace of tales from 15 extraordinary cities, some of which endure to this day as precious gemstones of civilisation, while others have imploded and exploded in the murderous fireworks of civil strife”.

[Barnaby Rogerson, History Today]
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.”
[A S H Smyth, Geographical Magazine]
“Deeply engaging and fascinating.. This is… a history of the Islamic world and its civilisation – not a systematic, joined-up one, which would probably turn out too much like a giant encyclopedia article, but an episodic, impressionistic one that nevertheless manages to deal with almost every important Islamic imperial power at some stage or other.” 
[Noel Malcolm, Sunday Telegraph]
“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]
“Violent conquest and louche hedonism in a wide-eyed glorification of the Islamic golden age”
[Sameer Rahim, The Guardian]
“Magnificence and ruination go hand in hand in this vivid tale.”
[Richard Spencer, The Times]
“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, he … vividly recounts the dynasties that made them centres of art, commerce, science and spirituality.”
[New Statesman]