This book tells the story of Al-Andalus from the first penetration of Muslims in the 8th century til the final exile roughly 800 years later. In recent years, for modern reasons, Al-Andalus has been held up as a society of great religious tolerance that led to a great cultural flowering which was squelched when monomaniacal Christian kings re-conquered the Iberian peninsula and set everything back to the dark ages. I always felt this view was a little too rose-colored. This book comes from the same perspective and, in a neutral manner, looks at the whole picture, which is one of constant raiding and skirmishing and divisions and alliances within and between communities and cultures and sects. There was a great deal of realpolitik involved in the attitude of the leaders of one society toward others within it and without. Religiosity was often set aside, but not always. There was cruelty on both sides and magnanimity on both sides. Trust was provisional and short-lived everywhere. Equality was in short supply, especially as compared to slavery which was as endemic and vital to the economy of al-Andalus as the antebellum south of the United States.
The history is told in a straightforward chronological fashion. The emphasis is on the geopolitical, i.e., who was in charge of what territory at any given time, and how the boundaries changed as time went on, which was, of course, through military conflict, conquest and defeat. As it is the story of Al-Andalus, it is mainly told from the perspective of the Muslim rulers, with the Christians very much in the background until the 15th century.
My only negative response to the book is that it is a bit tedious to read. In its 400+ pages, there must be over 100 battles and over 200 rulers or pretenders. Every geopolitical development gets a couple of pages and then we move on to the next. It's a little repetitious, although I don't know how to tell it any other way in that amount of pages. If you've read any of John Julius Norwich's histories, say of Venice or Sicily, this is similar but a little drier. It's very non-academic and devoid of footnotes and endnotes, fbow. Also, for this Western reader, the author's fidelity to Arabic naming was a further obstacle, if you like to read fast, as I do; the Arabic rulers' names have a lot of similarity and I often had to slow down to be sure which of them the author was referring to at a given moment.
- Hardcover: 482 pages
- Publisher: Basic Books; 1 edition (1 May 2018)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0465055877
- ISBN-13: 978-0465055876
- Product Dimensions: 16.2 x 3.8 x 24.5 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 739 g
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- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 68,904 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)