Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World through Islamic Eyes

by Tamim Ansary

Hardcover, 2009



Call number




PublicAffairs (2009), Hardcover, 416 pages


We in the West share a common narrative of world history. But our story largely omits a whole civilization whose citizens shared an entirely different narrative for a thousand years. Tamim Ansary tells the rich story of world history as it looks from that other perspective. With the evolution of the Muslim community at the center, his story moves from the lifetime of Mohammed through a succession of far-flung empires, to the struggles and ideological movements that have wracked the Muslim world in recent centuries, to the tangle of modern conflicts that culminated in the events of 9/11. He introduces the key people, events, ideas, legends, religious disputes, and turning points of world history from that other perspective, recounting not only what happened but how those events were interpreted and understood in that framework. He clarifies why these two great civilizations grew up oblivious to each other, what happened when they intersected, and how the Islamic world was affected by its slow recognition that Europe -- a place it long perceived as primitive -- had somehow hijacked destiny.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member stretch
Destiny Disrupted is not an academic history of the Islamic culture through the ages and Tamim Ansary doesn’t pretend to be to be Islamic Scholar. What Destiny Disrupted is, is a very readable collection of the core stories that make up the Islamic history from its earliest beginnings to right
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through September 11 attack and the subsequent wars. A narrative of world history that is so different from our own, but as complex and intricate as anything the west as has to offer. Any survey of world history would be incomplete without the Islamic perspective, and Ansary is able to give the Muslim people a context and explains the reasoning behind the shape of their culture without becoming distant and cold to the subject matter demanded from a scholarly work.

What Ansary argues isn’t the classic ‘clash of cultures’ that has been taught in the West dating back to the crusades, in fact for much of world history the west had so little to do with the middle world it would be hard to describe much of anything besides the 1st crusade and the current wars as a clash (at least from a wider view of World History). Instead Ansary presents a rather compelling thesis that Islamic history and Western history are two very different world histories trajectories that have only recently collided and are trying to work themselves out. Ansary doesn’t shy away from the uncomfortable implications of his thesis: "The argument between Christian and Muslim 'fundamentalists' comes down to: Is there only one God or is Jesus Christ our savior? Again, that's not a point-counterpoint; that's two people talking to themselves in separate rooms." The real disappoint with this book is that once he builds his argument to a final crescendo, he leaves it there with no satisfactory answer. An impossible task I realize and something that is going to have to play itself out on a larger stage.
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LibraryThing member CassandraStrand
For the non-Arab trying to understand the history of the Middle East I cannot think of a better place to start! The book itself is about 350 pages of actual reading (about 40 pages of the book are notes, bibliography, acknowledgements and index making the book 390 pages). It isn't exactly short but
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the history in it really is in condensed form. He covers the pre-Islamic Middle World, as he calls it, very briefly and then jumps right into the beginnings of Islam. Even though this text is highly condensed the author manages to give great details about very key figure and events. It's enough to give a reader a very sturdy framework upon which they can continue to build knowledge and fill in information later. Furthermore, he doesn't tell it as dry historical facts but gives a life to the narrative he's telling adding context to everything. He captures the very essensce of what people were feeling and thinking and how they percieved themselves and others. This is something that is often lacking in historical works. Most texts focus heavily on facts alone but fail to give full context in which to place the facts.

As a non-Arab Muslim I have done a lot of reading into historical works and trying to place events and people into timelines and places. But this was not the narrative I grew up with. In fact, most of these events and people were never even mentioned in any of the textbooks I ever read. If you received a western education chances are this will be true for you too. What's great about Ansary's approach is that he tells it in an easy to understand way relating occasionally to western events and times that help the reader place what they are reading. I would say this could easily be considered likened to an idiot's guide to the history of the Middle East.

If your already familiar with Middle Eastern history (maybe you've read books like A Concise History of the Middle East or something along those lines) you'll still get a lot out of this book and if you know nothing about Middle Eastern history this book will certainly give you a strong foundation.

Ansary says in his introduction that "Destiny Disrupted is neither a textbook nor a scholarly thesis. It's more like what I'd tell you if we met in a coffeehouse..." He refers to this work as the story arc of Middle Eastern/Islamic history and that's very much what it is. His writing is fun and accessible. It is a very enjoyable read. He makes some aspects of Islamic history and culture very easy to understand. For example the Sunni and Shi'a split which is something many people do not fully understand. Not only does he explain it in easy to understand terms but he helps fill in what else is happening to the key figures and the thoughts of the ummah at the time. He breaks down understanding things like the main difference between major Shia sects as well as how things like Wahabism came into being.

He brings the story right up into the present day ending with an afterword of a post 9/11 world. Anyone familiar with Middle Eastern drama films will find a similarity in the ending of the book as being an unresolved abrupt end. Well... I guess that's to be expected since the Islamic world and Islam in general are in a major state of flux and change right now. Nobody can say where things are going right now for sure but after reading this at least we can understand a little better how we got to where we currently are.
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LibraryThing member solla
It is very readable, and covers history in a manner which I enjoy, where the ideas of the time are treated along with the events. Although I was aware of a lot of the events, the book provides a cohesive view in which Europeans were not the central actors, but more a a blip on the edge until the
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last couple of centuries.
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LibraryThing member Unkletom
I cannot think of another book that I have ever read that has taught me as much about the world we live in. When we view objects with both eyes we can see them with more depth and dimensions. In the same manner Tamim Ansary's book presents another vantage point from which to view and examine world
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history and our understanding of it grows exponentially. As the title says, this is not a history of the Islamic World; it is a history of the entire world, as seem through the eyes of a Muslim. The causes and effects of such events as the Dark Ages, the Crusades, the Great Plague, the Industrial Revolution and the Colonial Age are presented in a stark contrast to what we were taught in Middle School.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. In these turbulent times, it behooves us to be able to understand what drives the thoughts and deeds of those many of us have chosen to consider our enemies.
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LibraryThing member peggykelsey
Mir Ansary's lighthearted prose and lively style make enjoyable reading of this complex topic. Through this alternate perspective not only do we gain an understanding that is critical to our comprehension of current events, but we also gain insight on how events were interpreted by people of that
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time. Ansary's evenhanded sympathy to all sides and his clear, concise depiction of events and their importance make this book invaluable to historical understanding.
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LibraryThing member gmicksmith
This is an important work to consider for an understanding of Islamist prejudices. As Ansary himself explains, he is propagandizing American textbook publishers to promote his biased view of Islamic history and he seeks to evangelize among impressionable and ignorant youth.
LibraryThing member annbury
This book is a treasure: a mind-opening look at history from an Islamic viewpoint that's also an engrossing read. I have read a lot of history, including a good deal on various Islamic cultures. Mr. Ansary's book, however, taught me more about the Islamic world and about its interface with our own
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culture than anything else I have read.

The author begins by telling us that his book is neither a thesis nor a scholarly work, and it is neither of these. Instead, it provides a broad overview of world history from an Islamic point of view -- structurally similar to the sort of world history students read in American colleges, but very different in its conclusions! Many of the events described will be familiar to readers of the standard "Western Civ" text. But they look very different in the perspective that Mr. Ansary presents. That difference goes all the way from the beginning of Islam to the current day, challenging underlying assumptions right and left, and shifting the cast of characters so that bit players in the Western narrative become central figures, while much of Western history moves to the sidelines.

For me, this is a very valuable experience: I learned a great deal, and I think I may understand current-day Islamic attitudes better than I did. Don't read this book if you are looking for a detailed and documented history of the Islamic world; as Mr. Ansary says, this is not a scholarly work. It is, however, a very wise and valuable one -- do read it if you want to know more about the world you live in.
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LibraryThing member Shrike58
A chatty and informative survey that had me hooked when Ansary first talked about meeting Arnold Toynbee as a boy and then flashes forward to 2000 and to when he was working on a world history textbook for kids in high school which had little to say about the Islamic world. At the time Ansary was
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prepared to conclude that maybe he was just a bit self-involved about wanting to include more of what was after all his own heritage; then 9/11 happened. To a certain degree this book is the result, as Ansary tries to explain the narrative paradigms that every Muslim takes for granted, before considering how the hardwired imperative to build a better self-contained society in the image of the first Muslim community tended to blind the Islamic world to the sweeping social changes coming out of the West, until these communities were unable to respond as equals.

This is all done with very little anger and with few illusions about the pain that mutual adaption will involve; Ansary displays little doubt about being justified in calling out the non-Muslin world for its ignorance, while at the same time observing that it's elements of the Islamic world who are going to have to rise above their self-contained understanding and embrace the wider reality, at least if they want to stop being ineffectual. The main exception is the blunt use of the term "holocaust" to describe the disaster that the Mongol conquest inflicted on the Islamic world.
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LibraryThing member Schmerguls
I found this book an easy-to-read account of the world as seen through Islamic eyes. The author has a colloquial style which reads smoothly and engagingly. He takes one through world history with a viewpoint very different from what I have encountered all my life, but much of what he says makes
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sense and i found the book enlightening, though one cannot help but bemoan the fact that so much of the Islamic view is less than helpful to a peaceful world.
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LibraryThing member Eagleduck86
While the book is useful for a better understanding of how history looks from the perspective of the Muslim world, Ansary repeatedly demonstrates a shallow understanding of Christianity.
LibraryThing member rivkat
What it says on the cover; puts a very different spin on narratives of rise and decline. Given the scope, it was a gallop, but I liked the emphasis on the ways in which Muslim understandings of the founding narratives affected how subsequent generations thought about politics, religion, and the
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divide or lack thereof between.
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LibraryThing member jmoncton
I'll be the first to admit that I don't really like to read non-fiction. Although I find the occasional story of an important event in history interesting, a whole book - 17 hours of dates and facts? I was pleasantly surprised when I picked up Destiny Disrupted. A book about human history from an
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Islamic viewpoint, Ansary relates this as a series of stories. He throws in humor, insight and ties many of the events to today's world - I found the book captivating. And I felt that I really learned quite a bit. The western version of history focuses so much on Europe and the Americas that many pivotal events mentioned in this book were completely unknown to me. Definitely an eye opener.

The author narrates the book himself. Although I don't think his narration is as rich as a professional reader, his accurate pronunciation of names and places enhanced the audio experience.
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LibraryThing member MarcusAverius
As an introduction to Islamic History, this book is a good read. It has provided me with a well-structured outlook on the periods of history that I would like to look into in more detail. Each section of the book provides a narrative of Islamic civilisation during a vital period in the overall
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history, which allows the reader to take their time in digesting the broad strokes of a vital civilisation.
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LibraryThing member annbury
A wonderful and essential read. Ansary is especially good on how the West and Islam each arrived where it is today, and the differences among them.
I am a 73 year-old white man of reasonable education in the Western canon, and most of what this book said was new to me.
LibraryThing member stillatim
A great idea, and comes as close to fulfilling the promise of the subtitle as anything I've read. Ansary is an easy read, and he's informative. The flaws in the book are what you'd expect: wild over-simplifications, or even just flat out errors. I can spot them when he's describing European
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history, and they made me trust him less overall. In his defense, he claims a fair degree of irony; in the intro, I believe, he announces that he's not interested in writing what happened, but only what is perceived to have happened. That's clearly not true, but it does give him an out. In any case, highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member pbjwelch
The single best book I've ever read on the subject. Simple, easy-to-understand. This book should be required reading for everyone over the age of 15.
LibraryThing member seabear
How provoking, and interesting. And although it's not news to me that Islam is the foundation of a civilization that, up until the Industrial Revolution, was basically as wide-ranging, successful, and peaceful as that of the Christian West, reading a book like this and then watching the western
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media is a reminder that apparently no else realises this.

Probably something along the lines of what is in this book should be a compulsory (and larger) part of every Westerner's education.
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LibraryThing member vpfluke
This is a pretty good broad history of Islam and the countries where Islam is dominant. It doesn't cover Islam in the Far East (particularly Indonesia and the Philippines). It covers the growth of Islam in considerable detail and shows the context of the various countries in the Middle East and
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relations with Europe.
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LibraryThing member Steve_Walker
Excellent Narrative History of Islam
LibraryThing member marshapetry
Well, OK. If you say that this is how Islam sees history, who am I to say otherwise. Interesting but not sustaining - got old. I suppose another religiously viewed history would sound equally weird to Islamic people.
LibraryThing member multiplexer
I came to Destiny Disrupted through the large number of positive reviews hoping to get a good sweep of Islamic history, especially Medieval Islamic History. The author admits to not being a professional historian in the introduction and it shows: he often puts himself into the story, his lens of
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focus on different parts of history is not even, he's often biased, and he drops and loses interest in large swaths of Islamic history in places not Persia. His section on the rise of the Umayyids in Spain is especially spotty.

The reason this book gets one star is the opening to the chapter on the Crusades and the Mongols. He starts off with a multi-page ranting chain of ignorance. According to the author, in 1100 AD the entire peninsula of Italy was still in smoking ruins overrun with Germanic barbarians (incorrect), no Europeans outside of Byzantium had made it to the East (incorrect, esp with Vikings), and the major advances in agriculture like crop rotation and the horse collar are "minor innovations of no note." No one bothered with Europe not because Byzantium was a huge walled city on a choke point armed with Greek Fire or that the Moors were beaten back by the Franks, but because there was "no one worth trading with."

I find I am fine with calling the Crusades what they are -- enormously ignorant campaigns of extreme hubris. I'm fine with the opinion that the Europeans were unwashed barbarians. But be very careful going into territory where ignorance on a subject shows through because after running into page after page of factually incorrect information, I could not reliably believe anything else I read in the book. It was invalidated.

Entertaining read but there are much better histories on the Middle East. Unless looking for an opinionated piece on the history of the world from one man's perspective, this one is a miss.
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LibraryThing member larryerick
There's a quote from award winning author, Dave Eggers, on the outside of the copy of this book that I read. "Incredibly illuminating... lucid...For a comprehensive-but-approachable way to look at world history through the lens of Islam, there's no better book." I can't guarantee that "there's no
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better book", but I can guarantee that this one's certainly as good as anyone would need. Eggers really pegs it. Can I add anything more, other than the obvious that Western Christians really need to read this? People who think they've already read too much about Muslims really need to read this. People who don't think they can trust anything written by an apparent "Arab" need to read this. The book is exceedingly well balanced in its depictions of both the Muslim or "Middle World" as the author calls it, and the Western world. As I commented on this author's more recent book on Afghanistan, I would love to take a college class with this guy. Perhaps the greatest strength of this book is the author's ability to (1) show how closely Islam is to Christianity in key respects, and yet, (2) show how different Islam is from Christianity in their individual versus community perspectives. While I would not recommend reading this book's concluding Afterword without reading the rest of the book before it, but in that Afterword, the author makes some very important points about Muslims and the Western response to them in this post 9/11 world. Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member skid0612
An absolute must read for anyone interested a measured look at world history. Provides a much needed view point from the 'middle world' and of the middle kingdoms that receive such short shrift in western history's. History through an Islamic lens and truly a revelation.


Northern California Book Awards (Winner — Non-Fiction — 2010)


Original publication date


Physical description

416 p.; 8.9 inches


1586486063 / 9781586486068
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