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The Caliph's Splendor: Islam and the West in the Golden Age of Baghdad

3.50  ·  Rating Details  ·  90 Ratings  ·  26 Reviews
The story of Harun al-Rashid, the celebrated caliph from The Thousand and One Nights, who ruled the Islamic world when its power was at a peak in the late eighth and early ninth centuries and when the Arab world influenced Western Christian culture.

The Caliph’s Splendor is a revelation: a history of a civilization we barely know that had a profound effect on our own cultur
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published August 14th 2012 by Simon & Schuster
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(showing 1-30 of 385)
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Jenny T
Sep 13, 2012 Jenny T rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, read-in-2012
My introduction to the Caliph Harun al-Rashid was in a fictional context, so it was fascinating to read about the man himself and what life was like in Baghdad in the 700s. I learned a LOT about the origins and growth of Islam, but the highlight for me was the culture -- the art, architecture, food, and scholarship. And I now have an irresistible urge to visit Arab-influenced Spain.

Well-researched and clearly written, though it's always hard to read about the end of an era.
Mar 13, 2013 Danesh rated it really liked it
Benson Bobrick’s The Caliph’s Splendor takes us on a journey from the times of the Rashidun (rightly guided) Caliphs (representatives) to the end times of the Abbasid and Umayyad dynasties. It is a fairly unbiased view covering their rise and fall. The book focuses a great deal on the cities of the time: Baghdad, Cordoba, Sicily and others; specifically, the architecture of the buildings, the Hamams (public baths) and overall city planning. There is an entire chapter devoted to Baghdad alone.

Stitches Not Glue
May 22, 2014 Stitches Not Glue rated it really liked it
An interesting read that takes us through a period of time not discussed often enough with an objective lens. And what can be discussed with an objective lens? History tends to be written from a position of privilege, and this is no exception.

However, despite what is written coming from a place of those who have, a discerning historian can also notice what ISN'T written as a place to look for more information to add to the story.

What you think of this book has everything to do with what you are
Sep 24, 2015 Nathik rated it liked it
Shelves: 2014, non-fiction
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jun 29, 2013 Adam rated it it was amazing
The Caliph’s Splendor : a history of a civilization that has a profound effect on our own culture.

While the West declined following the collapse of the Roman Empire, a new Arab civilization arose to the east, reaching an early peak in Baghdad under the caliph Harun al-Rashid. Harun is the legendary caliph of The Thousand and One Nights, but his actual court was nearly as magnificent as the fictional one. In The Caliph’s Splendor, Benson Bobrick eloquently tells the little-known and remarkable st
Apr 30, 2014 evelyn rated it it was amazing
Really liked this history of an empire i never learned about in my 16+ years of mostly western european and american history. It is about the the years from about 650 to 800, altho the empire went on to about 12 00. Dark ages in europe, while baghdad was the center of an incredible culture of science, art, literature, medicin and good governance. It is an extremely interesting history that is so well described and entertainingly wrirren.
Swety Retna
May 12, 2013 Swety Retna rated it liked it
I think, the detail in this book is amazing, but I find something strange when I reading the story. I wonder if it's about Islam or Arabic. I, myself, haven't read many verses of this history yet, so I can't judge the story whether it's accurate or not as the truth. Because as I know about Islam, it's forbid to kill another muslim, if there is no right reason in Islam. But I read, Harun killed many people who are muslims and he killed them even in the very cruel way. I know that Khalifah Utsman ...more
Jul 05, 2016 Saba rated it liked it
Before reading it to the last page, I thought it's a book on Baghdad's history - from its establishment to golden age to finally its decline - as the ultimate fate of the world's legacy that we inherit as human beings. However, being a Muslim (perhaps), I found its chapters a little shrewd than uncanny. Though I loved (as I always do) reading the magnificent achievements of Islam in the last chapter TURBAN AND COWL and how West owes to Muslims (Islam), but as he puts all the details in a rather ...more
Margaret Sankey
Nov 29, 2012 Margaret Sankey rated it liked it
Nothing really new here, but a popular rendering of the height of the Abbasid Caliphate in Baghdad, with emphasis on the intersection of Harun al-Raschid with the rise of the Emperor Charlemagne in the west and the struggles of the Empress Irene in Constantinople. Bobrick simplifies elaborate genealogy and court culture without losing the important parts, and gets across how advanced the caliphate was in its administration, arts and sciences, especially in contrast to the bumptious court at Aach ...more
Jul 31, 2013 Lisa rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, history
Quick, light introduction to an area of history too many in the West are ignorant about. While there is quite a bit to cover, the book felt a bit disjointed and out of focus, and the repeated references to the Arabian Nights wore thin. It is at its strongest when it focuses on the reign of Harun al-Rashid, but falters when it tries to spiral wider and take in Byzantium and Western Europe. The treatment of Andalusia is also just a quick dip at the trot, so anyone interested specifically in that a ...more
Sep 04, 2014 Nikki rated it really liked it
It took me a while to finish this one but let that be no reflection on the text. Merely a reflection on my ability to misplace it :)

Bobrick has made this history thoroughly readable. It's informative, well-stocked with reminders of who this enormous cast of characters is (which makes it more accessible not only for those of us with multiple books on the go, but also for anyone who is less familiar with non-Caucasian names), and otherwise extremely accessible in general. I think Bobrick's text co
Oct 19, 2014 Steve rated it liked it
Well-written and with much interesting information, but a little tighter focus would have helped, as it seems awfully thin in places.
Mar 22, 2015 Nicholas rated it liked it
Shelves: islamic
Not bad, but no new scholarship.
Lauren Albert
Nov 02, 2012 Lauren Albert rated it really liked it
I thought this was an interesting and well-written history. I sometimes found the jumps (between Byzantine civilization and others, for example) confusing. My one other criticism was that sometimes I found the author's tone to be one of "my dad can beat up your dad." While it is understandable to want to rectify the west's frequent denigration of Islamic and Arabic civilization, a simple highlighting of its beauties and intellectual strengths would be sufficient without a "nah nah." :-)
May 16, 2014 Rock rated it it was ok
Disappointing after reading the masterful Labyrinths of Iron, but this book is a competent & mostly fun history of the golden age of Islam. It would be quite good if he could keep up the storytale feel of some of the most narrative chapters, but unfortunately a fair amount of chapters are dry lists of what happened and who did it. Not sure if that is a failing of the author or the record - it seems a lot of the juicier stuff comes from ancient historians.
Feb 22, 2014 Adityas rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Menceritakan perjalan Kekhalifahan Islam dan sumbangsihnya untuk dunia.
Apr 29, 2013 Fitria rated it liked it
This book quite good. The author try to be as neutral as possible in explaining eastern and western dynasty. The author explained the history of Khalifah Harun Ar Rasyid and his dynasty ( including enemies).
In the end prolog, Benson Brobbick wrote about how eastern civilization effect the modern world.
It's worth to read book.
But I do not agree (in most part the characterization of Khalifah) which were written by assumption.
Ivan Granger
Feb 11, 2013 Ivan Granger rated it liked it
Shelves: history
An enjoyable read, and a good quick survey of Baghdad in its early Golden Age. I felt some frustration reading The Caliph's Splendor, however. I'm not quite certain what I felt it was missing, perhaps not enough depth or some unique insight. So much going on culturally and historically, and I came away from the book thinking it was just "nice." Still, I'd recommend the book.
Cynthia Karl
Jan 13, 2013 Cynthia Karl rated it liked it
Not an exceptional book but an interesting read. Good descriptions of the Baghdad court and intrigues. It does a good job of discussing the geopolitical configuration of Europe during this time period, including the spread of Islam to Spain and the court of Charlemagne. Who knew that Charlemagne had plans to marry the Byzantine Empress, but he died before that happened.
Eileen Morey
Jan 21, 2013 Eileen Morey rated it liked it
Difficult to get into, but eventually did. Found the historical accounting surprising, given my extremely limited knowledge of history. As a good book should, this opened my eyes to the Islamic culture and helped me see a new perspective. Good discussion with our book group too.
Apr 29, 2013 Bjornv rated it it was ok
I love non-fiction and wanted to get into this, but for me, there wasn't enough of a narrative arc. Too many details without a bonding thread.
Dharma Putra
Sep 06, 2013 Dharma Putra rated it liked it
Kadang di tengah bacaan, muncul pertanyaan: Masa sih?, benarkah demikian?

Mungkin,karena memang pengetahuan saya yang masih dangkal. #carilagi
May 13, 2014 Scott rated it it was amazing
Great overview without going to deep. I would use sections of this for classes.
Sep 29, 2013 Sarah rated it liked it
Shelves: 2013
A little glad I had already read "Arabian Nights" because he references it pretty often.
Feb 10, 2013 Sophia rated it did not like it
Orientalism is alive and well, available at your nearest bookstore.
Harits Fadhillah
Aug 21, 2014 Harits Fadhillah rated it did not like it
too subjective.
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Benson Bobrick earned his doctorate from Columbia University and is the author of several critically acclaimed works. In 2002, he received the Literature Award of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. He and his wife, Hilary, live in Vermont.
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