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Islam: A Short History (Modern Library Chronicles #2)

3.95 of 5 stars 3.95  ·  rating details  ·  4,451 ratings  ·  305 reviews
One of the world's foremost commentators on religious affairs on the history (and destiny) of the world's most misunderstood religion.
Paperback, 192 pages
Published December 1st 2001 by Phoenix
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Honestly, why do I keep picking up Karen Armstrong's books?
It's not that she is a bad writer, just an exceptionally boring one. When I listen to 'Islam: A Short History' I feel like I'm being hit by a verbal machine gun fire of names, dates and places. Unfortunately few of these fact 'bullets' remain in my brain.
She starts off innocently enough, giving an account Muhammad's life and then ....'BANG, BANG BANG!' she hits you with a blitzkrieg of boring, impersonal facts.
About three quarters of t
the book is written by an author who has complete grip on the subject. although she is not a muslim but she expressed herself in an absolute superb way and brought the correct perspective of islam. although in west the religion of islam is misunderstood as the religion of killings or it is being spread by sword etc but the history of islam tells us it is not so. the writer show up all the important events and depicts that no where in islam it is ever encouraged to kill other human beings if they ...more
A few years ago I took an undergrad course on the Ottoman Empire. There was a great deal of reading on the history of Islam so I was exposed to the material before reading this book.

Karen Armstrong has done a perfect job of telling the history of the religion and it's prophet without creating a huge off-putting and overly detailed account that would drive away many readers.

The history of Islam is exciting and probably alien to most Americans. Looking from the other direction, America has been un
Karen Armstrong is a former Roman Catholic nun who writes popular books about history of religion. Here she tells the conventional story of Islam from the revelations of Muhammad till the present day: the rises and falls of empires, of dynasties, of religious schools. I do not know the relevant history well enough to criticize Armstrong's handling of facts, though I was surprised to read that the importance of Battle of Poitiers is often exaggerated by Westerners. How could it be unimportant, if ...more
From Publishers Weekly
Readers seeking a quick but thoughtful introduction to Islam will want to peruse Armstrong's latest offering. In her hallmark stylish and accessible prose, the author of A History of God takes readers from the sixth-century days of the Prophet Muhammad to the present. Armstrong writes about the revelations Muhammad received, and explains that the Qur'an earned its name (which means recitation) because most of Muhammad's followers were illiterate and learned his teachings no

Armstrong's brief (circa 190 pages) history of Islam is necessary reading, but not particularly well written. Her account is based in the fact that there can be no separation of religious from political histories when it comes to Islam: for the Islamic notion of 'salvation' "does not consist in the redemption of an 'original sin' committed by Adam and the admittance to eternal life, but in the achievement of a society which puts into practice God's desires for the human race" (24).

A true history
This is a very important book. Required reading, regardless of the nature of your religious views, or whether they exist or not.

As a Muslim, I know most of the historical figures and events explored in this book, but with varying levels of familiarity and in a discontinuous manner. This book is excellent in formulating a relatively complete (albeit somewhat shallow) picture of Islamic history, stemming from the Rashidun Caliphate, to the Ummayyad, Abassid, and Ottoman medieval empires, to the st
Shawn Thrasher
A short history is right and sort of a shame. 1,404 years of history squashed into 222 pages (including index and two glossaries) - its possible to do, but the result isn't much fun. This is mostly a case of "just the facts, ma'm" with much of the personality and romance of Islam pretty much stripped out. It's well written, but dryly so - the "wet" of history lies in those personal stories. One of my biggest complaints about the book, however, was the tremendous amount of Arabic words, italicize ...more

A Non-Muslim's view of Islam...

Considering that this book is written by a Non-Muslim author about Islam, I found this book very interesting. Karen Armstrong has summed up the history of Islam in about 170 pages, which is an achievement on its own; however, I did feel that in parts the book presented a very garbbled up mess of the facts.

However, one thing is for sure, this book is uniquely thought-provoking. The muslims need to be creative and think of a solution for themselves. They need to fre
Islam is one of the most talked about and least understood subjects that has bearing on our foreign policy and security today. But Islam is so rich in history, theology, tradition, literature, and practices that it is a challenge to grasp it on a cursory level. Armstrong makes a valiant attempt to bring much of this to light in the space of fewer than 200 pages. She devotes much ink to the political traditions of Islam and their bearing on today's events. She does well at giving us food for thou ...more
Another samizdat read. The brevity proved itself frustrating as Ms. Armstrong cleaved succint defintions and proceeded while distinctions and details spasmed mutely in the wake.
I suppose I remain resentful as she is an ecumenical apologist. People turn to her for the best word, not the most informed nor incisive. She obliges with humility. I suppose that quality should be crucial to religion.
Travis Hamilton
A great book for an unbiased introduction to Islam and its history. The book gives the uninformed reader of Islam a great read from a nice objective perspective. The author seems to know what she is writing about and is a rather easy and interesting read. I was a bit skeptical trying to find an honest book on Islam with so many out there that are very biased one way or the other. This was a great intro into who the great man Mohammad was and his teachings. Like most religions, there are numerous ...more
Alison Dellit
Written before 9/11 and the better for it, this book is an understandable account of the history of Islam from the Prophet to the modern era, focused on the decisions and actions of Muslim political leaders and clerics. The fourth book on the topic I've read in the last couple of months, it admirably filled in gaps, particularly in regards to the gradual development of Shii Islam, and the Iranian state, and the growth of Sunni Islam to become the majority interpretation.
Armstrong's clear prefere
When I watch our pundits pontificate on affairs in the Middle East, I usually wind up pounding my forehead on the table: Things can't possibly be as simple as all that, and this "short history" of Islam proves that.

As usual, Armstrong packs a lot of information into a small package. This is a high altitude flight over 1,500 years of Islamic history so the reader shouldn't expect to become an expert in sufism (for example) but it drives home several points:

1. Islam is a far more complex phenomeno
I found this to be a really appealing and succinct history of a topic that I feel like I should already know, but which I am almost totally ignorant of. It's a short history, and I'm sure there's a lot more I could learn, but I thought Armstrong did the best job I've read so far of explaining the Shia/ Sunni thing, and also in later sections laid out the different strains and approaches to Islam that I can sort of see a bit more clearly what the competing modern strains are all about.

I don't thi
This is a fantastic history of islam. The author is a former nun and has written a lot of books about religious history. It was a bit dry at points, but moves through and highlights the important parts of islamic history brilliantly. Most muslims were opposed to 9/11 which was a wicked abuse of religous power. It is not part of their religion to attack countries that allow them to practice their religion peacefully or kill innocent people. The history of this religion was of tolerance for other ...more
Karen Armstrong, Islam: A Short History (New York: The Modern Library, 2002). Pp. 230. Paperback $15.95.

I was going through used bookstores in Omaha last week and I came across this book. It was a decent price, and I’ve been looking for a book about the history of the Middle East. I want to be better informed about the politics of the region, and this book appeared to fit the profile. In fact, the President will make a major announcement about military action in the Middle East later tonight. Th
Frank Terry
Truthfully, this book really caught me off guard. I've long really wanted to study Islam because I just didn't know almost a single thing about it.

After reading G. Willow Wilson's novel, Alif The Unseen, and that last book I just read about Napoleon's campaign into Egypt, this book was the perfect book to read next.

I've picked through Karen Armstrong's memoir, The Spiral Staircase, and I really, really, really like her and her work.

And since I haven't read a proper basic academic introduction
Will Waller
Reading Karen Armstrong’s book for a class on the history of Islam gave me a topical view of an intricate history. Armstrong is known for her many works on the histories of the world’s faiths so it is no surprise that she would try her hand at this one. I read the book in two large chunks, because of the assigned reading. This took away from reading the book as I assume many folks who made this book a New York Times best seller did. We read from the first half of Islam’s history, up until it’s c ...more
Menulis tentang sejarah Islam yang telah terukir selama belasan abad jelas bukan pekerjaan mudah. Itulah yang dilakukan oleh Karen Armstrong dalam bukunya, Islam: A Short History. Tidak seperti kalangan Orientalis (sarjana Barat yang mengkaji tentang masalah Islam) pada umumnya, Karen bisa dibilang sedikit dari sarjana Barat yang menulis tentang Islam secara "objektif". Ya, dengan bahasa yang sederhana dan mudah dipahami, dalam tulisannya kali ini Karen memang terlihat empatik terhadap umat Isla ...more
Safdar Sikandar
Except the history of earliest phase of Islam, this is great book to read as an introduction to Islamic history. Its short and well written as all books by Karen Armstrong are. At one place she states that 'the claim that Prophet Muhammad had been the last and greatest of the prophets is not made explicitly in the Quran' . But if you see 33:40 of Quran it is stated that Muhammad PBUH is the seal of the prophets. Apart from this and some other mistaken details , this book is worth reading.


Jatining Siti
Sebenarnya ini buku udah nangkring lama di rak, secara dulu belinya pas pameran buku and diskon gede-gedean. Tapi baru aja dibaca bener-bener. Ternyata ini buku bagus banget; ringkas, padat, dan jelas. Ditulis oleh seorang Islamolog yang mantan biarawati. Karen Armstrong memaparkan sejarah Islam dengan cukup obyektik dan terstruktur rapi. Bahasa yang mudah dicerna dan mengalir membuat pembaca sangat menikmati perjalanan agama yang dibawa Muhammad ini hingga akhirnya mendunia.

Selain pemaparan yan
What happened here? I've read other of Armstrong's work and have enjoyed and learned from them. But this one was a mess. I felt insulted and didn't get more than about 15% into it. It starts off trying so hard to defend negative aspects rather than presenting the facts and canon of Islam. She successfully highlighted and thus drew more attention to every wrong idea and propaganda against this religion. A lot of double standards ('we shouldn't hold them accountable to today's standards', etc.), d ...more
My first introduction to Islam. Personally, I enjoyed the fact Armstrong decided to take an apologetic perspective. I wanted to see the beauty and grandeur of Islam and this book provided just that. Armstrong introduces an array of names and places, many with arabic or hard-to-pronounce muslim names, that would seem daunting and deter the average reader. I do sympathize that many readers have a shorter attention span than people in the past used to, but I believe that reading this book 'slowly' ...more
Tony duncan
Haven't finished, but it is a quite revealing book. Interesting how having a religious figure that transformed the world being firmly in the historical era.
the key factor to me is that Mohammed brought forth a system of belief that was a distinct improvement to the social and cultural era that it was born in. the idea of this being some sort of revelation from God is rather implausible.
However since I am also reading "lost Christianity" it is maybe less crazy than what has happened with Christi
We read this book for a study during Lent. It was very well written and first published in 2000. An epilogue was added after September 11. Armstrong is an acclaimed religious studies expert and presents the history of Islam in an understandable way and gives insight into the politics of not only the Middle East, butIndia, Central Asia,etc. I learned so much and have a much better understanding of the Islam and the Quoran. I highly recommend this book.
Very easy read - I essentially read it in one sitting. I'm sure it leaves out some things but I think it gives an excellent overview of Islam in history. It gives a valuable perspective to world events that I think everyone should read. I am used to seeing things from a western perspective and this helped me understand the islamic perspective more, if only in a limited way. Great for me to have under my belt before traveling to the middle east.
This was an excellent read. Armstrong's views are objective and unbiased. For someone who had an extremely vague idea of what went on after the death of the prophet, this was exactly what I needed to read. It briefly covers the caliphates, the sunni shia discord, how Islam spread throughout most of the middle east, Asia and also to parts of Europe. The book discusses most diverse discourses and events that occurred throughout history till modern day - but it doesnt stray from whats one of the ob ...more
A very good book that gives a nice perspective on the sociological and political dynamics of Islam.

Also this book was written by Karen Armstrong (a monotheist and former nun) before 2001. So it is not a part of the torrent of crappy books on the subject that we saw after sept 11.

Much appreciated.
Highly recommend for anyone who wants to know more about Islam. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. It was very honest and unbiased and I truly appreciated that, especially having been written by a western author.

What I particularly liked about this book is that it inherently seeks to destroy western myths and stereotypes about Islam. The Prophet (pbuh) was a brilliant man to which every Muslim seeks to be like. He was the one, under the name of Allah and the Quran, who brought Muslims, part
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British author of numerous works on comparative religion.


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More about Karen Armstrong...
A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam The Spiral Staircase: My Climb Out of Darkness The Case for God The Battle for God: A History of Fundamentalism Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet

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“Religious ideas and practices take root not because they are promoted by forceful theologians, nor because they can be shown to have a sound historical or rational basis, but because they are found in practice to give the faithful a sense of sacred transcendence.” 15 likes
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