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

4.02  ·  Rating details ·  7,520 Ratings  ·  464 Reviews
No religion in the modern world is as feared and misunderstood as Islam. It haunts the popular imagination as an extreme faith that promotes terrorism, authoritarian government, female oppression, and civil war. In a vital revision of this narrow view of Islam and a distillation of years of thinking and writing about the subject, Karen Armstrong’s short history demonstrate ...more
Paperback, 230 pages
Published August 6th 2002 by Modern Library (first published January 1st 2000)
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Riku Sayuj
Armstrong tends to view all of history through the prism of the specific conflicts of our day -- to be accurate: from a vantage point situated near the Arab-Israeli Conflict. That is helpful, but also distorting, occasionally. Not a good book to learn about Islamic history, but useful as a corrective read for those already familiar. It gets quite tiring to be repeatedly referred back, even if with every justification, to the crusades and to the colonial harassments when referring to the west, an ...more
Feb 12, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 26, 2009 rated it it was ok
Shelves: history
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
Apr 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Sep 23, 2011 rated it did not like it
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
Osman Ali

"الست دي مسلمة حتى لو معترفتش بكده"

الجملة دي كانت بتنط في عقلي كلما انتقلت من صفحة لأخرى ومن فصل لأخر في هذا الكتاب

الكتاب وقع تحت يدي مصادفة اثناء بحثي على طاولة كتب قديمة في جناح سور الازبكية بمعرض مكتبة الاسكندرية الدولي للكتاب وسبحان الله فلو كنت أبحث عنه في المكتبات ما وجدته والكتاب موجه في الاساس للقارئ الغربي الذي لايعلم عن الاسلام سوى هراء اعلام الاسلاموفوبيا

الكتاب يبدأ باستعراض موجز جدا مصحوب بالتواريخ الميلادية لتاريخ الاسلام بدءا من بعثة
Oct 20, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: islam, religion, politics
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
Apr 07, 2008 rated it liked it

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
Shawn Thrasher
Oct 24, 2013 rated it it was ok
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
Jan 15, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Dec 15, 2007 rated it really liked it
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

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
Becky Hintz
Jan 25, 2015 rated it it was ok
Should be titled "Islam: A Short History, and Why All Religion is Bunk Anyway." Armstrong does a decent job of tracing the history of Muslim political movements, but gives short shrift to the actual beliefs driving these movements. Some of what she says simply defies belief, such as her insistence that Muslim Fundamentalism is less prevalent and less threatening than the fundamentalism of virtually every other religion. She writes with the clear objective of promoting interfaith dialogue by insi ...more
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
Mar 25, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
This might better be subtitled "A Short Defense" rather than "A Short History", as Armstrong is mainly writing to address common Western prejudices against Islam (and I would have appreciated her disclosing this, rather than disguising her book as a history). The section on Muhammed is particularly painful in its overly apologetic tones, as Armstrong is obviously minimizing the less savory parts of history (the massacre of the Jewish Qurayzah for example is explained away as a normal feature of ...more
Jul 27, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Apr 08, 2015 rated it did not like it
Mediocre writing and it is highlights some of the important historical events in Islam. However, the author is either too rosy-eyed, afraid of being labeled an Islamophobe or literally afraid of ending up like Charlie Hebdo, Isioma Daniel or Theo Van Gogh to narrate the negative aspects of the history of Islam such as the religiously-justified slave trade, imperialism, colonialism, slavery and cultural genocide. The author is a biased apologist for Christianity and Islam; although it's good to h ...more
Sep 20, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: samizdat
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.
Kevin Bensema
Apr 29, 2013 rated it it was ok
The downfall of what could be an otherwise good history of Islam is Karen Armstrong's attempt to whitewash history. She repeatedly distorts history and makes apology for Muslim violence throughout the centuries, while blaming Christianity (no stranger to violence) for introducing violence to Islam.

But first, the good: With a few minor exceptions, the first two-thirds of the book is a good history of the spread of Islam, and a reasonably engaging read. Some other reviews have criticized the reada
Simon Hollway
Mar 19, 2015 rated it it was ok
A fine start when describing the emergence of Islam and the Prophet and the development of the religious movement. Then it becomes rather choppy during the crusades (chop chop) before disintegrating during the final third which, sadly, was the part I had originally picked up the book for - the conception of the modern muslim state. Armstrong gets ensnared in a cacophony of names, names, names and dates and battles until it all becomes a blur and falls apart. She's strong on the generic broad str ...more
Travis Hamilton
Apr 07, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Nov 16, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: islam, nonfiction
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
Sean Day
Mar 13, 2017 rated it did not like it
A terrible book that continually identifies the atrocities committed by this faith and then backpedals to defend the actions taken.
Jul 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
"Variety benefits the whole world."
(Page 158)

" Plato had argued that a well-ordered society needed doctrines which the masses believed to be divinely inspired." (Page 62)

"The modernisation of society involved social and intellectual change." (P: 122)

"Salvation didn't mean redemption from sin, but the creation of just society in which the individual could more easily make that existential surrender of his or her whole being that would bring them fulfilment." (P:134)

It is an interesting book from
Sep 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Ahmad Al Tukhaifi
Dec 17, 2015 rated it it was ok
I’ve had the audiobook for this for a while now and thought hey! the drive to uni is super long and this might help pass the time, and help pass the time it did.

Karen Armstrong is a good wrier.. a brilliant writer, in fact. Sadly that greatness of writing can’t be said to accuracy and fairness in reporting historical incidents and political matters.

As is the case with her other books, there are many figures and empires throughout islamic history and it is quite hard to follow who is who, but wit
Aug 16, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Bernard Batubara
Oct 16, 2015 rated it really liked it
just finished reading another book by my newly favorite author, karen armstrong. this one is a short but comprehensive history of islam, one of fast-growing religion in the world. from the beginning of muhammad saw's sadness upon seeing the moral degradation of wealthy arabs in 6th century, his struggle on building and strengthen the ummah through many attacks upon them, moslem leaders after muhammad saw died, the birth of syi'ah, the invasion of christianity army from west, the modernization an ...more
Nov 19, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Jatining Siti
Nov 17, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
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
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British author of numerous works on comparative religion.


Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name. See this thread for more information.
More about Karen Armstrong

Other books in the series

Modern Library Chronicles (1 - 10 of 34 books)
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  • Peoples and Empires: A Short History of European Migration, Exploration, and Conquest, from Greece to the Present
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  • The American Revolution: A History
  • Law in America: A Short History
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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.” 20 likes
“The Taliban’s discrimination against women is completely opposed to the practice of the Prophet and the conduct of the first ummah. The Taliban are typically fundamentalist, however, in their highly selective vision of religion (which reflects their narrow education in some of the madrasahs of Pakistan), which perverts the faith and turns it in the opposite direction of what was intended. Like all the major faiths, Muslim fundamentalists, in their struggle to survive, make religion a tool of oppression and even of violence.” 6 likes
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