Justin Marozzi’s Baghdad: City of Peace, City of Blood – A History in Thirteen Centuries is a fascinating, intense, at times graphic, sad, and yet hopeful portrait of an ancient city that is very much in the post-modern world’s eye.
To be published by Da Capo Press, it tells the story of Baghdad against the backdrop of history from its time as a progressive and elegant city in the forefront of Islamic learning and culture beginning in the 8th century (762 AD) through the current state of affairs in post-Saddam Iraq. As it does, the reader is drawn into the never ending cycle of peace and blood – spilled in the battle against the Mongols, the Persians, the Turks, the British, and the Americans; but also, and this is central to the story of Baghdad, spilled in battle within itself and by that I mean, within the long list of rulers and their dynasties, as well as the very known enmity between Muslim, Jew, and Christian, and, most important within the Shia and Sunni split that is as active today as it has ever been.
This is not just a political or even religious history of the city though those two themes run through the book and are adequately addressed. This is a story of Baghdad and its people, its development and architecture, its expansive and expressive cultural periods which led to advancements in learning across the disciplines notably of math and science but also of literature, most notably poetry, which Marozzi points out, was central to court life for centuries. The result is a comprehensive look at Baghdad’s development as a key city in the Middle Eastern world.
As he tells Baghdad’s story, Marozzi becomes a defender of Baghdad and this is clear in both his wrenching telling of life in Baghdad under Saddam Hussein, the morass of post World War One and mid-twentieth century imperialism under British rule, and in the chaotic aftermath of post-Saddam Baghdad a decade ago. His assessments of these periods, and those who were in power during them, is pointed and strong because of the painful changes they brought to Baghdad and its people.
Overall, the result is an impressive and important work in revealing Baghdad’s past as a way of understanding its present. It is a well-researched book and draws upon contemporary observations and literature of each period about the city as well as Western observations, both enamored and not so enamored, of Baghdad as the west came east.
I really liked this book as it tells an important longer and wider story of a city that I knew little about except as the capital city of a nation which has been in the news, especially in the past quarter century and will remain so in the years to come.
I rate this “an outstanding” read.
Note: I read an uncorrected proof in a Kindle edition from the publisher via Net Galley in exchange for a review. I was not required to write a positive review.