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Tamerlane: Sword of Islam, Conqueror of the World Hardcover – February 27, 2006

3.6 out of 5 stars 30 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

By the time of his death in 1405, the Mongol conqueror Tamerlane-a pejorative derivative of the nickname "Temur the Lame"-commanded as much land and fear as any ruler in history. Literally following in the footsteps of Ghengis Khan, he built his empire with one invasion after the next, eventually amassing a kingdom that stretched "from Moscow to the Mediterranean, from Delhi to Damascus." Nonetheless, Tamerlane remains relatively unknown in the Western world, taking a historical backseat to Ghengis despite a reign and ruthlessness every bit as remarkable. Faced with such a complex and underreported subject, Marozzi delivers an exceptional account of the emperor's life, revealing him to be both an extravagantly merciless tyrant and tireless proponent for the cultural and architectural progress in his beloved Samarkand (in modern day Uzbekistan). One peculiar choice, however, is the book's subtitle, as Tamerlane killed tens of thousands of his fellow Muslims along his so-called "pilgrimage of destruction," including a particularly bloody massacre of Baghdad that left 90,000 dead, "their heads cemented into 120 towers." The subtitle certainly wasn't chosen for a lack of nicknames, as Tamerlane's life produced plenty: "Lord of the Fortunate Conjunction." "Emperor of the Age." "Unconquered Lord of the Seven Climes." "Scourge of God." The list goes on, too, leading one to wonder how it is that such a large part of the world hardly recognizes name.
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From The New Yorker

This revisionist history traces the rise of the fourteenth-century warlord Temur -- known in the West as Tamerlane -- from a crippled peasant boy wandering the steppe to ruler of half the known world. Marozzi asserts that while Temur, like Genghis Kahn, specialized in razing cities and slaughtering their inhabitants, he also had the wisdom to rebuild, and Islamic art and architecture flourished on his watch. Marozzi quotes widely from contemporaneous accounts, relishing the fantastical detail. In India, for example, Temur countered the armored elephants of Delhi with "roaring camels on fire," then had the defeated beasts brought before him and forced to kneel. Along the way, Marozzi makes a pilgrimage through Temur's former empire, and argues that the Soviets outdid the warlord in destruction by turning the once fertile basin of Central Asia into a dust bowl.
Copyright © 2006 The New Yorker

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press; New edition edition (February 27, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 030681465X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0306814655
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6.4 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #473,954 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By William Scopa on March 20, 2008
Format: Paperback
If you're looking for a detailed, clear narrative of Tamerlane's life and achievements, Justin Marozzi's book acts only as an introduction. Instead of developing Tamerlane as an individual from his youth onward, and failing to explain exactly how he came to be so successful, Marozzi diverts half the book to recounting his own travels in Tamerlane's homeland. As descriptive and rare the author's experiences may be, a journalistic description of former metropolises in modern-day Central Asia does not provide a better understanding of the Lord of the Fortunate Conjunction. Throughout the book, Marozzi views Tamerlane more through the distant lens of someone in awe of his achievements, rather than the skeptical and down-to-earth approach necessary for biographers to truly evaluate who their particular subject really was. In fairness to the author, this may have occurred because very little concrete evidence/sources exist with regard to his subject.
This is the flow of the book: a few narrowed down pieces of Tamerlane's life, each separated by an equally large amount of journalism. The reader can neither fully assess the achievements of Tamerlane's career, nor gain a certain familiarity with his personality.
The purpose of biography is to find out what kind of person the subject of the book was, and evaluate his/her achievements. In the case of Tamerlane, the reader is never really given an explanation for how someone conquered territory so successfully and rapidly, or how a man could rise from the status of desperado to all-powerful emperor. The main argument presented is that Tamerlane, while committing atrocities, also had many cultural achievements, most notably the building of several Islamic monuments now mostly in ruins or nonexistent.
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Format: Hardcover
The exploits of Genghis Kahn in the 1200's are well known in the west, there was even a movie about him starring John Wayne. About a numdred and fifty years later Tamerlane, almost repeated his conquests. Tammerlane got into Turkey, down to Damascus, almost to Moscow.

Unlike many biographies, particularly from strange parts of the world, Mr. Marozzi traveled to the places where Tamerlane traveled. He reports on what the area looks like today, and what remains from the time when Tamerlane and his army went through. It serves as a good reminder that the Middle East has changed less than nearly anywhere else in the world.

I like the writing style Mr. Marozzi uses. It is a well researched, well written biography, but written almost like a novel. You are left wondering what he was going to do next. Particularly when he had come close to entering Europe, the kings of England, France and Spain could really offer little or no resistance to such an army as his. It was only Tamerlane's decision that Europe wasn't worth bothering with that prevented a dramatic change in how history played out.
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Interesting book about one of the most effective and brutal conquerors in world history, who is a shockingly little known figure in eurocentric cultures. So, the subject matter was interesting, and it was told reasonably well, but, as a conqueror who never had a serious set back, Tamerlane's story gets tedious, as do the author's descriptions of Tamerlane's many mosques and palaces. Also, although relatively fair, I think the author over emphasized Tamerlane's cultural good deeds and downplayed his horrific viciousness. (Is really an endorsement to say that Tamerlane wasn't quite as bad as Genghis Khan, as the author repeatedly, and debatably, asserts.)
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Format: Paperback
The "chroniclers" of the 14th century across the vast swathe of Timur's sanguinary piracies were propagandists in two camps, that of Timur himself, the "Scourge of God", or that of his ravaged victims; accordingly, accounts of his life and campaigns either glorify or demonize, with gross exaggerations of all kinds. Somewhere between lies the truth, which modern historians must somehow infer. In my view, the present book does a very nice job of presenting a creditable history, nicely enlivened (I would say) by accounts of the author's own travels to out-of-the-way places that figure prominently in the story of this warrior, perceived both as infamous and glorious in today's world. (Far-ranging Western ravagers like Alexander and Napoleon tend to be viewed favorably in the West, while those from the East, notably Genghis Khan and Tamerlane, are seen as demons in the Western cognizance.)
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In principle the idea to make a mix of a travel book with a history book does not sound so bad - but it does not quite work in this case. The author's travels have little historical relevance, are wordy, and in most (not all) cases simply detract. I ended up just skipping them. The historical part itself is somewhat better, but is badly in the need of editing. The author apparently can't decide whether to give a chronological narrative, and runs back and forth in time with confusing consequences. The citations from contemporary sources are far too long, especially ones from the Spanish Ambassador, whose story of travel to meet Temur is told in similar words at least three times throughout the book. I fully agree with a previous reviewer about too many pages (the whole chapter, actually) being devoted to analysis of the Marlowe play - with no useful information, whatsoever. I would advise to skip the whole chapter, but, confusingly, quite a few pages in the middle and the end of the chapter "forget" about Marlowe and just address Temur himself. Adding to a feel of unfinishness are the maps: they are never referred to in the text, are somewhat redundant, and randomly distributed throughout the book.

On a historical level, although the author, to his credit, does not diminish the atrocities caused by this monster, still, the author clearly finds Temur a more positive figure than the book itself portrays, emphasizing his building legacy and patronage of arts. I am sure this came as a great relief to hundreds of thousands slaughtered by Temur's orders in most cruel manner, in cold blood.

Still, overall, much of this book reads relatively well, and it's only one currently available. Maybe the author will tweak the next edition to make it better......
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