Islam: A Short History by Karen Armstrong. Hardcover book published by Modern Library 2000.
A number of years ago I was contemplating the history of the middle east and was wondering how i could possibly find a good unbiased history of this fascinating and often volatile region. A co-worker at the time kindly recommended Jerusalem by Karen Armstrong. To cut a long story short (…as in, avoiding the long story about me looking for the book, finally tracking a copy down and paying too much for it… etc etc), this was an excellent introduction to the writings of Karen Armstrong and it did give me a better understanding of the middle east and in particular Jerusalem. Since then I have read a number of her other books and have enjoyed them immensely. Maybe enjoyed isn’t quite the right word… actually it is, but maybe I need to clarify “enjoyed”. I have “enjoyed” the learning experience gained by reading her books.
As a complete layman in regards to most things religious, I find Karen’s writings to be very enlightening and interesting (of interest). The way she writes about these subjects is particularly of interest to me, as she tends to look at the history rather than the emotional and metaphysical aspects of the subject (the history is more my thing)… that is unless she’s writing about the history of the emotional and metaphysical aspects of the subject (does this make sense?).
Karen was originally a Catholic Nunn but left that all behind her quite a while ago and has become "arguably the most lucid, wide-ranging and consistently interesting religion writer today".* This particular book is of course about a very topical religion and despite Karen’s background she tackles the subject in a most readable and sympathetic way avoiding bias as best she can.** She tends to do this with her other books as well and indeed (and this is completely from memory), in her book Jerusalem she was most critical of the Christian involvement in Jerusalem.
I like Karen and I like her books and would not hesitate in recommending any of her titles to anyone vaguely interested in the subject matter or even if they were not interested… it’s still good.
*Laura Miller (quote stolen from Wikipedia).
**My opinion… probably not the opinion of the Taliban.