MixedThe Times (UK)...expect long lists of exotic cargoes and the palaces and mosques they filled, from Cordoba to Cairo, Jerusalem to Isfahan. As modern-day visitors to Dubai have sometimes found, too much opulence can sometimes be wearing ... Moreover, while Marozzi is understandably obsessed by the industry and vision of the builders, I can’t help guiltily admitting that I am more gripped by the destruction. Is that wrong, or just a natural response to the elephant in the room of this literary fashion? The reason we are reading these books, after all, is because of the recent smashing of Aleppo and the razing of Raqqa, once the capital of the great Abbasid caliph Harun al-Rashid ... Marozzi seems to regard the speediness of his cities’ rise and fall as natural and does not inquire farther. I found it hard not to speculate.
PositiveThe TimesThere can hardly be a better guide than Mackintosh-Smith, who has near-mythical status among western observers of the Middle East ... Between the meticulous scholarship he drops fleeting references to the military exercises and propaganda he can see from his window in the street below. The picture he paints is as depressing as it is, in parts, glorious ... Mackintosh-Smith could have done with more editing. His scholarly enthusiasm is largely entrancing, but occasionally drifts into incomprehensibility ... If the book encourages a more sympathetic understanding of Arabs, though, the effort will have been worthwhile.