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4.1 out of 5 stars37
4.1 out of 5 stars
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on 11 April 2005
This is an interesting book about a fascinating and under-exposed topic. The tale of Temur is indeed great and is on a comparable level to Napolean, Alexander etc In addition to this Marozzi generaly writes well, although the prose is occasionaly a little stop-go. Just a few gripes which prevented the 4th star. Firstly much of the historiography (sorry if thats not the right word) is quite superficial, there is little analytical depth. Secondly there is too much desciption of minute architectural detail, personally i am not that interested in the exact decoration of every single one of the palaces/monuments/tmples construted by Temur, then again others may find this fascinating. Lastly Marozzi often weaves contemporary narrative and information concerning his experiences of the area and whilst this is sometimes interesting, broadly speaking it detracts from the history.
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on 27 May 2005
For we Europeans, mediaeval history prior to the age of the great explorations tends to revolve around our own neck of the woods, possibly because what happened here was to shape the world as we know it, and continues to do so. However, at the time, when Europe was ploughing its own little furrow, momentous events that utterly dwarfed European ones were taking place elsewhere. To the east, in what contemporary Europeans regarded as barbarian territory, there arose and fell great and terrible empires and great cities bulging with wealth and sophistication, and there took place great battles (making contemporary European ones look like minor street brawls) and astounding military feats.
This book tells the story of the greatest of the Asian conquerors, Temur, derogatorily nicknamed "Tamerlane" (Temur the Lame, after a wound sustained in youth). Tamerlane was a military genius, a patron of the arts and architecture, a devout follower of Islam (when it suited his purposes) and a conqueror of astounding cruelty and barbarism (when he deemed people needed to be taught a lesson - he was a great believer in pyramids of heads as an educational tool). At his zenith, he ruled an empire that extended from the borders of Europe to those of China. The former was spared conquest because it didn't have enough booty to be worth the trouble, the latter because Tamerlane died en route to there. As the empire revolved around this one man (the Mongol and Tatar conquerors weren't big on establishing permanent institutions), it fell apart after his death, Its final flowering was in the supremely civilised Mughal Empire of India, which was to endure in one form or another until the 19th century. Since the dismantling of the Soviet Union, Temur has, pyramids of heads notwithstanding, become a national hero for several of the former Soviet Asian republics, complete with statues, to replace those of those other liberating influences, Lenin and Stalin. Apparently a local version of Teddy Roosevelt's "our sonuvabitch".
Justin Marozzi tells this fascinating story in a mixture of history and travelogue (he followed Tamerlane's footsteps where he could). One thing's for sure, Mr. Marozzi is A Fan; he acknowledges the frightful massacres (mostly of fellow Moslems) and destruction of Tamerlane, but he also argues strongly for the intellectual side of Tamerlane and his contributions to the arts and architecture (for example, he built Samarkand and imported the best craftsmen and scholars to enrich and enliven it). This is in contrast to Genghis Khan's Mongols, who, with complete contempt for the sedentary inhabitants of the world, knew only how to demolish things. The book is an eye-opener into this other world, almost a parallel universe, which, when it wasn't scaring the willies out of them, only dimly impinged on the consciousness of contemporary Europeans.
In my opinion, the book's one fault is that it falls into the trap into which travel writers tend to fall, it is sometimes too self-consciously literary. Occasionally Mr. Marozzi strays across the hazy line that separates writing for the purpose of informing and writing for the purpose of showing off how clever and erudite the author is. This notwithstanding, this is an interesting and entertaining book, and one that makes one (this one anyway) want to go off to Samarkand and the plains, mountains and deserts of central Asia, to see where it all happened.
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on 13 November 2011
I found the book to be compelling when it is being factual - the stories of the battles, for example, had me glued to the page. In fact, I was left hungry for more information of this type.

But when discussing the legacy of Temur, the text is too verbose, too flowery in its language and several pages too long, for my liking anyway. And the switch between the two types of text is often abrupt, which I found very frustrating.
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on 25 August 2009
This is a very good book, a highly efficient biography (in so far as this can be achieved) and history of the Emperor Timur/Tamerlane, about whose astonishing conquests in vast swathes of central Asia, India, and the borders of Europe and China too little is generally known. Interspersed with these are Marozzi's impressions of modern cities in present-day Uzbekistan, such Samarkand, Shakrisabh and Bokhara, to give some relief from the history of brutal sieges and massacres, and some sense of Timur's legacy (although, having recently travelled to the country, I can say that these impressions from before 2004 already seem a little dated).
The writing style is readable and lively, making effective use of near-contemporary sources like Arab historians or the Spaniard Clavijo. The analysis of both the reasons for Timur's staggering military successes (rewarding his troops well, exploiting the element of surprise and a range of ingenious ruses, as well as instilling utter terror among his enemies),and the other sides to his character (intellectual interests and architectural ambition)make for a balanced assessment.
Plenty to commend it, then, but for me a less impressive book than travel writing on the area,such as by Colin Thubron, which manages to be more evocative of today's Central Asian places and persons, or than histories of neighbouring powers, such as Michael Axworthy's impressive history of Iran. And the battles and massacres, though very vivid at times (the Indian campaign) do sicken the reader. Four stars, not five - good but not great.
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on 24 September 2006
The empire of Tamerlane stands alongside that of Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan as the greatest conquests by one ruler. Together with Genghis and perhaps Ivan the Terrible, Tamerlane is also one of the great butchers of history before the twentieth century.

However, beyond the rarely staged play by Marlow, Tamer's place in history had been largely neglected. With the assistance of few source materials, but with the benefit of travelling through central asia to cities such as Herat, Samarkand, Damascus etc, Marozzi has written a compelling account of this extraordinary ruler, which I would recommend to anyone with an interest in history or indeed in contemporary politics. Whilst the savagery of Tamerlane's conquests are well captured, Marozzi also makes an interesting case for the cultural impact of Tamerlane and his beloved capital Samarkand.
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on 8 January 2010
Very interesting subject. Narrative tended to go off on tangents on occassion, which detracted from the focus on Temur's life e.g. reference to the Black Prince (from England) and the writer's story of when I was there ... however this is only perspective. A little disappointed overall ... still I did learn a lot about Temur.
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on 19 November 2005
A book that seeks to find the gap in the market offered by the lack of any accessible biography of Tamerlane/Timur, but it rather falls between the twin schools of amateur history and travelogue.
It's competently done, and pleasantly written, if rather conventional and limited in its sense of place. Some of the best parts are where he quotes from the chroniclers of the time - Yazdi, Clavijo and Arabshah.
All that said, I'd recommend it to anyone knowing little about Tamerlane. Gives a sense of the drama and scale of this remarkable conquerer.
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on 12 August 2011
Temur the Lame made Genghis Khan look a bit Lib-Dem. Countries and regions he ravished, including chunks of Afghanistan still haven't recovered to this day.

His tactics in Afghanistan were very effective, although they did involve building towers of skulls, so are unlikely to be adopted by NATO.

The book casts light into an area and time which I knew little about (apart from reading Marlowe at school). Marozzi, like John Mann, is a historian who likes to tread in his subject's footsteps which gives a real insight and perspective.
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on 8 August 2010
i had never before heard of Tamerlane before i saw this book, and after reading the synopsis i thought this could be very interesting indeed. as soon as i started reading this i could not put the book down at all, although i didnt like the parts when the author kept coming back to talk about a stage version in England... i could not help thinking how great it must have been to live in Samarkand at the time of Tamerlane and how it must have felt to see him come back to the city time and again in triumph.
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on 16 August 2014
A surprisingly beautiful amalgamation of travelogue & history which pays tribute to a man who has not been given his due worth in western historical literature. Although at some points the personal recollections of the author concerning the modern remnants of Temur's world are every bit as engaging as the history of Tamerlane there are a few points where it drags on a little too much and one cannot help but flick a few pages forward in search of the resumption of Temur's own story.
There is nothing new here, so if you are already familiar with the historiography of the Timurid period you will recognize every single source the author quotes and therefore naturally this is not a work which draws any new conclusions or puts forward any new theories or even hypotheses. It is however narrative history at its best and makes no pretense of being an academic analysis of the various aspects of Temur's life and empire, so I decided to give it a generous five stars.
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