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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 19 June 2016
This book had been sitting on my 'to read' shelf for a couple of years: I didn't think it would be particularly interesting.
When I determinedly sat down to read it, I realised what I'd been missing as this is travel writing at its absolutely superb best. In it the author - an Arabist and longterm Yemeni resident - seeks to follow the travels of 14th century Moroccan traveller Ibn Battutah, a man who over twenty-nine years visited "over forty countries on the modern map, travelling some 75,000 miles by horse, mule, camel, ox-wagon, junk, dhow, raft and on foot."
With Battutah's 'Travels' ever in hand, the author re-discovers shrines, mosques and churches and finds similarities - and vast differences - in the lifestyle of the people he meets on the way.
This, the first volume, covers Morocco, Egypt, Syria, Oman, Turkey and the Crimea.
Mr Mackintosh-Smith writes wonderful descriptions, both witty and intelligent; he peppers his work with tales taken from Battutah and elsewhere; he draws us in to his one-man archaeological efforts as he seeks to identify places mentioned in the work. And the reader experiences a thrill as he conclusively identifies somewhere, where Battutah himself would have stood so long ago.
This is a wonderful read and I hope to go on and read the other two volumes.
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on 5 January 2017
Reading all these rave reviews I feel stupid and shallow because I didn't like it. But frankly this is one of the most boring travelogues I have ever read, and if it had any impact on me at all, it probably turned me off Ibn Battuta forever.
This writer knows his Arabic, he knows his history and he also knows his ancient literature. This might make him the life and soul of any party consisting of dry Oxford-based academics, but a perfect travel companion he's most certainly not. I must confess I left Tim and his IB behind when they left Egypt. By then I had forced myself through way too many pages full of old quotes, visits to old sites where IB may and may not have visited and learned precious little about the modern societies Macintosh-Smith travels through. All the people he meets are deemed irrelevant if they can't contribute anything to the story of Ibn Battuta. He even skipped following his old friend's route across Algeria, Tunisia and Libya overland, but chose to fly instead.
I love travel writing when it makes a new place come alive. Even when it means wiping the dust off renowned travellers who have been dead for centuries. Furthermore I'd love to learn more about regions such as North Africa and the Middle East. I'm planning my own expedition in the near future.
So maybe I'm just shallow? Simply not intellectual enough to enjoy the finer points in Macintosh Smith's writing? Maybe I'm somehow handicapped by the fact that English is not my native language and haven't studied ancient history for years? Might very well be, and in that case I apologize to all the learned people who understood it and appreciated it better than I did, but honestly - this is the only book I can remember that made it impossible to stay awake for more than 10 pages at the time.
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on 9 July 2002
A fantastic read, although I have to admit I didn't understand all the vocabulary. It brings the colourful, wide and pluralistic world of medieval Islam to life, replete with amazing characters. I enjoyed it so much that when I finished I went straight back to the beginning. Absolutely wonderful as an introduction to many historical characters (like al-Ma'arri), so I am using it as a starting point to learn more. It beautifully belies the traditional view we have of the medival Islamic arts and culture having been so straight-laced and peopled with paragons.I only wish he would carry on and go all the way to China!
Beautiful travel writing from a master of wry and sympathetic observation. I also heartily recommend 'Travels in Dictionary Land'.
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on 26 March 2015
Thought this was a fascinating and incitefull book, picked this up a number of years ago. The book piqued my interest and have since picked up his second and third volumes of his travelling in the footsteps of ibn Battuta and also his translation of ibn Battuta's work which he picked up in book stall in the middle east. Having a fascinating guide to the medieval islamic world in ibn Battuta and such a good commentator in Tim Mcintosh Smith who has an infectious love for his medieval Arabic travel companion it is a match made in heaven, highly recommended. Am about to start his Yemen travels in a dictionary land looks like another excellent book.
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on 23 May 2015
But then I am biased. I met Tim Mackintosh-Smith while I was working at the British Embassy in Sana'a in 1990. We became good friends. This book is about one extraordinary man - IB as I call him. Travelling more than 75,000 miles on his Rihla (spiritual journey) he eclipsed the travels of Marco Polo and yet so little is known or spoken of him. In this book Tim transports you the would be traveller back to a time without railways, aircraft and modern communication, back to a far simpler time when we spent time talking with each other, learning about people and not meeting them via social media. Anyone with even a hint of interest in Syria, China, the Arabian Peninsular and many other lands can;t help but be captivated by this extraordinary work. I commend it to you.. [this is my second copy - someone took a fancy to my original one and 'borrowed' it...]
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on 22 October 2012
I can usually read a book quite quickly but this one is so dense and interesting I'm deliberately reading slowly to extract as much enjoyment as possible.
It makes you realise too how much travel took place, whether intentionally or by people displacements in the first millenium.
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on 21 April 2003
This is indeed a wonderful book, as others have written. However, I think it weakens towards the end, when the author leaves the Arabic-speaking world and travels to Turkey and the Crimea. Here Tim Mackintosh-Smith, as he himself admits, is on less familiar cultural and linguistic grounds. As a result there are fewer of the conversations, arguments and jokes with local people that give the 'Arabic' section of his travels such a feeling of immediacy and intimacy. I look forward to future travels with a Tangerine, but I also hope that Mackintosh-Smith will give us more about Arabs and their world.
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on 25 October 2015
An utterly absorbing book which demands to be read slowly, in small doses. Not a page-turner, but something to be savoured. The author is clearly a master of his field, and his knowledge shines through on every page. But this is no dry erudite tome either there is much humour, which sometimes made me laugh out loud. A truly fascinating tbook on two levels: an exploration of the region today and a deeper examination of Ibn Battuta's fourteenth century periple. A real delight for those interested in such things!
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on 17 May 2013
Literary, chatty, humorous by turns, this evoked an era we know little about in the West and quite delightfully. Recommended.
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on 5 August 2002
An excellent and timely exploration of Islamic culture, heritage and humanity. This is a beautifully written book whose learning and erudition is lightly worn. I found its humorous and loving accounts of people, places and history very reminiscent of Patrick Leigh-Fermor's 'A Time of Gifts' and 'Between the Woods and the Water' - it shared that same wistfulness and yet is an exploration of a vibrant modern world embedded in a deep historical and religious context. A marvellous antidote to all those over-earnest journalistic pieces on Islamic fundamentalism.
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