Laebah Hamid’s Book Critique

This book critique was written by Laebah Hamid for her History 101:  History of Civilization–Cultural Traditions class in Winter 2015.

Hinds, Kathryn. Life in the Medieval Muslim World: The City. New York: Benchmark, 2009.

Kathryn Hinds’ Life in the Medieval Muslim World: The City is a rich social history of the Islamic world from the eighth through the mid-thirteenth century, with a focus on life in the cities. Hinds’ main purpose of this book is to appreciate medieval Muslims by examining the lives of the people that lived in the diverse world of the Islamic Empire and discover the sights, sounds, and smells that surrounded them. In doing so, the reader meets Muslim merchants, craftspeople, students, scholars, workers, and housewives and is guided through the homes, markets, and schools for a deeper understanding.

Hinds begins the book by giving an insight on the origins of the Islamic Empire and explains the development of Muslim culture. She assumes the reader is already familiar with the basics of cities and writes the book to solely inform the reader about the exclusiveness of the Islamic Empire. Hinds also assumes the reader is aware of how the Muslim cities are unique and doesn’t compare them with other cities to allow the reader to have a greater understanding. This creates a few complications as the reader in unsure whether certain conditions for Muslims were more or less desirable compared to other cities. Despite the minor assumptions, Hinds does an incredible job of presenting her ideas and extensively elaborating them for the comprehension of the reader.

With each enfolding page, readers are not only experiencing the Muslim world through elaborate drawings and paintings, but also through calligraphy and photographs of sophisticated architecture. These artworks help present Hinds’ main ideas about the cities’ scenes, duties of men and women, leisure activities, and urban hardships. Most of these ideas are also explained through famous Islamic poetry and supported by definitive quotes from historical figures along with scholarly research. Visually, the book’s overall structure is quite admirable. Every chapter begins with a breath-taking painting of Islamic culture, whether it be a woman spinning thread or travelling merchants arriving at a busy town, each one acts as a summary for the chapter that follows. With this, the reader is able to visualize him/herself in the medieval Muslim world and also gain background information of the material before it is presented. As they read along, more visuals are distributed throughout the pages and the reader is able to clearly and entirely understand the text.

Hinds’ reaches the conclusion that despite the fall of the Islamic Empire, great urban centers of the medieval Muslim world were not wiped out. Hinds does a favorable job of explaining the end of the Islamic Empire by illustrating the successes of the cities rather than degrading them on their failure to remain standing. The people of the cities made astounding and lasting contributions in science, mathematics, architecture, philosophy, literature, and religious thought. Every chapter touches base with the overall purpose of the book and gradually, page by page, all come together quite effectively. Hinds’ conclusion supported her purpose desirably as she wanted the reader to close the book with a new, open-minded, appreciative thought towards medieval Muslims.

Last Updated March 12, 2015