As a complex history spanning both centuries and continents, the political history of Islam is no simple one to understand. For those looking to get a survey understanding of Islamic political history however, Adam J. Silverstein’s ‘A Very Short Introduction to Islamic History’ is an excellent start.
The book provides a chronological account of the origins and subsequent spread of Islam throughout the Middle East, including the very human stories, controversies, and changing tides of power throughout. The book is a brief narrative account of Islamic history that is grounded foremost in documentary sources. Silverstein also includes a chapter on the important topic of sources, a must read for anyone interested in the topic of historical phenomenon.
Too often, Islamic history is conceived solely as either the time of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) or the Ottoman Empire. Yet in between existed a complex, nuanced, and oft-debated history of peoples from all over the Nile to Oxus region. To get a cursory overview of the topics, ‘A Very Short Introduction’ is key.
Of course with any historical account, bias must be considered. An academic historian, Silverstein ought to be commended for condensing centuries of history and millions of pages of debate into a 176-page book. As such, the narrative presented had little room to get into either academic or religious debates and presents many assumptions as facts. It is here that the ‘further reading’ list is of most use. His contemporary connections is the least desirable aspect of his book but Chapter 1, ‘The Story’ is one of the best, most accessible lay introductions to Islamic history.