Archive for February, 2020

Moby-Dick or, the Whale by Herman Melville

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Call me a dick – but this is great! This is one beast of a book. It’s all consuming when reding it so I read it in sporadic bursts. There is nothing quite like it and it feels like you are making history just by reading it. It’s a fantastic experience as well as being a book to ponder over. It does take some time to get through so I recommend reading the clusters of chapters. There are several ‘digressions’ which are illuminating but take us away from the main story arc.

The characterisation is amazing and the details are obviously copious – Melville spent four years on whaling vessels. It’s biblical in many places with references and style. One of the early chapters is actually a sermon. There is a sense of inevitable dread which intensifies towards the climax. I felt like I was constantly being sucked into the hunt.

I used a map in places just to chart the progress. The language is niche and reflects the time, character and in some cases, the status of the characters. After a few chapters it gets easier to read though. Reading modern works seems kind of shallow and unrewarding after this beast. I recommend it to anyone who lives on planet Earth.

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The Travels of Ibn Battutah by Ibn Battuta

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In contrast to the numerous modern travel books which seem to focus on the ‘personality’ of the writer or trivial observations, this is an epic in every sense of the word. The scale of the journey is immense in distance and time, IB stayed to work as a Qadi (judge)in several places along the way, this means that you really get a deep sense of the politics and the people in each destination. This depth is unlike some of the more superficial accounts of present books which rely on novelty and humour. Although travels is not without humour itself.

I like travelling and read travel books frequently, so it’s no surprise that I enjoyed the descriptions of distant lands and strange customs, however, the biggest surprise for me was the journey into the Islamic culture and lifestyle. I think it’s the first account I have read from an Islamic perspective, and a Medieval one at that. With this in mind I think this is a perfect book to open the mind about other cultures and other ways of seeing the world. To get the most from this journey it is important to read ‘Travels with a Tangerine’ and ‘Hall of a Thousand Columns’ By Mackintosh-Smith.

I hope this reworked classic inspires other translators and archivists to unearth other works from centuries gone. On a final note I am deeply envious of anyone who understands Arabic as they can read the original.

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Ibn Fadlān and the Land of Darkness: Arab Travellers in the Far NorthIbn Fadlān and the Land of Darkness: Arab Travellers in the Far North by Ahmad ibn Fadlān
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a very objective account of an embassy sent from the Abbasid Caliph of Baghdad to instruct the (Volga)Bulgars in matters of Islam. The journey takes in some of the most noteable tribes of the 11th century north of the Caspian and Black seas. He travels well into Russia which was in its infancy. He also travels across the Tundra to visit other semi nomadic tribes.

The account is very detailed and doesn’t belittle or pour scorn upon other races – common at the time. It was fascinating to read about the Viking burial and some of their customs which seem so alien both today, and even more so back then.

The introduction is a welcome account of the traveller, although not much is known about him. There are also several accounts from the Arab world about the various peoples of Europe. I feel like these collection eventually became Geography as we know it.

I’d recommend this to those who enjoy Herodotus and the Travels of Ibn Battutah.