I admit, reading political theory books can get tiring sometimes but have you ever heard of Political Non-Fiction? This has to be one of my favourite genre’s of all time. This is because you as the reader get to read exciting stories written by great authors. These kind of stories are so interesting that you can get completely lost in some of these fun stories. The best part of reading these interesting political non-fiction books is the amount of knowledge that you can gain from these books. Elon Musk is one of the smartest people on the planet, many people agree on that and it is interesting to note that he said in one of his interviews that he enjoys reading biographies in his spare time. Many political no-fiction books are biographies and in this blog post many biographies will be listed.
I can’t even begin to explain what reading these biographies/political non-fiction books have done for me. They have really changed my life and the way I view the world. I genuinely believe it has made me more wiser than many people in my age group and there is so many reasons for this. For one, when you read these books you’ll essentially be reading a lot of history. This is important because these history books contain the lives of thousands of people. You will learn, through reading the stories of people, that people are not that different from each other. We often, especially young people, think that somehow we are different to other people and the people from the past. Whilst this is true in a standard sense (you won’t ever find two people who are the same) I noticed that what we want is all the same.
There is a wide spectrum when it comes to people’s desires in life. People aren’t so different when it comes to what they want. For every person who wants something in life, there has been someone else who has wanted what they wanted or something incredibly close. Everyone falls into this spectrum one way or another. Nobody can escape this. You learn other valuable lessons as well of course and those lessons that I have learnt has shaped the way I think and view the world. Another benefit of reading this genre, aside from the huge fun of the stories, is the knowledge of history and politics you gain. The next time someone mentions an african country, you won’t be entirely clueless because you have read about some of its history and notable leaders that have come from there.
The lessons don’t stop there. I will share two more valuable lessons that I have learnt from the time I was reading this genre. These lessons mean a lot to me so whoever is reading this is in for a treat. By reading this genre you will learn what the pathway to success means. I always thought that to become successful I must live a life that no one I know lives. There is some slight truth to this but the reality was the opposite. You have to do what successful people have always done and to do it in a great and creative way. You have to tread on the same path that the great men of the past have traversed upon. You will then be able to think like them and emulate them. As you go down this road you will become great yourself.
The other important lesson that I learnt was through studying the events and people (who I will mention very shortly) and the impacts that their decisons had on their own lives as well as the people around them. Sometimes I would even discuss these events with my parents to see what they thought of it as well. This is important because studying these events will give you wisdom for free. Just like how I mentioned in one of my previous posts (where I discussed the importance of history see below) I learnt that reading about these events, the good decisions and bad decisions made by former leaders or people will teach you how to operate better in the world we live in. This is because if you ever come across a similar situation, you will have an idea of what the wisest move of the situation is. This will make your life easier overall. So as you might already know, when I write about book lists I often choose 12 books. So let’s begin!
1) Mu’awiya Ibn Abi Sufyan: The Saviour of the Caliphate by R.Stephen Humphreys
I can’t even begin to explain what Mu’awiya Ibn Abu Sufyan (ra) means to me in my life. If I had a son I would honestly name the child after him. I understand that this book would typically be dismissed by Muslim historians since it has been written by a non-Muslim author but the book does do one great thing, it highlights the challenges that Muawiya (ra) had to overcome in his political life. It also highlights the amazing political acumen that he possessed. He was a supreme genius. A super genius. From a young age, the people around him knew that he posessesed a mind like no other and everyone had a feeling that he would rise to the top and become the most powerful man in the world. Mainstream Muslim Scholars all have a concensus that his intentions were pure, something I agree with as well.
He wasn’t power hungry at all. He was just the most capable man for the job and because he knew he was it was his duty to step up and shoulder the heavy burden of power for his people. A job he did in a way never done before him or after him. The greatness of Muawiya (ra) was in the way he relied on his wit and knew how to make the wise judgement at the right time. He had an almost inhuman amount of patience coupled with a visonary mind. Despite the many obstacles he faced he somehow was able to defy all the odds and carry out all of his decisons in such a subtle way that no one would even realise thathe has got his way. Constantly forward thinking, he changed the politics of the Muslim world forever, its effects are still present now. Furthermore he had a way of not just overcoming his enemies like any typical ruler but making his enemies admire and work for him. I read this book twice and each time I am amazed at this mans beautiful brain. I think you should read this book too. Its 5/5 for me.
2) Caliphate of Yazid by Tabari
This has to be one of the most interesting political events in history. As soon as Yazid I ascended to his throne he had all the power in the world. He believed that his own reign would be swift and easy. He had ver cunning plans but his reign only lasted for three years. With each year consisting of an attempted rebellion by three different huge political parties. Three major battles took place and tens of thousands of people died in the span of those three years. The long term affects of the policies of Yazid I have head lasting affects until this day. Bear in mind, he was alive around 1400 years ago. To this day there are sects whose origins lie in the time of Yazid I. This book is one I highly recommend because you’ll get to see some of the best political players from the 7th century in action and it is thrilling to monitor the way they move. The events of these three years shaped the current Muslim world today as we know it. Yazid I was very intelligent and smart but not as smart as his father Muawiyā Ibn Abu Sufyān and that may have been what made his reign chaotic. This book was up there for me and it was defenitely a 4/5.
3) ‘Abd al-Malik by Chase F.Robinson
Abdāl Malik Ibn Marwan is a very interesting person to analyse. He was also directly related to the first three figures that have been mentioned. He married the daughter of Yazid and served him. Abdāl Malik spent his early life in religious pursuits. He and his father (Marwan) were actually high level students of Islamic Knowledge. His father had more knowledge than him of course. The famous scholar, Imam Malik mentioned that Marwan was a faqih. Abdāl Malik spent most of his life shadowing his father. He worked in the government of Uthman Ibn Affan (ra) who was his paternal uncle. From there, he worked for the government of Muawiyā for quite some time as well. He played a significant role in the reign of Yazid I, in that he supported his policies and gave him much intelligence. Eventually his father would take power for himself and Abdāl Malik would follow in his fathers footsteps and consolidate his rule over the entire Umayyad Empire.
He was much more than a skilled politician however, he was a visionary who introduced many new ideas. Key ideas that would change the course of world history. By arabising coins and his bureaucracy he was able to independently rule over his empire without needed much help from anyone who he considered outsiders. Furthermore, he also had an eye for art and had a vision of big beautiful buildings in key cities. Muawiyah might have introduced dynastic rule but it was Abdāl Malik who made it work. For the next 409 years the Umayyads as we know it were all descendants of the Marwanids thanks to the efforts of Abdāl Malik and his father, Marwan. This book was defenitely up there for me and it was a clear 4/5.
4) Caliphate of Banu Umayyah by Ibn Kathir
The first three books mentioned were important but they had a straight up style of reading. Events are thrown in your face and commentary is laying around somewhere. However, Ibn Kathirs style of writing history is very important because it gives you a glimpse into the life of that time. By reading his book on the caliphate of the Umayyad history, you will almost feel like you’re some outsider who’s come from the past that’s present and watching everything that’s going on. That’s why I really enjoyed reading this book. It was written in a way that you could observe the history and really take it in. You’ll get a true feeling or glimpse of how the Umayyads ruled and what kind of events took place in that time. Furthermore, by reading this book, I also came to respect Muawiyah (ra) even more. Not just because of his visionary policies that he introduced but because Ibn Kathir gives you a close up of Muawiyah (ra). Other books about Muawiyah (ra) highlight him as a King or politician but this book showed a different kind of Muawiyah (ra). For me it showed the real Muawiyah (ra) who was a human being trying his hardest to rule over a difficult period. This book is defenitely one that I would recommend any student of history to read and I would go as far as to rate it a 5/5.
5) Musa (Moses) by Adnan Oktar
This book is one that I picked up because despite the story of Moses being a familiar one to me (since it’s all over the Qurān) I also didn’t quite know much about the biography of Moses (as). I had a lot of questions. Such as what time period did he live in? Who were the pharaohs that governed his people? What was Moses like as a person? What was Moses like as a child or teenager? What was the environment like that he grew up in? What was his relationship like with his family members? I searched for a book on him and I found this book. Reading it was such an amazing experience and I honestly believe that I read it in one day. It felt like I took a time portal back to his time. I felt like I was with Moses (as) whilst his huge story was unfolding. So much politics took place. Moses (as) was being raised in the house of the pharaohs and it was interesting to read about the thrilling inner-politics taking place in the chilling environment that he grew up in. The only part of the book that I disliked was at the end of the book there is a refutation about evolution which was clearly written by Harun Yahya. I felt like there was no reason for this to be included in the book since it had no direct connection to the book at all. I felt like it was just Harun Yahya being Harun Yahya. Overall, the book was a brilliant read because it finally gave me an understanding about the biography of Moses (as) as well as the world that he was living in. Moses (as) defenitely lived in the midst of a lot of political events and he was leader in his own right as well so it was defenitely interesting to see the inner aspect of his life. In our world, constant references to Moses (as) is always made and as a result it is better to know who this leader is, otherwise you will always be in the dark. I would rate this book as a 4/5. It would have been 5/5 if that scientific discussion wasn’t placed at the end of the book.
6) The Short Story of Al-Husayn by Ibn Kathir
If you want a real thrilling story then look no further than the short story of al-Husayn. This event takes place in the first year of the reign of Yazid I. So if you read the book on the caliphate of Yazid I, then you will be familiar with this event. Despite reading the book on the caliphate of Yazid I, I read this book anyway because this is a book dedicated on to Al-Husayn (ra). Al-Husayn (ra) the direct grandson of prophet Muhammad (pbuh) sets out to Iraq (as I mentioned in Tabari’s book) to Iraq after he receieved letters from thousands of Iraqi citizens all of whom were asking him to become the Caliph as they felt like he had more right to rule over the Islamic world than Yazeed I who wasn’t a companion of prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and not even part of his family as well. Upon arriving to Iraq with the intention of becoming the Caliph, he soon realises that the reality of the situtation in Iraq is completely different. As the famous poet Farazdaq said to Al-Husayn: “The people of Iraq are with you at heart, but their swords are with the Umayyads”. Trouble is on the way as the current Caliph sends his greatest politician, Ubaydullah Ibn Ziyad, to go to Iraq to bring that province to heel. Ubaydullah Ibn Ziyad has a great political mind and works to undermine Al-Husayn’s efforts and try to capture of even kill him given the chance. Will Al-Husayn (ra) survive? Will Ubaydullah Ibn Ziyad be able to thwart Al-Husayn? Will the Iraqis stay loyal? Read this thrilling book to find out what happens. For me, the book is a 4/5.
7) Al-Ma’mun by Michael Cooperson
Caliph Al-Mamun is not necessarily remembered for his political achievments. He isn’t remmebered for winning wars or outsmarting his enemies (although at times he did do that). He is more remembered for being someone who achieved unbelievable academic feats. Al-Mamun was the first Caliph to busy his time working on world changing academic projects. He purchased the whithering greek books and translated them to Arabic. He translated Persian books to Arabic. He translated all sorts of books from different countries into Arabic and ensured that they were preserved in a huge library that he built. A library called the “House of Wisdom” that he built himself. Scholars from all across the globe (from all sorts of different sciences) flocked to Baghdad and were all funded by Al-Mamun to study at the highest levels of Abbasid society. Al-Mamun introduced a rule that anyone who translates a book will get its weight in Gold. Al-Mamun had a serious academic mind and spent most of his life studying these sciences. He himself was a learned scholar and regularly enjoyed bringing different scholars together and watching them debate about various topics. One one occasion, he was in the middle of an expedition and paused the expedition because he wanted to calculate the radius of planet earth (this was 1300 years ago). Al-Mamun and his scientist also were the first to produce detailed maps of the known world including mountains and rivers. He achieved many other great feats. This book is a book explaning who Al-Mamun is and what he achieved. The book is brilliant, informative and I would rate it as 4/5.
8) Saladin: Life, Legend, Legacy by John Man
Saladin (also known as Salahuddin al Ayyubi) was an interesting figure from his time who did something that was incredibly unpredictable. He lived towards the end of the Abbasid period, however, unlike the time of Al-Mamun, Saladin saw a different Abbasid empire. The Abbasids of that time had a central government that was not in control of the entire Islamic Empire. The Fatimids (of Egypt and North Africa) broke away and controlled a portion of their own land. Furthermore, there were also mini-dynasties that were apparent all over the empire with seemingly independant governors at every other city. To make matters worse the hasshashin (were the word assassin comes from) were a new group of criminals who were skilled at murdering people. They also had fortified castles and were a nuisance in their time period. The Abbasids have grown so weak that the crusaders manage to take the city of Jerusalem from them. Salahuddin, son of a small time governor, appears during this period with the dream of taking back Jerusalem. Disgusted at the state of the Ummah (Islamic Nation) he works day and night for decades until he has a shot at achieveing his dream. Will he be successful? Will he do the impossible? Read this increcible biography to find out how Salahuddin goes from being a nobody to the most powerful and respected man in the Islamic Empire. Even more respected and loved then the Abbasid Caliphs. This book was amazing, I loved reading it and it was a 4/5 for me.
9) Oral Poetry and Somali Nationalism:
The Case of Sayyid Muhammad Abdille Hassan by Said S Samatar
At a time when the colonial western powers were invading african countries to conquer them, take their resources and strip them of with their own way of life, one man emerged from the country of Somalia and wasn’t content with the way the British and Italian powers were taking over his country by force. Deeply upset with the state of his conquered country, Sayyid (meaning leader, an honorific title) Muhammad Abdullah Hassan embarks on a journey to take on the most powerful empire of his time (the British Empire) and bring back his countries independance. The Sayyid holds of multiple military campaigns of the British Empire and shows to the entire world how much of a military genius he is. Frustrated about suffering multiple defeats, the British begin launching attacks against him in the media stating that he is some sort of ‘Mad Mullah’. However, the Sayyid scoffs at such insults and the entire Muslim world had their own beliefs about what was going on. The Sayyids struggle reached the Ottoman Caliph who even showed respect to the Sayyid. This is the great story of one small country, with little resources against a huge empire that has technology that the Somali people hadn’t even heard of. The Sayyids struggle was the birth of Somali nationalism and a sense of lasting unity between the Somali people. To this day, stories of the Sayyids struggles echoe through the streets of Somalia as well as through the hearts of the Somali people. The book is a 5/5 for me because the author, Said S Samatar put unbelievable efforts into publishing this work.
10) The Republic of Pirates by Colin Woodard
I have always loved pirates. There is no hiding that fact. I have always wanted to read about the time period where all the famous pirates were running around the world and creating history. These weren’t “law abiding good citizens” but they were defenitely interesting characters. People (like Blackbeard, Bellamy, Morgan etc) were people who had huge egos and felt like the world belonged to them. It was very interesting to see them in action. Many of them were very intelligent people. For example the story of Henry Every completely blew me away. He was considered to be “The King of the Pirates” and he was defenitely someone I view to be a genius. I first came across this book after a random day when I was re-watching the Pirates of the Carribean. I felt like, as a student and fan of history, that I should read more about the golden age of the pirates. I surfed through the internet looking for a good book to read which would give me a better understanding of that pirate age. I finally came across this book so I just read the preview of the book on Kindle to test the waters, To put it bluntly, the opening if the book was the greatest opening of any book that I have ever read. The way the author wrote about the story of Henrey Every didn’t just blow me away it did more than that except I can’t put it into words. From that moment on, I knew that this book would be a great read. For anyone who is interested in the stories that happened in the golden age of the pirates should look no further than this book which I would rate as a 5/5.
11) Mehmed Ali: From Ottoman Governor to Ruler of Egypt by Khaled Fahmy
Mehmed Ali is someone who is very interesting. He isn’t someone that I supported or appreciated but he was someone that defenitely held me in awe because it is clear that whatever you want to say about him, he was a political genius. The late 17th century was a chaotic time. The founding fathers in America were just setting up the country, battling against the native americans. In the middle east, Muhammad Ibn Abdul Wahab launched his new movement and essentially cut all ties with the Ottoman empire. In the north africa, Napoloean invaded Egypt and became the first white european to invade the Muslim world and lots of history went down in Egypt. It was at this time that Mehmed Ali was a young man who just left his uncles care, joined an Ottoman army (as a captain) and came to Egypt. Somehow, this young and unknown man went from being unknown to becoming the governor of Egypt and from there becoming the most powerful governor of the ottomans, even more powerful than the Caliph himself. An interesting story that highlights his incredible political acumen. He was defenitely a born leader and defenitely someone who knew how to gain power even under the strangest of circumstances. Therefore this book is a thrilling book that I recommend people to read. The author, Fahmy did a great job in writing this book and I would give it a high rating of 4/5.
12) ‘Abd Al-Rahman III: The First Cordoban Caliph by Maribel Fierro
I have always been interested in the Umayyads of al-Andalus. This is because of their interesting origin story and their independant history as they were cut off from the Muslim world. The story of the Umayyads in al-Andalus started when the Abbasids did a revolution, overthrew the Umayyad government and massacred every Umayyad that they could get their hands on. Except one. A young man called ‘Abd al-Rahman I escaped to north africa and from there crossed the sea into spain. Somehow he worked his way into becoming the King of that country. He relied on his own wits to help him achieve survival and success. The craziest part about all of that was that he did it at the age of 20. His decendants lived in al-Andalus (spain) for the next 300+ years. The story of ‘Abd al-Rahman I could be made into a hollywood movie and one of the Abbasid Caliphs (Al Mansur) gave him the prestigious title of ‘The Falcon of the Quraysh’. None of the independant Umayyad rulers of al-Andalus every called themselves with the title of ‘Ameer-ul-mumineen’ meaning righfult leader of all the Muslims around the globe. Eventually one of his decendants, by the name of ‘Abd al-Rahman III officially gave himself this title. ‘Abd al-Rahman III has an interesting story as someone who ascended to the throne at a young age as well and showed brilliant mental dexterity in stopping revolution and revolution at a very young age. He somehow was able to rule over his country with strength owing to his own hard work. The Umayyads of al-Andalus showed the same mental resourcefullness as their Umayyad ancestors in their ability to rule. This is a brilliant book which highlights his life and times. The book also gives large amounts of the history of the Umayyads of al-Andalus as well. I would rate this book to be a 4/5.
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