29 October 2007

Timur Biographies

I checked out a couple of biographies of Timur last week and they both were a bit disappointing. I didn't read all of either of them.

Beatrice Forbes Manz's The Rise and Rule of Tamerlane is fairly short and she is an expert on the subject, but the book was pretty boring, even technical. Not what I wanted, although she doesn't spend all her time on Timur's wars.

Justin Marozzi's Tamerlane: Sword of Islam, Conqueror of the World, however, spent nearly all his time on battles. This isn't really surprising in a bio of Timur, but still, it was a bit much. Marozzi also isn't a Central Asia person. I wanted an author who cared about Central Asia, not just who travelled there to research Timur.

But what really sealed this book's fate was Marozzi's insistence on calling Timur a Tatar. He was not a Tatar, but a Turk from the Barlas tribe. Marozzi admits in a footnote early on that that European "Tartar" is not always synonymous with "Tatar," but really, it rarely is and is not at all in this case. I thought this was a serious error especially since it was perpetuated throughout the entire book.

Maybe I'll try another bio of Timur someday.


  1. I recently bought an excellent book called "Amir Temur in History." Only 3000 were published, as its an official book from Uzbekistan. I haven't finished it yet, but it's surprisingly good. The translator was either very good, or the author was actually writing in fluent English [no Translation credit, but I've seen other translated works with no credit given]. In any event, it's only major flaw is that it was written to support Temur's new status as state hero of Uzbekistan. Still, that's actually not a big problem, except in passing moments.

  2. Thanks Michael, I'll have to see if I can find that book.

  3. I wrote my MA thesis on Temur. I agree that Manz's biography is technical and a bit dry, but her research is impeccable compared with Marozzi. It's also worth noting that much fine scholarship is only available in the journals: use something like JSTOR to track down the work of Stephen Woods or Marie Eve Subtelney, who both have colossal reputations in the field of Timurid studies

    I have to disagree with the assessment that "Amir Temur in History" is any good. It's propagandist rubbish, which was co-published by Unesco and the Uzbekistani government in 1996 to celebrate the 660th anniversay of Temur's supposed birth.

  4. Thanks Nick. Maybe I will try Manz again when I'm feeling a bit more scholarly. It was clear her book was far superior.

    And I rather suspected that about Amir Temur in History.

  5. 'Master of the world' cothburn o'neal is a fabulous book. The only worry I have is that being a historical novel for the mass market, there are no references. IT purports to be his autobiography and I am convinced from the matter that it is genuine, narrated to his grandson by Timur himself. But I want to find the sources as I have the paper back version which doesnt cite any.
    -V Shah