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The City that Changed the World

Islam Issa



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14 November 2023
'Monumental and vividly imagined . . . a fitting tribute to a city that has survived, changed and grown for so many centuries'

Daily Telegraph

'Wonderfully entertaining . . . written with vim and vigour'

Sunday Times

'Lively and engrossing . . . Issa has brilliantly illuminated the history of a great city'

Literary Review

A city drawn in sand.

Inspired by the tales of Homer and his own ambitions of empire, Alexander the Great sketched the idea of a city onto the sparsely populated Egyptian coastline. He did not live to see Alexandria built, but his vision of a sparkling metropolis that celebrated learning and diversity was swiftly realised and still stands today.

Situated on the cusp of Africa, Europe and Asia, great civilisations met in Alexandria. Together, Greeks and Egyptians, Romans and Jews created a global knowledge capital of enormous influence: the inventive collaboration of its citizens shaped modern philosophy, science, religion and more. In pitched battles, later empires, from the Arabs and Ottomans to the French and British, laid claim to the city but its independent spirit endures.

In this sweeping biography of the great city, Islam Issa takes us on a journey across millennia, rich in big ideas, brutal tragedies and distinctive characters, from Cleopatra to Napoleon. From its humble origins to dizzy heights and present-day strife, Alexandria tells the gripping story of a city that has shaped our modern world.

'A multifaceted history of an enthralling city'

Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones, author of Persians: The Age of the Great Kings

'A cornucopia of fascinating details, every page revealing a new delight'

Paul Strathern, author of The Medici: Godfathers of the Renaissance
Imprint:   Sceptre
Country of Publication:   United Kingdom
Dimensions:   Height: 236mm,  Width: 160mm,  Spine: 46mm
Weight:   780g
ISBN:   9781529377583
ISBN 10:   1529377587
Pages:   496
Publication Date:  
Audience:   General/trade ,  ELT Advanced
Format:   Hardback
Publisher's Status:   Active

Professor Islam Issa is an award-winning British-Egyptian writer, curator and broadcaster, and was recently named by the BBC as 'one of the UK's most significant new thinkers'. He is Professor of Literature and History at Birmingham City University, has authored several academic books and contributes regularly to the Guardian, New Statesman and Times Literary Supplement.

Reviews for Alexandria: The City that Changed the World

"'In Islam Issa's monumental and vividly imagined new tale of the city, Alexandria comes to life . . . Issa's Alexandria arrives at 2011's Arab Spring having covered more than two millennia in just over 400 pages - no mean feat. But his real success is the book's sense of personality. It ends with Issa walking through the modern city that now stands on the ancient site, passing its markets and Art Deco cinemas. He writes about the present as vividly as the storied past. This book is a fitting tribute to a city that has survived, changed and grown for so many centuries -- Francesca Peacock * Daily Telegraph * Founded by Alexander the Great on the Mediterranean coast, the city that bears his name evolved into one of the most dazzling metropolises in history. An intoxicating blend of Greek and Egyptian culture, Alexandria was a hub of philosophy, science, maths and history, as well as a city of pleasure, politics and astonishing violence. This is a wonderfully entertaining account of its history, written with vim and vigour -- Dominic Sandbrook, Books of the Year * Sunday Times * Issa, an Alexandrian himself, is an assured narrator with an easy, undemonstrative manner, who unearths myths and stories that give vivid life to his more sober account of Alexandria's travails and triumphs. -- Michael Prodger * New Statesman * Lively and engrossing . . . Issa combines love for the city with nostalgia for its vanished past . . . Issa has brilliantly illuminated the history of a great city -- David Abulafia * Literary Review * I was charmed by Islam Issa's Alexandria: The city That Changed the World, which recovers elegantly and poignantly the long history of rich interactions among the many communities of the city -- Books of the Year * Times Literary Supplement * Islam Issa's Alexandria is a fabulous book, in every sense of that word. It is a history of the city, of its multitudinous people, of its heroes and villains, of its Library and its Pharos, down through the ages to his own family and his life growing up there. It is a cornucopia of fascinating details, every page revealing a new delight. A work of brilliant and informed scholarship, as well as being a labour of love. It is as if Islam Issa was born to write this book. -- Paul Strathern, author of <i>The Medici</i> Issa does a fantastic job of explaining the history, taking the time to share the stories, both mythical and factual, that have made Alexandria the city it is today . . . Whatever the future does bring, it will be hard to tell its story in a more informed and affectionate way than Issa has. His history is a tribute to Alexandria, a reservoir of knowledge on the city, and sets a marker for those wishing to tell the stories of the world's great cities. * Al Jazeera * Had things gone differently for Antony and Cleopatra, then today we would be lauding the glories of Alexandria instead of Rome. But Islam Issa refuses to see Alexandria as an also-ran and does a fine job in this book of guiding us through Alexandria's long, colourful, rarely peaceful, past. By evoking the splendours of its palaces, temples, libraries, churches, museums, synagogues, mosques, bazaars, dance halls and cafes, the book provides a multifaceted history of an enthralling city. -- Professor Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones, author of <i>Persians: the Age of the Great Kings</i> Alexandria is the book on this amazing city that I've long been waiting for. It's wonderfully easy to read, solidly researched, and totally engaging -- Philip Freeman, author of <i>Hannibal: Rome's Greatest Enemy</i> Lively and well-researched -- Raphael Cormack * Times Literary Supplement * A comprehensive history . . . [Issa] relates his native city's past principally through attention to its most famous figures and rulers . . . A well-researched, readable history of one of the world's oldest and most consequential cities * Kirkus * A fascinating and much-needed book about this singular city written with vibrancy and skill. Issa's personal knowledge and passion for Alexandria, past and present, shine through every sentence. -- Violet Moller, author of <i>The Map of Knowledge</i> Issa delivers a lively chronicle of one of the world's most cosmopolitan cities from its beginnings almost two and a half millennia ago to the present . . . Issa vividly recounts invasions by the Crusaders, Ottomans, French and British, and shows how in the modern era Alexandria continued in its role as a cultural hub and social and religious melting pot. This impressively researched account reveals a captivating city through the ages * Publishers Weekly * Crackling with good storytelling across more than two millennia, this is a love letter that makes us long for Alexandria -- Paul Edmondson, author of <i>Shakespeare: Ideas in Profile</i> Islam Issa's love for Alexandria is palpable on every page, and part of the book's charm is due to the personal stories he occasionally weaves into the city's long tale. This UK history professor's ambitious vision for the book matches that of Alexandria's eponymous founder, which was to ""redefine the very idea of a city."" He takes us on a breathtaking gallop through twenty-four centuries . . . he makes a good case for the argument that Alexandria has long been overlooked as a foundational city that affected human civilization deeply and widely, and he offers an abundance of examples as to how, from philosophy and religion through scientific and mathematical breakthroughs. -- Jehanne Moharram * World Literature Today * Issa's biography of the city is comprehensive yet accessible bringing two and a half millennia of history vibrantly to life -- Shafik Meghji * Geographical * Eminently readable . . . Issa writes with enthusiasm and love bordering on passion for his subject -- David Luhrssen * Shepherd Express * A masterpiece worthy of the Great Library itself! -- Tristan Hughes, author of <i>The Perdiccas Years</i> Brimming with the sights and sounds of the streets of Alexandria, this is at once a moving family memoir, an exciting travel book, and a grand sweep history of one of the most thrilling cities on earth. A real journey, and yet a voyage of the mind to the Capital of Memory -- Michael Wood, author of <i>In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great</i> Issa is a genius guardian of Alexandria * Women's Weekly * Islam Issa paints with bold, broad brushstrokes a picture of that famous Mediterranean cosmopolis, giving a stimulating long durée outline history of Alexandria and its inhabitants. His style is episodic, having a keen eye for crucial events and attention-grabbing anecdotes. Issa is an excellent storyteller. Through more than 2,000 years of Alexandrian narrative, he weaves little threads of his own Alexandrian experiences . . . Alexandria's subject matter is one of the great civilisational stories, and Issa tells it compellingly. * Catholic Herald * Issa tells a spellbinding narrative . . . few authors capture in their words the genuine love and appreciation they have for their subject matter, but Issa does so with remarkable clarity and depth. The city shines to life under Issa's pen, vividly evoking its prime * Athens Insider * The result of his experience is a powerful monograph on the city's cultural significance. It is firmly rooted in historical fact, and it is easy to pick up on Alexandria's personal importance to the author . . . Rather than repeating myths, Issa seeks to critically examine them in light of factual evidence, allowing both the real and imaginary Alexandria to exist side-by-side. -- Arienne King * World History Encyclopedia *"

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