I picked this book for the travel book category. I’m a couple of chapters into it, and it reads much more like a history book.
Ibn Battuta wasa 14th C Muslim traveler who recorded his 29 years’ worth of travel, concluding in 1355 CE. The book is called a rihla, which is a style of Arabic literature very popular in the 12th to 14th centuries. It is what we would call “Travel Writing” today, describing places and peoples, monuments and nature, adventure and wonders encountered on a person’s travel.
Battuta’s Rihla was unknown outside the Arabic world until the mid 19th century.
Everyone’s heard of Marco Polo. Polo died the year before Batutta started his journeys. Polo was exploring lands and landscapes that were totally alien to him and his culture. Battuta, however, was traveling within Dar al’Islam–the Islamic World, which, at the time of Batutta’s travels, extended from southern Spain to Western China, India, Mongolia, Eastern Europe to Sub-Saharan Africa, rendering Europe to a little barbaric hinterland to the northwest. (I’m using these modern geographical names for reference. “Spain” didn’t really exist yet, neither did “China” or “India”. They were physical geographic regions populated by different kingdoms, religions and peoples.)
So, he was traveling within culturally familiar territory, but boy was he traveling. His journey covers over 44 modern countries. The dude got around.
I think the point that Dunn is going to make in this book is that Dar al’Islam was nearly as interconnected as is the modern world. I grew up with this historical sense that if it wasn’t Europe, there wasn’t much there, as exemplified by Polo’s singular experience with meeting these strange peoples far away. Dunn tells me in his intro that Dar al’Islam in the 14th century was very cosmopolitan, that everyone knew everyone else (more or less) in the sense that China knew that Africa existed, how it appeared on a map, what kinds of people were there and what they were willing to trade for silks–there was none of this “New World” nonsense. Dunn takes my US-education-based historical map of the world and turns it inside out.
The meat of the book each takes and discusses a city that Battuta traveled in or through. Dunn actually traveled, himself, to many of these places. It is not a verbatim account of Battuta’s travel journals but rather a historical account of what that particular place was like at that time. It’s really interestingly in depth about Islam, both “was” and “is”.
So, this book is not a travel book, per se, but a book about a travel book. I’m going to bump it over into my History Book Published by a University Press category–it is really dense and will take all year to read, probably. I’ll choose another for the travel category.