Cairo: Histories of a City

Nezar AlSayyad. Harvard/Belknap, $29.95 (260p) ISBN 978-0-674-04786-0
Cairo, or Al-Qahira, can be translated as both "the victorious" and "the oppressor," explains AlSayyad in his exceptionally absorbing and astute, cultural and architectural history of one of the world's most captivating cities. Professor of architecture, planning, and urban history at UC-Berkeley, AlSayyad structures his book smartly by place rather than strictly by period: each of the 12 chapters brings the reader to a new section of Cairo in an inviting, informed journey through its development. He introduces readers to the history and architecture of, among others, Coptic Cairo; the noted mosques of al-Azhar and a-Anwar; the Gezira Palace; and medieval Cairo. The final chapters, on the eras of Nasser and Mubarak, are especially gripping; AlSayyad warns that the city has been given to a "new elite" and the preservation of old Cairo for tourists is turning it into a Disney-like theme park. An important second thread of the book sees Cairo as inspiration for artists such as Jean-Léon Gérôme and writers Naguib Mahfouz and Alaa Al Aswany. The author's writing is elegantly clear and evocative, drawing the reader into the "messy and difficult" but "vibrant and innovative" city, leaving one wanting to know what he has to say about the politically transformed city's future. 73 color illus. 9 b&w illus.;13 color maps. (May)
Reviewed on: 03/21/2011
Release date: 05/01/2011
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 325 pages - 978-0-674-07245-9
Ebook - 349 pages - 978-0-674-06079-1
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