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Baghdad: City of peace, city of blood
Justin Marozzi, travel writer, historian, journalist and communications expert

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Event details

How did the great metropolis of the Abbasid Caliphate, known as the City of Peace from its foundation in 762, become one of the most violent places on earth? Who were the mighty Abbasids and why was Harun al Rashid the unrivalled star of A Thousand and One Nights? What is it about Iraq that places Baghdad on the fault-line of the Sunni-Shia divide and why might the Americans have thought twice about invading it?

Justin Marozzi, who has spent much of the past decade living and working in Baghdad, tells the compelling story of a city that for 500 years was the centre of world civilisation. He brings to life some of the leading mathematicians, astronomers, scientists, medical men, poets, singers and musicians of their age, who flocked to Baghdad from across a swathe of the Islamic Empire from Central Asia to the shores of the Atlantic.

An engrossing portrait of a city of Jews, Christians and Muslims from the eighth century to today. In this tour d’horizon of one of the world’s great cities, Justin discusses some of the most colourful men and women in Baghdad’s 1,300-year history. A gripping, richly illustrated talk that encompasses high culture, low conflict and everything in between.

Speaker biography

Justin is a travel writer, historian, journalist and communications expert. He recently spent more than a year living in Mogadishu as communications advisor to the President and Prime Minister of Somalia. He has travelled extensively in the Middle East and Muslim world and has worked in conflict and post-conflict environments such as Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, Somalia and Darfur. He graduated from Cambridge with a Starred Double First in History in 1993, before studying Broadcast Journalism at Cardiff University and winning a scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania to read a Masters in International Relations. After working in the BBC World Service on News Hour and BBC Westminster on Today in Parliament, he joined the Financial Times as a foreign correspondent in Manila, where he also wrote for The Economist. During his time in the Far East, he shared a Winnebago with Imelda Marcos, a helicopter with the Philippine President and his mistress, and a curry with Aung San Suu Kyi whilst under house arrest in Rangoon.

His first book, South from Barbary, was an account of a 1,200-mile expedition by camel along the slave routes of the Libyan Sahara, described by the desert explorer and SAS veteran Michael Asher as “the first significant journey across the Libyan interior for a generation”. His second, Tamerlane: Sword of Islam, Conqueror of the World, launched in Baghdad in 2004, was the best-selling biography of the world’s greatest Islamic conqueror and a Sunday Telegraph Book of the Year: “Outstanding… Justin Marozzi is the most brilliant of the new generation of travel writer-historians.”

In 2006, he wrote Faces of Exploration, a collection of profiles of the world’s leading explorers. He has contributed to Meetings with Remarkable Muslims (an interview with the Afghan mujahid hero Ahmed Shah Massoud), The Seventy Greatest Journeys, and most recently The Art of War (essays on Genghis Khan, Kublai Khan and Tamerlane).

His fourth book, published in October 2008, was The Man Who Invented History: Travels with Herodotus, based on extensive research in Turkey, Iraq, Egypt and Greece. Apart from a year working for a British security company in Iraq, an encounter with the Grand Mufti of Egypt and an investigation into outwardly religious girls performing oral sex in car-parks in Cairo, one of the many highlights of the Herodotean trail was a retsina-fuelled lunch with the nonagenarian war hero and writer Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor.

Justin is a regular contributor to a wide range of national and international publications, including the Financial Times, Spectator, Times, Sunday Telegraph, Guardian, Evening Standard, Standpoint and Prospect, where he writes on international affairs, the Muslim world and defence and security issues, and has broadcast for the BBC World Service and Radio Four. 

Justin is a member of Chatham House, a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, where he has also lectured, and an Honorary Travel Member of the Travellers Club. In 2011 he was elected as a Councillor of the RGS and appointed a Senior Research Fellow in Journalism and the Popular Understanding of History at Buckingham University’s Humanities Research institute.


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