Nezar AlSayyad narrates the many Cairos that have existed through time, offering a panorama unmatched in temporal and geographic scope, through an in-depth examination of the city's architecture and urban form. His narration illuminates how there can be "no one history of the city, but rather multiple, contested, and often invented histories."
In the voluminous literature on Cairo, when one would have though everything had already been said (and oft repeated), here comes a new, quirky, original book that takes flight over the full, if fragmented, range of the region's histories. I can think of no other biography of the city that touches on the entire time range between pharaonic and modern times and straddles both sides of the changing course of the Nile and the desert outreaches. AlSayyad is sensitive to themes of Egyptian cultural continuity and the country's ongoing contradictions between openness and tolerance, on the one hand, and fierce religious sectarian and ideological shifts on the other. -- Janet Abu-Lughod, Department of Sociology, New School University Nezar AlSayyad's invigorating and innovative new account of Cairo adroitly interweaves stories of the city's people and places with those of the city's storytellers. Cairo encompasses the entire life of the great metropolis, and AlSayyad meticulously sets right myths and misconceptions about the City Victorious and its monuments. This will be the standard account for years to come." -- Dell Upton, Department of Art History, University of California, Los Angeles This is a book as grand as the city it describes. In telling the story of Cairo, Nezar AlSayyad places in the foreground its great architectural monuments and the historical figures who shaped its growth. These are drawn against a rich background portraying the broader political history of Egypt. Cairo: Histories of a City captures both the built detail and the historical landscape of a remarkable metropolis. -- Timothy Mitchell, Department of Middle East and Asia Languages and Cultures, Columbia University Nezar AlSayyad establishes new intellectual horizons which allow him to narrate urban history with its complex social and political dimensions through the architecture of the city. In this tour de force, AlSayyad opens our eyes and minds to Cairo's place and time in the larger history of humanity. -- Gamal al-Ghitany,author of Zayni Barakat, and Khitat al-Ghitani
[An] exceptionally absorbing and astute, cultural and architectural history of one of the world's most captivating cities...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-Leon Gerome 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. Publishers Weekly 20110321
Nezar AlSayyad is Professor of Architecture, Planning and Urban History, and Chair of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.