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the Complete Review
the complete review - autobiography/history


Zahiruddin Muhammad Babur

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To purchase the Baburnama

Title: Baburnama
Author: Zahiruddin Muhammad Babur
Genre: Autobiography
Written: 1529
Length: 446 pages
Original in: Chaghatay Turkish
Availability: Baburnama (Thackston transl.) - US
. The Babur Nama (Beveridge transl.) - US
. Baburnama - UK
. Baburnama - Canada
Le livre de Babur - France
  • Memoirs of Babur, Prince and Emperor
  • Original title: بابر نامہ‬‎
  • Translated, edited, and annotated by Wheeler M. Thackston
  • The Modern Library Classic paperback edition (published 2002) also has an Introduction by Salman Rushdie
  • Previously translated by Annette Susannah Beveridge (1905-1921); re-issued in 2020 as a volume in the Everyman's Library, with an Introduction by William Dalrymple

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Our Assessment:

B+ : fascinating, in part confounding, historical document

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
J. of the Am. Oriental Soc. . 10-12/1997 Robert Dankoff
J. of Islamic Studies . 1/1999 Stephen Frederic Dale
J. of the Royal Asiatic Soc. . 7/1999 D.O.Morgan
Middle East Journal A- Spring/1997 Iran B Jewett
The New Republic A- 6/1/1997 Amitav Ghosh
The NY Times* . 30/11/2020 Dwight Garner
The NY Times Book Rev. A- 7/1/1996 Robert Irwin
Wall St. Journal* . 6/11/2020 Tunku Varadarajan
[* refers to the Annette Susannah Beveridge translation]

Please note that Robert Dankoff's review also refers to the more complete three volume Chagatay/Persian/English Harvard University edition (the English translation being identical to the Oxford UP version reviewed by the others).
  Review Consensus:

  A classic text. Very enthusiastic about excellent presentation of the book. Some reservations about aspects of the translation -- in part its modern tone, in part specific complaints about certain words.

  From the Reviews:
  • "In sum, Thackston has some fine features but also some serious drawbacks. (...) The elegant English translation, far superior to Beveridge in so many respects, unfortunately does not quite replace Beveridge, and even in the OUP version has some serious errors; I hope it will be corrected and published in a second edition." - Robert Dankoff, Journal of the American Oriental Society

  • "Babur's memoirs combine literature with history, and Thackston has gone to a great deal of trouble to make the text as clear as possible. The reader, however, will occasionally disagree with the translation of a word." - Iran B. Jewett, Middle East Journal

  • "(The Baburnama) belongs with that tiny handful of the world's literary masterpieces that can accurately be described as unique: works that are without precedent and without imitators." - Amitav Ghosh, The New Republic

  • "(T)he reason The Babur Nama speaks intimately across the centuries -- the reason this book has been compared to the diaries of Samuel Pepys -- is how intelligent, humane, self-critical and even light-souled it is. (...) Babur is charming and surprisingly modern company on the page." - Dwight Garner, The New York Times

  • "(T)he general reader should be warned that this is not a book to be dutifully read page by page. Rather, parts of Babur's story should be rapidly skimmed, while others should be savored." - Robert Irwin, The New York Times Book Review

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       This historic document is unusual for a number of reasons. An autobiography, it was written in a culture and time where the genre was unknown. Written in Chagatay Turkish, the spoken language of the Timurids, it is "one of the longest examples of sustained prose in the language." And the author, the great Babur, is one of the leading figures of his time
       The text is not complete, but great parts of it remain. Best known in its Persian version it has been translated into English before. Wheeler M. Thackston Jr.'s is a new translation, more scholarly in approach as well as with a considerably updated style. The Oxford University Press edition is a remarkable book, generously illustrated with pictures from the period and photographs of sites figuring in the text. Maps and genealogical tables also help the reader navigate through the bewildering array of people and places. Of particular use are also the extensive notes, well-positioned in the wide margins of the text. The presentation of the text is exemplary.
       The text itself is also fascinating. In 1494, "in the province of Fergana, in my twelfth year I became king," Babur begins his chronicle. He describes the small state and how he came to be king, the first steps in an illustrious career that would take him far from this place. He is meticulous in recording the details of his life: here and throughout his autobiography Babur is careful to give a full picture of geography, history, nature, and the many people involved.
       The chronicle provides a wealth of information about many aspects of the life and history of those turbulent times. Babur explains the conflicts and battles between nations and peoples, but he also gives detailed descriptions of the new lands and customs he comes across, a useful and vivid panorama of much of Central and South East Asia.
       Babur is also forthright in his descriptions of himself, with little puffery. He acknowledges weaknesses and uncertainty as to certain actions (or, for example, shyness in his relationship with his wife when he first weds at a young age). There are attempts at poetry interspersed in the text. Alcohol and battle are soberly and humanly addressed.
       Babur's great, lasting success was the conquest of Hindustan and the establishment of the Mughal dynasty there. Although he recognizes it as a triumph, it is also clear that he misses his Central Asian roots.
       The text is not complete, but it gives a full picture of Babur's fascinating life. Wheeler M. Thackston Jr.'s extensive marginal notes also provide much of the additional information regarding the players and the actions addressed in the text. Many of the scenes (and Babur himself) come alive in the often gripping history.
       There are some difficulties to the text, particularly Babur's penchant of providing too much detail. There are long lists of names, obscure lineages carefully traced, and natural descriptions that might not be of general interest. The text does not always read smoothly, though the presentation tries to make it as easy on the reader as possible.
       A fascinating and beautiful book, it is not always an easy or enjoyable read. Much, however, is very impressive, and it is a great document of the times. Certainly recommended.

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Baburnama: Reviews: Babur: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Zahiruddin Muhammad Babur (1483-1530) was one of the greatest Timurid leaders, a descendant of Tamerlane (Amir Temür). He conquered Hindustan and founded the Mughal dynasty.

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