Christiane Bird


"All the currents in Christiane Bird's enticing and extraordinary story, The Sultan's Shadow, draw us back to Zanzibar, and when we leave it, as with Oz, all the colors fade. She calls the island 'a magical forest-garden,' and this subliminal enchantment is at the core of her unusual history." --Andrew Wheatcroft

"Popular history at its best....[Bird] treats the past as a destination beckoning with a hundred tempting, unexplored corners. She's a gifted raconteur, skillfully integrating the tone and cadences of the celebrated storytelling styles of Africa and Arabia into her own writing. This she accomplishes with so little fuss you barely notice it until you're under her spell....Reading The Sultan's Shadow is like absorbing history through your skin." --Laura Miller

(starred review)

"Bird brilliantly tells of the 19th-century rise and fall of an Omani ruling family [and] its role in the enormous Indian Ocean slave trade....A first-rate cultural and political history that opens a window onto this little-known corner of modern history."


Christiane Bird's new book, The Sultan's Shadow: One Family's Rule at the Crossroads of East and West, was published by Random House on June 29, 2010.

From the book jacket:
A magnificent story, virtually unknown in the West, about two of the Middle East’s most remarkable figures—Oman’s Sultan Said and his rebellious daughter, Princess Salme—comes to life in this compelling narrative. From their capital on the sultry African island of Zanzibar, Sultan Said and his descendants were shadowed and all-but shattered by the rise and fall of the nineteenth-century East African slave trade.

“As shrewd, liberal, and enlightened a Prince as Arabia has ever produced.” That’s how explorer Richard Burton described Seyyid Said Al Busaid, who came to power in Oman in 1806, when he was 15 years old. During his half-century reign, Said ruled with uncanny contradiction: as a believer in a tolerant Islam who gained power through bloodshed and perfidy, and as an open-minded, intellectually curious man who established relations with the West while building a vast commercial empire on the backs of tens of thousands of slaves. His daughter, Salme, born to a concubine in a harem on Zanzibar, scandalized her family and people by eloping to Europe with a German businessman in 1866, converting to Christianity, and writing the first-known autobiography of an Arab woman.

Christiane Bird paints a stunning portrait of violent family feuds, international intrigues, and charismatic characters—from Sultan Said and Princess Salme to the wildly wealthy slave trader Tippu Tip and the indefatigable British anti-slavery crusader Dr. David Livingstone. The Sultan's Shadow is a brilliantly researched and irresistibly readable foray into the stark brutality and decadent beauty of a vanished world.

Selected Works

Narrative Nonfiction
The Sultan's Shadow: One Family's Rule at the Crossroads of East and West
A story of romance, religion, slavery, and geopolitics set in Oman, Germany, and Zanzibar.
A Thousand Sighs, A Thousand Revolts: Journeys in Kurdistan
"I cannot recommend too highly this brilliantly evocative portrait of a people."
--Noam Chomsky
Neither East Nor West: One Woman's Journey Through the Islamic Republic of Iran
"The product of a generous heart and a watchful eye."
--The New York Times
Travel Guide
The Da Capo Jazz and Blues Lover's Guide to the U.S. (Third Edition)
With over 900 hot clubs, cool joints, landmarks and legends, from boogie-woogie to bop and beyond.