Writing about Islam and its founder is often the equivalent of walking on eggshells in today’s fraught world. In this context, what Lesley Hazleton – a journalist and writer who reported regularly from West Asia – has achieved with her biography is a remarkable work of finesse. The First Muslim dives into the rich – but surprisingly under-written – material around the actual life and times of Muhammad to emerge with a complex portrait of an individual and his arc of existence.

A mix of history – using sources contemporary to Muhammad – psychology, politics and, of course, religion, the book details not only Muhammed’s life but also provides a fascinating glimpse into the life of his wife Khadija, a key figure both in his own journey and in that period. The picture that emerges of the position of women is one of the richest discoveries that a reader will make from this book. And, above all, the drama of a complex life is captured and communicated with flair.

Published in 2013.