Known in the West as a cultural patron and as the ruler who sent exotic gifts to Charlemagne, Harun al-Rashid was also a soldier who waged war against the Byzantine empire, and a politician who often dealt ruthlessly with the religious and social revolts which threatened his far-flung kingdom. A symbol of the fabled Orient and the caliph portrayed in "The Thousand and One Nights," he is shown living grandly in his palace in Baghdad, surrounded by his wives, concubines, musicians and learned men, but is not merely a legendary figure. He was the son of a Yemenite slave who carved a path to power, very probably by poisoning the reigning caliph, her elder son. Harun reigned for a quarter of a century, and was the most famous caliph of the Abbasid dynasty. Through Arab chronicles, the author corrects our vision of 'Harun the Good', and gives a remarkable account of his development as a ruler of an empire that was shaken by religious and social insurrections.