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Encyclopedic and panoramic in its scope, this fascinating work chronicles the rich spiritual, political, and cultural institutions of Arab history through 13 centuries. No region in the world today is more important than the Middle East: no people more misunderstood than the Arabs. In this definitive masterwork, distinguished Oxford historian Albert Hourani offers the most Encyclopedic and panoramic in its scope, this fascinating work chronicles the rich spiritual, political, and cultural institutions of Arab history through 13 centuries. No region in the world today is more important than the Middle East: no people more misunderstood than the Arabs. In this definitive masterwork, distinguished Oxford historian Albert Hourani offers the most lucid, enlightening history ever written on the subject. From the rise of Islam to the Palestinian issue, from the Prophet Mohammed to Mu'ammar al-Qadhafi. A History of the Arab Peoples chronicles the rich spiritual, political and cultural institutions of this civilization through thirteen centuries of war, peace, literature and religion. Lauded by authorities, encyclopedic and panoramic in its scope, here is a remarkable window on today's conflicts and on the future of a glorious and troubled land.


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Encyclopedic and panoramic in its scope, this fascinating work chronicles the rich spiritual, political, and cultural institutions of Arab history through 13 centuries. No region in the world today is more important than the Middle East: no people more misunderstood than the Arabs. In this definitive masterwork, distinguished Oxford historian Albert Hourani offers the most Encyclopedic and panoramic in its scope, this fascinating work chronicles the rich spiritual, political, and cultural institutions of Arab history through 13 centuries. No region in the world today is more important than the Middle East: no people more misunderstood than the Arabs. In this definitive masterwork, distinguished Oxford historian Albert Hourani offers the most lucid, enlightening history ever written on the subject. From the rise of Islam to the Palestinian issue, from the Prophet Mohammed to Mu'ammar al-Qadhafi. A History of the Arab Peoples chronicles the rich spiritual, political and cultural institutions of this civilization through thirteen centuries of war, peace, literature and religion. Lauded by authorities, encyclopedic and panoramic in its scope, here is a remarkable window on today's conflicts and on the future of a glorious and troubled land.

30 review for A History of the Arab Peoples

  1. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    For some reason unbeknownst to me I have a fascination with the history of the Middle East/Anatolia. From the Byzantines to the Ottomans I just find the history of the region of the people really interesting. I think it may be because there is such a unique mixing of people, cultures, and ideas in the region that more engaging to me than, say, Tudor England or Colonial America. This region has seen some of the greatest world empires, it is the birthplace of the major Monotheistic religions, and For some reason unbeknownst to me I have a fascination with the history of the Middle East/Anatolia. From the Byzantines to the Ottomans I just find the history of the region of the people really interesting. I think it may be because there is such a unique mixing of people, cultures, and ideas in the region that more engaging to me than, say, Tudor England or Colonial America. This region has seen some of the greatest world empires, it is the birthplace of the major Monotheistic religions, and has exchanged hands innumerable times, resulting in a unique blending of cultures and peoples not seen anywhere else. I am not as well read or knowledgeable about the Arab portion of the story so I was eager to dive into this extensive book. And extensive this book is. Hourani aims to provide the reader with a total understanding of how Arab (and later non-Arab Muslim) society was structured. From the early Arab tribesmen and (I kid you not) the type of poetry they created to cosmopolitan Damascus to the dry stretches of North Africa Hourani dives into the dynamics of how these societies operated and their relationship with the wider Arab speaking world. While this does get a bit dry at times (insert desert pun here) the reader gets an excellent window into how the people of the past lived. For me the most illuminating part was all the interlocking interests that existed in the Arab speaking world. It wasn't as simple as the Shah/Caliph/King issuing an order and it being carried out, there were many layers of control, influence, and interests. For instance there is a pretty constant back and forth between the settled peoples of the land and the nomadic herdsman. Depending on political conditions (how strong or weak a central government was), the climate, and economic factors the settled folks might be dominant over the herdsman or the other way around. It was a relationship in constant flux and impacted the local balance of power. Another fascinating relationship was between the religious leaders (the ulama) and secular authorities. On the one hand there were those who held that the religious and secular worlds should be separate ("In hell there is a valley uniquely reserved for 'ulama who visit kings.") while others who thought they could influence leaders and ensure that religious laws and customs were enforced in the land. Of course it didn't hurt that secular leaders would build and maintain mosques, endow religious colleges, and generally look to secure legitimacy from the religious leaders. This relationship, like all others across time, changed with the coming of modernity and the need for Arab states to modernize in the face of potential domination by the West. I had also under appreciated the impact that the spread of Arab as a spoken language would have on societies. By conquering and holding such a vast stretch of land the initial Arab conquerors brought their language to a wider population and made it the official language of government. This also made it the unofficial language of trade across the Southern and Eastern Mediterranean Sea as well as across the silk road trade routes. This common language and shared Islamic culture really helped facilitate long term trade and credit and drive the economic engine of the Arab world, which at the time far surpassed contemporary Western Christendom. For me, though, the most compelling section dealt with how European powers came to dominate and occupy Arab states and how this dominance altered the traditional patterns of life in these states. Being conquered by unbelievers who were clearly organizationally, technologically, and economically more advanced than the Arab societies was a shock to those societies. One passage especially stood out to be regarding just how dominant the West had become economically:"British exports to the eastern Mediterranean countries increased 800% in value between 1815 and 1850; by that time beduin in the Syrian desert were wearing shirts made of Lancashire cotton." The reaction to this dominance was a move by many states to emulate Western culture, from colleges, to governmental structures, to new economic relationships. As Western business interests expanded in these states, primarily driven by resource extraction and agricultural projects, there was a mixing of European migrants and the upper echelon of Arab speaking societies. This facilitated the further transfer of such Western ideas such as freedom, nationalism, and representative government to these states, but mixed with Islamic beliefs and sensibilities. While the base ideas were Western the Arab speaking states adapted them to their own history, circumstances, and culture. All in all this was a very extensive and exhaustive examination and exploration of Arab speaking cultures from its beginning in the Arabian Desert through roughly 2002 (hence the New Afterward). If you are looking for an introductory book on Arab speaking and Islamic culture I would suggest Destiny Disrupted, it is a lot more accessible to a first time reader and shorter too. But if you are looking for a more complex and complete view, of Arab speaking societies and already have a pretty solid knowledge base of Islamic history, this is the book for you.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Hadrian

    Starting with a biographical sketch of Ibn Khaldun, this History of the Arab Peoples starts with a brief description of the pre-Islamic era before through the caliphates, the Ottoman era, and "the age of European empires", concluding in 1990. The preface and afterword by Malise Ruthven from the more recent edition provide a biography of Hourani's own life and a summary of events up to the early 2010s, but much has happened since then. This is primarily a book of social and cultural history, and Starting with a biographical sketch of Ibn Khaldun, this History of the Arab Peoples starts with a brief description of the pre-Islamic era before through the caliphates, the Ottoman era, and "the age of European empires", concluding in 1990. The preface and afterword by Malise Ruthven from the more recent edition provide a biography of Hourani's own life and a summary of events up to the early 2010s, but much has happened since then. This is primarily a book of social and cultural history, and concerns institutions or governing philosophers that have arisen from, or indeed reacted to, periods of instability. As a general reader, I found this was a useful guide to the region's history; a specialist may have a better response as to what Hourani chose to emphasize or leave out.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Derek Ide

    First, a preliminary comment warranted by any book of this size and magnitude, there is something overwhelming about engaging in the entire history of a people in one book. It was a feat that Hourani should have been proud of. The book is jam-packed with information. It is fairly readable, considering the length, but Hourani accomplished the readability by not including any footnotes, only general references at the end of the book. This means, essentially, that none of his facts or statistics or First, a preliminary comment warranted by any book of this size and magnitude, there is something overwhelming about engaging in the entire history of a people in one book. It was a feat that Hourani should have been proud of. The book is jam-packed with information. It is fairly readable, considering the length, but Hourani accomplished the readability by not including any footnotes, only general references at the end of the book. This means, essentially, that none of his facts or statistics or anything can be checked, and it makes it extremely difficult to follow his line of research, and engage in one own's research from his book. It's not a massive drawback, given the ease with one can access information about a subject or topic, but it would have been nice to have been able to see where he drew certain statistics/facts from. As far as content goes, Hourani does an excellent job of mitigating the potential pitfalls of attempting to cover such a vast topic. He does well encompassing a variety of aspects, including political and social movements, culture and literature, economics, etc. There are many aspects of this which leave the reader hanging, however. Often, a revolt or uprising is mentioned, with no context and no other information. It is simply given by name or, sometimes, not even named at all. Since he doesn't cite his source, you cannot often go back and figure it out without an enormously frustrating amount of time shooting in the dark on the internet. One of the major drawbacks is his treatment of empire. He is far too lenient on the imperial powers, especially Britain (he seems to be harder on France, for whatever reason, perhaps because of his own location). The way his book presents empire, one imagines that the great imperial powers had their own interests, which they took care of, but were generally benevolent masters which simply made mistakes due to a lack of knowledge, bad choices, etc. I think, before engaging a book like this, one ought to read Michael Parenti's "Against Empire" or "The Face of Imperialism" just to have a primer on how imperialism works. The next point, and this was a shock to me, Hourani completely whitewashes the 1948 Palestinian Nakba. He present it as, essentially, a war between two equal sides, in which the Zionist forces were better prepared and won the day. He mentions a few hundred thousand Palestinians become refugees, but doesn't mention any of the terror, the violence, the death brought about by Zionist policy, outlined, for instance, in Plan Dalet. I would suggest, as an antidote to this, one reads the alexipharmic book by Israeli historian Ilan Pappe titled "The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine." At any rate, if you want something to satisfy a basic desire to engage the Arab world, this is the book.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Matahari Kesadaran

    This is not a book for the faint of heart. To be honest, I stopped reading the book halfway through the section on the Ottoman Empire. It's huge, dry, oftentimes boring, but it gets the job done. This book lacks many of the exciting details usually covered in history, such as battles, wars, biographies, etc. However, whatever it lacks in excitement it totally makes up for in raw information. If you want to know how peasants in medieval Syria lived, bam! Here's your book. If you want to know the This is not a book for the faint of heart. To be honest, I stopped reading the book halfway through the section on the Ottoman Empire. It's huge, dry, oftentimes boring, but it gets the job done. This book lacks many of the exciting details usually covered in history, such as battles, wars, biographies, etc. However, whatever it lacks in excitement it totally makes up for in raw information. If you want to know how peasants in medieval Syria lived, bam! Here's your book. If you want to know the relationship between pastoral nomads, rural farmers, and urban craftsmen, here's your book. If you want to know about the roots of Sunnism and different schools of Islamic thought, this is your book. If you're a normal human being who expects to get through this monster in a few days, you probably shouldn't read this book. I am a fan of Islamic history and this is too hardcore, even for me. However, I did feel like I left with a better understanding of medieval Islamic society. For example, many people think that people converted to Islam directly because of the Muslim conquests, but the majority of the people living in Muslim territories were actually non-Muslims. There was an intricate balance between the conquerors and the conquered. All in all, it was a peaceful balance. After all, these people were valuable as government administrators, and there were various other instances where non-Muslims were actually important. For example, Jews were crucial in the trade with Byzantium during a time when Byzantine-Arab relations were extremely sour. In a more humorous example, Muslims are not allowed to produce or consume alcohol, but oftentimes, they would secretly buy bottles from Christians, and this happened frequently, apparently. In truth, medieval Islam was an incredibly complex, cosmopolitan, multicultural, multi-faith society. It was surprisingly urban (especially compared to medieval Europe, perhaps even comparable to medieval China), and it produced many great cities. It connected the world by linking the Indian Ocean trade with the Mediterranean. That's what I got out of this book. This is a book about people and their societies. It's almost anthropological in nature, as opposed to what you might expect from other conventional history books. If this is what you're looking for, by all means, check this book out, but if you're looking for something more exciting, look elsewhere. If you do decided to read this, try to approach it like you would an encyclopedia. Read certain selections and skim through others. Take it out of your bookshelf whenever you might need to use it as reference. You will have to be brave to read this thing in one go.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Michael Finocchiaro

    For those interested in a factual and well-written account of the history of the middle east, Hourani's History of the Arab Peoples is extraordinarily good. There is no political grandstanding here, just facts. It is absolutely fascinating to see how the tribes in which the Prophet Mohammed became a major military and cultural force in only a few centuries conquering northern Africa to Malaysia. You learn about the split between the shiites and sunnites, the spin offs such as the dervishes and t For those interested in a factual and well-written account of the history of the middle east, Hourani's History of the Arab Peoples is extraordinarily good. There is no political grandstanding here, just facts. It is absolutely fascinating to see how the tribes in which the Prophet Mohammed became a major military and cultural force in only a few centuries conquering northern Africa to Malaysia. You learn about the split between the shiites and sunnites, the spin offs such as the dervishes and the sufis, and the various dynasties that culminated in the Ottoman caliphate. Given the current political context of lies, lies and damn lies, it is a critical read to get a true version of the history of the Arab peoples and a better understanding of historical Islam to better contextualise the current world situation.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Malcolm

    I'm always impressed by scholars who can write these grand synthetic histories that draw together vast spans of time and space. In this case, the project is made all the more difficult because there is a long middle period in Arab history about which we know very little. Understandably, Hourani treats his starting point as the emergence of the school of thought that has become Islam – sources for any earlier period are patchy – but it also causes a problem in that the period covered by the 11th I'm always impressed by scholars who can write these grand synthetic histories that draw together vast spans of time and space. In this case, the project is made all the more difficult because there is a long middle period in Arab history about which we know very little. Understandably, Hourani treats his starting point as the emergence of the school of thought that has become Islam – sources for any earlier period are patchy – but it also causes a problem in that the period covered by the 11th to the 15th centuries in the Christian calendar therefore seem flat, and a paucity of sources mean that Hourani must conjecture more than we usually do when writing history, and the section of the book reads like a historical ethnography. But to focus on this and the broader empiricist narrative is to miss a key point: Hourani has, in many ways, constructed a modern version of the kind of history outlined by the 14th century (AD, again – 8th century AH) Muslim historian Ibn Khaldun, and in doing so has written an ideologically disruptive history that places the Arab world at the centre of its own story. Agency lies with the Arab world with Europe (the usual centre of world histories) only appearing from time to time until the age of the great European empires. This is a dense book in places – but then it does cover a large sweep of North Africa and West Asia over 1400 years in only 450 pages – but well worth it. And in this recent English edition the afterword by Malise Ruthven, written just before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, is worth it for its prescience. Highly recommended.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Liz Polding

    An outstanding and thought-provoking book with some scarily accurate thoughts on how the situation in the Middle East might develop. The afterword by Malise Ruthven in 2002 discusses how the issues raised by Hourani's book have developed since his death a decade earlier and of course so much has happened since even that was written. I found this a fascinating and highly readable work, with a wide-ranging investigation into the history of so many nation states and political and religious factions. An outstanding and thought-provoking book with some scarily accurate thoughts on how the situation in the Middle East might develop. The afterword by Malise Ruthven in 2002 discusses how the issues raised by Hourani's book have developed since his death a decade earlier and of course so much has happened since even that was written. I found this a fascinating and highly readable work, with a wide-ranging investigation into the history of so many nation states and political and religious factions. I enjoyed it even more than John Julius Norwich's Byzantium trilogy, mainly because it continues into this century and offers a perspective on events such as the Suez crisis, the assassination of Sadat and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. This may be a scholarly book, but it is anything but dry to read and it offers a wealth of information and insight into how the Middle East came to be as it is. I thoroughly recommend it to anyone with an interest in this area.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Tim

    Hourani acknowledges the challenges of his narrative in that his focus could be both “too large or too small” (preface, xvii). It’s a complicated matter to communicate a culture and people that have been shaped so foundationally by a particular revelation and Prophet made even more complex by the fact that their part of the world has rich meaning and value on many levels for everyone else. On top of this, Orientalism has inserted itself into the English language quite effectively, as have many o Hourani acknowledges the challenges of his narrative in that his focus could be both “too large or too small” (preface, xvii). It’s a complicated matter to communicate a culture and people that have been shaped so foundationally by a particular revelation and Prophet made even more complex by the fact that their part of the world has rich meaning and value on many levels for everyone else. On top of this, Orientalism has inserted itself into the English language quite effectively, as have many other racist prejudices that have become a core of our speech. It ultimately requires learning another language to truly understand, and I’m just now beginning that process myself. In addition to all this, Hourani was a Christian, not a Muslim, but his native language, Arabic, was of course so shaped by Islam that his tone gives a perspective of the non-Muslim that is unique in English histories. As a point of departure, Hourani acknowledges the Muslim historian Khaldun as shaping the paradigm of his writing. Khaldun’s Muqaddima (Prolegomena) is next on my reading list, and in it (according to Hourani), Khaldun sees historical patterns in the form of rulers with exclusive authority of groups of followers possessing ‘asabiyya or a corporate spirit oriented towards obtaining and keeping power. This might likely occur from a sense of a common ancestry or ties of dependence reinforced by a common acceptance of a religion. On top of this, Khaldun believed that every ruling structure bore within itself the seeds of its own decline as power would ultimately corrupt one group and then pass to another group with this common core solidarity. The point where religion and culture intersect is a complicated issue, particularly in a history of the Arabs. Islam as a faith is all-encompassing, much more so than Christianity-in-practice, and in the case of Islam, the Arabic language itself owes much of its present construction to linguistic methods and phrases derived from the Qur’an. To say that the Qur’an is in the very subconscious of Arabic speaking peoples would be true on multiple levels, spiritual or otherwise, no matter their beliefs regarding God. On top of this, to define Islam, or pin it down to one specific meaning, is laid out as close to impossible, yet this common identity with multiple manifestations also accounts for its longevity. Hourani sets up these ideas as a prelude to our current time, when all these foundations collide with modern day politics, economics, massive population growth and demand for resources to create a perfect storm of potential conflict in a part of the world that holds spiritual traditions and coveted material resources for most of the planet. Reading a book like this shows how misguided it can be to reduce ideas concerning “Islam” or “Arabs” to simplistic perceptions based only on extremists. Violence that takes the form of religion is arguably rarely about religion. At base it’s much more likely based on some sort of struggle for survival, whether political or social. Religion in the end is symbolic for ultimate reality. It’s a language that expresses deeper ideas. Hourani’s history should be required reading for any English speaker, particularly this year in this US election cycle.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jim

    Albert Hourani's A History of the Arab Peoples gives an excellent background how the peoples of the Arab world got from the days of Muhammad to 1991, the year the book was published. There are many additional chapters to be written after September 11, 2001; the US invasion of Iraq; the so-called Arab Spring; the Syrian Civil War; the advent of ISIS; the downfall of Qaddafi in Libya; and the movement of peoples from the Arab world en masse to Europe. These would be hard chapters to write, as we a Albert Hourani's A History of the Arab Peoples gives an excellent background how the peoples of the Arab world got from the days of Muhammad to 1991, the year the book was published. There are many additional chapters to be written after September 11, 2001; the US invasion of Iraq; the so-called Arab Spring; the Syrian Civil War; the advent of ISIS; the downfall of Qaddafi in Libya; and the movement of peoples from the Arab world en masse to Europe. These would be hard chapters to write, as we are still very much in the middle of all these events or of their repercussions. The first half of the book is particularly valuable. The second half, which brings in the fall of the Ottoman Empire and an uncomfortable (for both sides) engagement with the Western World. It is difficult to see from where we stand today how all this will play out between the West and the Muslim peoples of the Middle east and North Africa. There is a famous question that someone asked V I Lenin about what he thought, after the October Revolution, of the French Revolution. Lenin wisely answered, "It's still too early to tell." Likewise, it's way to early to make predictions about some of the central issues of world politics and demographics.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Erik Graff

    I believe this book was recommended by a secular Muslim friend who loaned me her copy. It was, remarkably, the first book about Arab history as a whole that I'd ever read and is designed for Anglo-Americans who aren't very familiar with Arab history. I believe this book was recommended by a secular Muslim friend who loaned me her copy. It was, remarkably, the first book about Arab history as a whole that I'd ever read and is designed for Anglo-Americans who aren't very familiar with Arab history.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Daniel

    The Ottomans, Europeans, Americans etc come and go yet Hourani is far more interested in the development of Arab poetry than the conquerors. In short, the book does what it says on the tin. Personally, I would have liked to see more on the development of Wahhabism and political Islam/the Muslim brotherhood than Sufism, but I can see that their influence hasn't (yet?) reached the longevity of Sufism. The Ottomans, Europeans, Americans etc come and go yet Hourani is far more interested in the development of Arab poetry than the conquerors. In short, the book does what it says on the tin. Personally, I would have liked to see more on the development of Wahhabism and political Islam/the Muslim brotherhood than Sufism, but I can see that their influence hasn't (yet?) reached the longevity of Sufism.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Adam Khayat

    Hourani's systematic explication of Arab civilization is superb. Rather than being merely a chronicle of events, it is also a history of ideas. His analysis is predicated upon a "Khaldunian" approach, which derives from the philosopher Ibn Khaldun's theories of cyclical renewal and asabiyya, "a corporate spirit oriented towards obtaining and keeping power." Hourani's academic modus operandi is thus both durable and insightful. Though published in 1991, this work provides readers with a comprehen Hourani's systematic explication of Arab civilization is superb. Rather than being merely a chronicle of events, it is also a history of ideas. His analysis is predicated upon a "Khaldunian" approach, which derives from the philosopher Ibn Khaldun's theories of cyclical renewal and asabiyya, "a corporate spirit oriented towards obtaining and keeping power." Hourani's academic modus operandi is thus both durable and insightful. Though published in 1991, this work provides readers with a comprehensive and contextualized understanding of Middle Eastern societies before its initial printing. Nonetheless, it must be understood that this book attempts to discuss more than 1,400 years of history in just over 500 pages of text; therefore, it is not all-inclusive. I highly recommend this to those who are not familiar with the history of the Middle East.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Derek

    An expert exposition on the history of the Middle-East. While it is not about Islam per se, Islam was the catalyst which unified the previously tribal people of the Arabian Peninsula and galvanized their rise to become a player on the world stage. Thus Islam plays a predominant role in the book, and it is a good resource for an understanding of many modern Islamic issues. He also explores in depth the era of European imperialism and its impact on modern Arabian social movements. The writing stri An expert exposition on the history of the Middle-East. While it is not about Islam per se, Islam was the catalyst which unified the previously tribal people of the Arabian Peninsula and galvanized their rise to become a player on the world stage. Thus Islam plays a predominant role in the book, and it is a good resource for an understanding of many modern Islamic issues. He also explores in depth the era of European imperialism and its impact on modern Arabian social movements. The writing strikes a nice balance; a scholarly work, it is still not forbidding for a non-academic reader.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Alice

    A very comprehensive history not only of the political/military campaigns, but most importantly (to me) the actual lives of the people. Unlike many history books, this concentrates on linking the larger movements in society to the lives of all classes of people in not only the arab states, but the larger Muslim world, including north Africa, Turkey, and Iran. It's not, however, a book for those casually interested in the area - it's huge and quite dry at times. I actually had to put it aside a f A very comprehensive history not only of the political/military campaigns, but most importantly (to me) the actual lives of the people. Unlike many history books, this concentrates on linking the larger movements in society to the lives of all classes of people in not only the arab states, but the larger Muslim world, including north Africa, Turkey, and Iran. It's not, however, a book for those casually interested in the area - it's huge and quite dry at times. I actually had to put it aside a few times and read something shorter and quicker, then return to finish it.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Jombo

    Some good insights here and there but it's ultimately a shallow work. The problem is in the title. The author never defines "Arab peoples" and what transpires is a shallow account of Islamic history in the Levant, Arabian Peninsula and North Africa, or roughly the area of Arab speaking peoples. Perhaps it seems to me that the "Arab" character is artificial and conceals more than it illuminates about 1500 years of history, even if the Arab conquests and the Arab language's importance in Islam is Some good insights here and there but it's ultimately a shallow work. The problem is in the title. The author never defines "Arab peoples" and what transpires is a shallow account of Islamic history in the Levant, Arabian Peninsula and North Africa, or roughly the area of Arab speaking peoples. Perhaps it seems to me that the "Arab" character is artificial and conceals more than it illuminates about 1500 years of history, even if the Arab conquests and the Arab language's importance in Islam is taken into account.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Andre

    I probably learn more about the Arabs from one reading of this book then from 65 years of reading newspapers.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Jordan Bradford

    What I loved about this is how it gives valuable insights and answers to a Western audience while covering a broad swath of history while still being readable. Highly recommended .

  18. 4 out of 5

    Nikhil Iyengar

    Most of the people of the Arab world have qualified more for the linguistic part of their ethno linguistic group, and this book is an excellent and objective work that covers their history. Narrating events that range from the advent of Islam to the period just before the Arab Spring, the three major political eras that it discusses are the caliphates, the Ottoman Empire, and the post World War would of European rule and restoration of native rule. In each of these eras, the politics, religion, Most of the people of the Arab world have qualified more for the linguistic part of their ethno linguistic group, and this book is an excellent and objective work that covers their history. Narrating events that range from the advent of Islam to the period just before the Arab Spring, the three major political eras that it discusses are the caliphates, the Ottoman Empire, and the post World War would of European rule and restoration of native rule. In each of these eras, the politics, religion, role of women, economics, and the urban rural divide have sections dedicated to them, which I think is a good method of organisation. One major drawback as I see it is the lack of detail about military conquests and wars. The author blithely mentions that the Rashidun Caliphate annexed the Sassanian Empire and parts of Anatolia without giving it further elaboration. There's a lot I learned from this book as well. I've always held that Arabic and Islam were an inseparable combo in the Middle East, but Iran proves to be an exception to that. It brushed up my knowledge of the religion as much of the book is about the hadith and the umma and other concepts. I think that it provided more or less a balanced view of civic life, and there was no agenda or prejudice as far as I could tell. Even if you skip over a few sections that don't interest you, it still serves as a well equipped fountain of culture.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Ali Hassan

    The subject of this book is the history of the Arabic-speaking parts of the Islamic world, from the rise of Islam until the present day. The book is intended for students who are beginning to study the subject and for general readers who wish to learn something about it. It will be clear to specialists that, in a book with so large a scope, much of what the writer says is based upon the research of others. The writer has tried to give the essential facts and to interpret them in light of what ot The subject of this book is the history of the Arabic-speaking parts of the Islamic world, from the rise of Islam until the present day. The book is intended for students who are beginning to study the subject and for general readers who wish to learn something about it. It will be clear to specialists that, in a book with so large a scope, much of what the writer says is based upon the research of others. The writer has tried to give the essential facts and to interpret them in light of what others have written. It is not a book of history in a sense of containing mere past events, it covers cultural, social, and literary aspects of the Arabs and of the Western of their contemporary era.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Bernard M.

    Particularly good when discussing the Palestinian tragedy. Somehow he managed to stay clinically unbiased which I think is rare. Also makes the intriguing point that as urbanization proceeded in the 20th century, cities may have undergone some kind of cultural "ruralization" as migrants poured into cities and "brought their own political culture and language." Thus by the 1980's "Islamic language had become more prominent in political discourse." Perhaps this got the ball rolling to where the Mi Particularly good when discussing the Palestinian tragedy. Somehow he managed to stay clinically unbiased which I think is rare. Also makes the intriguing point that as urbanization proceeded in the 20th century, cities may have undergone some kind of cultural "ruralization" as migrants poured into cities and "brought their own political culture and language." Thus by the 1980's "Islamic language had become more prominent in political discourse." Perhaps this got the ball rolling to where the Middle East is now?

  21. 4 out of 5

    Markus Christoph schneider

    No more complete history of the Arab world from the foundation of Islam through 2002 exists. This book is as dense with information as this region of the world is with history. A sober, factual account that leaves nothing out and little unanswered.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Denise

    A vastly ambitious work, this book offers a good overview that covers a lot of ground, but (perhaps understandably, given the limited space available) remains shallow on many aspects and is at times just too dry to easily keep the reader's interest. A vastly ambitious work, this book offers a good overview that covers a lot of ground, but (perhaps understandably, given the limited space available) remains shallow on many aspects and is at times just too dry to easily keep the reader's interest.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie Carr

    Is good source of info, yes. Also good source for my own writing - as far as basing a fantasy culture on a mostly desert society. What kinds of things are cultivated, how cities build up, the differences between city life and country life, how trade works, what they tend to wear, etc etc...

  24. 4 out of 5

    Caracalla

    One of the best works of non-fiction I have ever read. Hourani covers the history of Arabic speaking peoples from Muhammed to the mid-80's, right after America occupies Lebanon. Little time is wasted on personalities or the idiosyncracies of the many pro-Ottoman governments that post-date the power of the Abbasids; Hourani's main interests are history's great structural forces, sociology, intellectual history, geopolitics and economics; one of the best chapters is on the geography of the Middle One of the best works of non-fiction I have ever read. Hourani covers the history of Arabic speaking peoples from Muhammed to the mid-80's, right after America occupies Lebanon. Little time is wasted on personalities or the idiosyncracies of the many pro-Ottoman governments that post-date the power of the Abbasids; Hourani's main interests are history's great structural forces, sociology, intellectual history, geopolitics and economics; one of the best chapters is on the geography of the Middle East and a sensitivity to this feeds in nicely to later chapters on, say, how Morocco stayed out of the Ottoman Empire. It has become commonplace for people to make blanket statements about how violent Islam is as a religion towards other religions but this judgement is hardly borne out by the actual history: Hourani himself is a Lebenese Christian, part of a long tradition of co-existence in that country between Arabic-speaking groups that are part of a tradition of Christianity that preceded Islam, and Muslims. It is also important to recognize the importance of Islam to the achievement of an authentic modernity for these countries and this is borne out in his analysis of the colonial/post-colonial intellectual history of these countries. Liberal Western commentators often see Islam as an incredibly misogynistic tradition and that certainly has some bearing in social practices we see today but this is more of a cultural issue than an issue of a convention of violent oppression of women: Hourani believes that modern conventions of segregation in these societies is a phenomenon that women chose for themselves once they started to get work and live slightly more 'modern' lives, perhaps as a personal display of piety or kinship with Islamic tradition; this re-orients gender issues there in an intriguing way although it was such a passing comment that perhaps the historicity of this remains to be demonstrated convincingly; there are certainly reports I have read that show chauvinist behaviour as something of a convention for men but as always, cultural sensitivity is needed to avoid unfair or perhaps even racist impressions of this culture to become too acceptable. Iran is left out because of its distinctive 'Persian' culture and language and its central tradition of Shi'ism, which is a real shame because it might be hard to find an account of similar sensitivity to Hourani's; he hints at the end that the reason that there was an Iranian Revolution but no similar revolutions in Arabic countries, can be traced back to the differences between the Safavid and Ottoman governments in the Early Modern Period. The book ends in a discussion of late twentieth century Arabic socio-political culture that suggests reasons for the stability of regimes like Hussein's, Assad's or Mubarrak's, despite attempts at more broadly participatory politics earlier; he ends up pointing out how weak this regimes might actually be, a tantalizing indication of the Arab Spring. The benefit of reading a work that goes from premodernity to modernity is to understand our modernity a little better: Hourani's main contention is that modernity is just about governments being more powerful beyond the cities they are embedded in, although nationalism and technological development are also important. What has really changed? Even a leader as intrepid and visionary as Abd al-Nasir is part of a long tradition of charismatic autocracy from the military class that ends up excluding the bourgeouisie from all power and isolating itself from public opinion; Saladin and Pasha Muhammed Ali are good examples. This is all perhaps an indication that the journey from colonialist hegemony to parliamentary politics is a hard one, particularly when colonial policies have been a severe hindrance on modernization, in terms of education and economic development. Latin American countries are increasingly more comfortably 'democratic' vs. how they were in the 60's and 70's, and military juntas are less frequent but this is perhaps a token of their longer history of independence.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Steve Middendorf

    Never have I changed the status of a book from 'reading' to 'read' with such a sense of relief (and some accomplishment.) In the end, I was able to plough through the final sections from the Ottomans onward due to some familiarity with the periods and a growing comfort with the author's framing and authority. What happened to the great expectations raised by the rise of Islam? Hourani has answered many questions for me. From the great Caliphates to modern nation states, from 700 to 2018 these ins Never have I changed the status of a book from 'reading' to 'read' with such a sense of relief (and some accomplishment.) In the end, I was able to plough through the final sections from the Ottomans onward due to some familiarity with the periods and a growing comfort with the author's framing and authority. What happened to the great expectations raised by the rise of Islam? Hourani has answered many questions for me. From the great Caliphates to modern nation states, from 700 to 2018 these institutions are built on shaky and shifting alliances. Islam is the glue that bound them together but they fall apart on the fault lines, and some of those fault lines (but only some) are within Islam itself. Hourani seemed to have left off writing with a feeling of great sadness or trepidation at least. Yet, he didn't know about the invasion of Iraq, Syria, the Arab Spring, the ongoing fulfilment of Israel's dream. Had he lived, I think he would be sadder still. This is a book that I picked up over and over again. Many times I would have lost my place but was able instantly to start reading where ever I opened the page. Subject matter or style? It was also a book that kicked off many side trips: Orientalism, Leg over Leg, the colonisation of India , Study Qur'an, Sufism. It is also a book that suggests other reading: the spread of Islam outside Arab lands, the impacts of colonialism generally, and the fate of countries which successfully resisted being colonised or quickly threw off their colonial masters.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Tinker

    History of fhe Arab Peoples covers the fourteen hundred years between ~600 - 1980 (and the afterword brings that up to 2011). The large scope and many areas of interest makes any specific chapter quite brief, which keeps it interesting. Useful as an introduction, not the least due to the rich list of references at the end. Occasionally Hourani uses some long, convoluted sentences that throw off the flow, but in general it's readable and clear. In a sense, the book is not strictly chronological - History of fhe Arab Peoples covers the fourteen hundred years between ~600 - 1980 (and the afterword brings that up to 2011). The large scope and many areas of interest makes any specific chapter quite brief, which keeps it interesting. Useful as an introduction, not the least due to the rich list of references at the end. Occasionally Hourani uses some long, convoluted sentences that throw off the flow, but in general it's readable and clear. In a sense, the book is not strictly chronological - a section can go through different subjects relating to each age seemingly parallel to each other. Neat book, I'm sure I'll return to it as reference in the future.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Earl Grey Tea

    It is quite unusal that a book can both be very general while at the same time very detailed. Albert Hourani is able to do this in his description of the entire history of the Arab peoples (up to the late 80s). After reading just recently reading Guns, Germs, and Steel, I am starting to find that I am not especially fond books that cover an extremely long time period. Whereas I was able to learn a lot, I find that these books just gloss over much of the information, leaving me not really grasping It is quite unusal that a book can both be very general while at the same time very detailed. Albert Hourani is able to do this in his description of the entire history of the Arab peoples (up to the late 80s). After reading just recently reading Guns, Germs, and Steel, I am starting to find that I am not especially fond books that cover an extremely long time period. Whereas I was able to learn a lot, I find that these books just gloss over much of the information, leaving me not really grasping the information that I read. In many parts of the book, long stretches of time were discussed in brief. While I did get a big picture view of what happened, I wanted to know about the events in more detailed. At other times in the book, the author would go into great detail about a specific cultural or social aspect of the Arab world in a certain time period. Even though this insight was fascinating, it felt a little out of place since I didn't have a firm grasp of the time period that was quickly discuss in that section of the book. Despite the plethora of information, Hourani covers a lot of information spanning over 1400 years. During this time, the author writes in a manner that feels very familiar with the subject while at the same time quite objective. I did walk away with much more knowledge of Arab history, I feel that this is a book that is intended for a reader who already has a decent foundation of knowledge of this part of the world.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Rob

    A challenging but ultimately valuable read. The history of the Arab peoples begins with the coalescence of Arabic into a written language, which, essentially begins with the writing of the Koran. Thus, the history of the Arab peoples is, in a very real way, the history of Islam. As a result, the author's focus struggles explicitly with the idea of who should and should not be covered in this history as the language moves beyond the ethnic Arab peoples. In this sense, it is an incomplete picture A challenging but ultimately valuable read. The history of the Arab peoples begins with the coalescence of Arabic into a written language, which, essentially begins with the writing of the Koran. Thus, the history of the Arab peoples is, in a very real way, the history of Islam. As a result, the author's focus struggles explicitly with the idea of who should and should not be covered in this history as the language moves beyond the ethnic Arab peoples. In this sense, it is an incomplete picture of the history of Islam as it tells us next to nothing about Central Asia. It does, however, exhaustively cover from Iran all the way over to the northwestern portions of Africa over the course of roughly 1000 years. As a Christian-acculturated Westerner, I found the first half of the book very daunting to follow as I tried to parse the various early interpretations of the Koran and the various sects and political systems these differences produced. By the time he settles into the Ottoman empire, I felt like I was on more familiar ground and could make better use of the information I was being given. The section covering the last two hundred years was particularly enlightening. I feel like I have a much better grasp of the various currents of thought resonating within modern Islam. For that alone, this was worth the effort but I do feel like I have some good foundational learning in place to explore the more distant reaches of Islam's history now. Great book!

  29. 4 out of 5

    Tom Meade

    As someone who is largely ignorant of most of Arab history, I found this book fascinating. It's long and dense and manages to provide an interesting overview of the Arabs from their ascension following the conquests of Muhammad and his affiliates, through the establishment of the caliphates, the wars with Europe, the rise of the post-colonial nation states, and right up to the close of the 1980s, stopping just before the Gulf War. There are a number of parts where Hourani has to skim or gloss-ov As someone who is largely ignorant of most of Arab history, I found this book fascinating. It's long and dense and manages to provide an interesting overview of the Arabs from their ascension following the conquests of Muhammad and his affiliates, through the establishment of the caliphates, the wars with Europe, the rise of the post-colonial nation states, and right up to the close of the 1980s, stopping just before the Gulf War. There are a number of parts where Hourani has to skim or gloss-over, and even within the tightly-maintained parameters the author sets for himself there is simply too much material to cover in a book this size. Probably the most interesting parts where those dealing with how ordinary people lived life day to day at various points in their history, since it's often pretty hard to get a sense of what it's like to live as a regular Joe in this epoch or that given that most often the attention in usually lavished on stuff like battles and trade agreements. Large parts of the book (in fact, it's probably the central theme) are also dedicated to explaining how Islam works, how it's put into practice through the Muslim bureaucracy, what that has meant at various times for the inhabitants of Arab nations, and the necessity of interrogating and adapting traditional Muslim values as a result of increased pressure from the West, with mixed results.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Don

    Solid history of the Arab peoples since the Islamic period. Hourani works with very loose definitions with 'Arab' taken to mean Arabic language. The Berbers and under non-ethnic Arab groups therefore become subsumed into this history, as to the Sudanese. The Turks have an ambiguous position in that they assume the main responsiblity for the defence of Arab civilisation's most prominent contribution to culture - Islam - but without ever adopting Arabic as the main language of their culture (ditto Solid history of the Arab peoples since the Islamic period. Hourani works with very loose definitions with 'Arab' taken to mean Arabic language. The Berbers and under non-ethnic Arab groups therefore become subsumed into this history, as to the Sudanese. The Turks have an ambiguous position in that they assume the main responsiblity for the defence of Arab civilisation's most prominent contribution to culture - Islam - but without ever adopting Arabic as the main language of their culture (ditto the Persians). Whilst informative I found a the narrative a bit pedestrian. Glimpses are given into the character of a culture which could produce reverance for a book and the idea of universal law the way the Arabs did, and also of the way meaning and poetic form emerged from the longer cultureal history of a nomadic, trading people. The different wasys of interpretting the Quoran and the schools of jurisprudence and theology, all co-existing on a society which resisted the formation of an orthodox canon, explain a great deal of the appeal of the religion and its central features.

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