Hourani and Hitti have always been the darlings of modern Western (American at least) thought on the Middle East and while Hitti may cloud much of what he writes with a bizzare form of Lebanese nationalism that is equally as far fetched as Turkish, Arab, Persian and Slav nationalism that have done little but bring misery to those nations. Hourani on the other hand is a little more down to earth and while this book may have its faults until someone else comes out with better it remains the best of its kind.
The book covers the history of Arab reform in the latter part of the Ottoman Empire, I have no idea what point a previous reviewer was trying to make about the Portuguese conquest of parts of Moghul India (he seems to have failed to point out the Portugues also had colonies in present day Morocco and Muslim East Africa also) as around the same time the Ottomans (who he wrongly calls a 'Turkish' empire) had conqured much of Eastern Europe and their Tatar allies much of Russia. If only Americans would stop to look beyond their own narrow history and even give a glance to Europes history.
Hourani points out the foundations of the Arab nationalist movement were from to some extent a Christian background and how the teachings of Islamist reformers such as Afghani and Abduh (formerly a darling of the Ottoman Caliphs) became one and the same with the ideas of pan-Arabism and Arab nationalism.
Hourani gives extensive detail into the lives of Afghani and especially Abduh and just where they took much of their inspiration from. One fault I do feel I have with this book is he covers little of the the structure of the Ottoman empire that the myth of Arabs being some kind of 'colonised people' is just a complete nonsense and that the roots of Arab nationalism are far more complex than that. The book however does give some insight and does act as a useful introduction to modern Middle Easter thought. I would definately recomend this book to anyone who realy is serious about wanting to know about the roots of some of the modern conflicts in the Middle East.
Not the be and and end all but without doubt a very good place to start.