Professor Chiarelli's book about the roughly 250 year period of Arab rule in Sicily fills a huge gap. His richly documented and finely detailed work is the only comprehensive overview of this period available in English. Prior to this, the English language reader could only get glimpses of it in the historical work of David Abulafia (another author I would highly recommend), M.I. Finely, Denis Mack Smith, and others; although, as a rule, most Anglophone writers, particularly British historians tended to brush over this period in a mad dash to extended elegies about Norman rule in Sicily and the south of Italy in general. Travel writers, too numerous to mention, all touch upon this period to some extent, too. However, none of them gives more than a hint of what occurred during this period, and most end up getting bogged down in trying to draw tenuous (though not entirely inaccurate) connections between contemporary Sicilian language, cuisine, and culture with this Arabic heritage. And, while there is a fair amount of research available in Italian and French, the really substantial work in Italian done in this field was that of Michele Amari, over a century ago!
Chiarelli's text, as his exhaustive list of works cited indicates, incorporates virtually every resource available and adds his own analysis as well. As another reviewer notes, Chiarelli's narrative is essentially utilitarian: it is well written, but can be dry, almost textbook (in the worst sense of the word). Nevertheless, it is highly readable and can offer much to the layperson and scholar. Moreover, in light of the dearth of information we have about this period, the rather linear, dry narrative is perhaps ideal, because it achieves what it aims to do: give a thorough overview of the various aspects of this period, ranging from the military conquests, immigration, economy, agriculture, religion, literature, etc. while also situating it within the larger contexts of the Muslim world and the Mediterranean.
Finally, for those readers like me, Italian Americans of Sicilian descent, this book offers an accessible route to understanding a crucial period in the island's history; indeed, along with the period of Norman rule that followed, one can easily say, this was the island's golden age. If there is one criticism I can make of the book it is with the maps. The one map of Sicily is nestled in the middle of the book, rendering the center of the island difficult to view without breaking the binding. A better option would have been a foldout map. Similarly, the map fails to delineate the three administrative regions that are repeatedly mentioned in the text: Val di Mazara, Val di Noto, and Val Demone. Those minor quibbles aside, this is a welcomed resource for students of Sicilian history, Arab expansion in the Mediterranean, Islamic culture in southern Europe, etc. It is recommended to academic and leisure readers alike.