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The Great Arab Conquests: How The Spread Of Islam Changed The World We Live In Paperback – 16 Apr 2008

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Product details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: W&N (16 April 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0753823896
  • ISBN-13: 978-0753823897
  • Product Dimensions: 13.7 x 3 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 65,296 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

a lucid and enlightening work that is surely to become the standard popular history of early Islam for many years to come (Adam Levitt BIRMINGHAM POST)

Book Description

A popular history of the Arab invasions that carved out an empire from Spain to China

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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

33 of 35 people found the following review helpful By D. Stephenson on 26 Sept. 2007
Format: Hardcover
The Great Arab Conquests is a summary of the initial 100 years (approx) erruption of Islam from its founding heartland of Arabia, relating events on a territory by territory basis.

Kennedy begins discouragingly by setting out the problem faced by the historian: the lack of detailed and reliable contemporary record. Unfortunately, but predictably, this problem is not overcome and the success of the conquests ultimately remains an enigma.

At commencement the two regional superpowers were Byzantine and Persia. To the east the Arabs subsumed the whole of the Persian Sasanian empire and extended their dominion beyond as far as Sind. They took from the Byzantines the Fertile Crescent and northern Africa before conquering almost all of Spain and Portugal, and leaving a Byzantine rump corresponding to modern day Turkey, Greece and the Balkans.

Both empires had been ravaged in the 6th century by bubonic plague. At the turn of the 7th century they fought a ruinous war against each other leaving them further depleted economically and demographically. Trade in the mediterranean had partly collapsed due to the strife in the former Western Roman Empire. Great cities were left depopulated by this combination of circumstances. Religious divisions between Christians meant that local communities often felt little allegiance to Byzantine. Yet these factors alone do not explain why time after time Arab armies overcame substantially more numerous opponents. Ultimately Kennedy has no real explanation for this - a Muslim is left entitled to attribute it to God's will.

What is striking for the modern reader is that the primary purpose of the conquests does not appear to have been religous conversion, which usually occurred only gradually over the ensuing 200-300 years.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Slow Lorris on 21 April 2008
Format: Hardcover
This is a necessary book. The subject is poorly covered in the generally accessible historical literature and it needed someone steeped in the difficult source material to fill the gap.
Hugh Kennedy does this very well indeed. Certainly his style can be a little pedestrian, and I thought in the later parts of the book battle followed battle in rather monotonous fashion. But those are minor shortcomings.
The reader gets a clear picture of the nature of the Muslim conquests, which came as a surprise to me, and how it was almost an accident of historical timing that allowed them to take place. Kennedy is particularly good on the geopolitics of the late Antique world, explaining how relations between Byzantine and Persian empires and splits within the Christian church let Islam in through the back door.
This should be the standard introduction to the subject for years to come.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Bilal Rana on 7 Sept. 2009
Format: Paperback
Over all a great read. Well-researched and written in a narrative style which absorbs you and almost takes you in the midst of the battles (does not do the full job for lack of dramatisation, and rightly so). Particular credit to the recurrent suspicion and critique with which the author treats the Arab sources. However, reference to the other non-Arab records of the time gives credibility to the story and one can take comfort in having enjoyed an authentic piece of history. Particularly, setting out the poems and other literature recording sentiments of the conquerors and the conquered brings a unique human touch to the book.

This is not a comprehensive history or analysis of the Arab conquests, nor does it pretend to be (clarifies it at the outset in the Introduction). Yet a very delightful way of getting familiar with what might have happened. It is not a novel and does not attempt to over-dramatise events, but the magic of the narrative makes you not want to put it down. I finished the book in a matter of few days.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Anonymous on 31 Dec. 2007
Format: Hardcover
This is a superb introduction to early Islamic history. It deals with the historical material cautiously but without totally dismissing it out of hand. It is, of course, written from a Christian perspective but that's to be expected and does not detract overall from the quality of the research.
Kennedy is respectful of his sources but some of his conclusions could have been elaborated further. It's not enough to attribute the crushing defeat of the 2 greatest empires of Eurasia within 8 years of the Prophet Muhammad's death to the bubonic plague and Romano-Persian wars: the Arab position was rather as if Poland had decided to attack both the Soviet Union and Germany in 1937 - both the Soviets and Germans had suffered from war and contagion - the great influenza epidemic - and, in the former case, even mass starvation but just as Poland wouldn't have lasted more than a couple of weeks, I would have expected the same for the Arabs in CE 632. We need to look elsewhere for the answer and it's a shame that Prof. Kennedy does not do so.
The writing is at times pedestrian but this book is a lot better written than The Court of the Caliphs and tackles a subject rarely covered well in history books.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By JPS TOP 500 REVIEWER on 30 April 2012
Format: Paperback
This book from Hugh Kennedy is probably the best introduction to the Great Arab Conquests that cover slightly more than a century from the death of Mahomet to the fall of the Umayyads (632 to 750, using the Christian calendar). There are many reasons for this book to be so valuable.

First of all, Hugh Kennedy carefully defines his subject: this book is about the Conquests, not the internal politics among the Muslim leadership. It does not even attempt to discuss Islam, neither does it enter into a "compare and contrast" exercice with the two other monotheist religions that predated the revelation of Islam. Contrary to what another reviewer mentioned, however, the narrative and analysis is not only focused on the military, if only because the book's aim is to explain how a comparatively small number of tribesmen out of Arabia managed to defeat the two largest Empires of the time and conquer with a few decades an Empire that was even more extensive than the Roman Empire at its peak.

Second, Hugh Kennedy discusses the sources. Contrary to the simplifications sometimes made in other reviews, he does not quite say that there is a lack of sources, or that they are unreliable. Instead, he shows that there are numerous sources reflecting different (and often opposed) viewpoints from the Christian side. There are also some from the Persian side. However, these sources - and the Christian ones in particular - are not mainly concerned with the political and military events. Rather, they tend to explain the defeats in religious terms: God's punishment for having sinned.
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