Every day that I watch the horrors in the Middle East on TV, I'm glad I've read this marvellous book. The author has researched the whole history covering well over a thousand years, and it contains a massive amount of knowledge, much of it buried in more than sixty pages of notes at the end of the book.
His Story isn't intended so much for the specialist as for the ordinary reader. It reads like a dream, like a good novel. Nevertheless I quickly got sucked into the fine detail at the back of the book. History, literature, geography, word-origins, clothes, food, and lots of examples of work of art and cartoons back up this fast-paced text.
Wheatcroft's book undermines the assumptions we all make too easily. He shows how in the West - what he calls Christendom - we have always looked fearfully at the Moslems. His idea is that this fear was recorded by monks and scholars early on, and has persisted to the present. The same is largely true of the Moslems looking to the west. But what is not written down are the long periods when they lived together side by side.
The author refuses to take sides. If one group does something terrible, he reminds you that their opponents did something just as terrible. Initially, this was disconcerting, but soon it was clear that this was his way of saying 'look again'. By the time I had finished the last chapters ( about the present situation), I was reading my newspaper with a much more critical eye.
This book shows that everything we are experiencing today has precedents, in one way or another. A lot of people are going to hate it, because it seriously questions their deep rooted prejudices. But foe anyone who's prepared to be open minded, it's an outstanding book, not to be missed.