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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It remains an essential one volume introduction, or reference..., 14 Sept. 2012
By 
John P. Jones III (Albuquerque, NM, USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Arabs (Pelican) (Paperback)
Peter Mansfield was a learned British historian and journalist who made the "Arab World" his life's work. He resigned from the British Foreign Service over the 1956 invasion of Suez. This book was published in 1976, way before current concerns about "terrorism" or "clashes of civilizations" but even then as he says in the chapter entitled "Through Western Eyes": "Any writer who embarks on an attempt to describe and interpret the contemporary Arab world to Western readers is confronted by a set of formidable difficulties. At the superficial level he encounters a stereotyped vision of the Arabs...a more complex problem is that the average educated Westerner is unaware the he suffers from prejudice towards the Arabs. The New England or Hampstead liberal would be alarmed to find himself making a derogatory generalization about "the blacks," the Chinese" or, still more, "the Jews." He feels no such compunction in his thoughts about "the Arabs." This book should help instill such a compunction.

The first two thirds of the book, some 370 pages, addresses who the Arabs are, and their rise, fall, and rise again, along with their interactions with the neighboring European civilization. He takes care to distinguish "the Arabs" from the adherents of Islam in general. He admirably and succinctly tells the tale of the rise and spread of Islam, reaching from the Atlantic to India and beyond, in some 50 years. During the European "dark ages," following the fall of the Roman Empire, the Arab world was the center of learning, and preserved most of the ancient Greek works for the modern world. Of note, Mansfield identifies the famous Arab historian, Ibn Khaldoun, and his acceptance of "the orthodox view which rejected any rationalistic approach to the search for knowledge and truth, he also was hostile to the sciences and philosophy," as being a significant force in the Arab World's decline around the 1200's. Europe was to have its Renaissance, and the respective outlooks of these two principal civilizations was largely reversed. Eventually, almost the entire Arab World would be subjugated by European colonialism. Mansfield temperately and accurately depicted European duplicity towards the area, particularly the "secret" Sykes-Picot agreement, "secret" until the Bolsheviks published it from the Russian archives. It was only after the Second World War that the Arabs again became independent. The author devotes several chapters to the creation of the state of Israel; viewed as a "disaster" by the Arabs, Mansfield covers their revolt against it, and the "disunity, frustration and defeat" that was their side of the 1967 war.

In Part II, Mansfield devotes a chapter to each of the 15 countries (or areas) of the Arab World. At the time, there were two Yemens, and each receives a chapter. He lumps the small Gulf States into one chapter. It remains a diverse region, stretching from the Arabian Gulf, through the Sudan, to the Atlantic. Even in those very early days of the oil boom, the money in the Gulf area was already rapidly changing those societies. Mansfield says: "The oil states were in the vanguard of the Third World in fulfilling the 1966 UN General Assembly resolution about acquiring permanent sovereignty over natural resources."

In the final part, Mansfield looks at the respective Western and Arab perspectives on current events (as of 1976). He also examines the yearning for "Arab Unity," subtitled "Ideal or Fantasy"? Alas, not only are not any Arab countries uniting, (save the Yemen!) but many are internally fractured, as Lebanon would become when this book was published. Palestine remains "the open wound," to use the author's expression, almost 40 years on. And yes, oil remains "power."

The search for the essential "one-volume" history of a given country or region can prove elusive. For the Arab World however, I would continue to recommend Mansfield's masterly account. 5-stars, plus.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant Introductory History, 1 Jun. 2014
By 
Nico (Australia) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Arabs (Penguin History) (Paperback)
This book provides a brilliant introductory history to the Arab people. It is meticulously researched and extremely well written which makes it a pleasure to read. Well worth a read.
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3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best book on the Arabs, 2 Nov. 2010
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This review is from: The Arabs (Paperback)
As the title suggests this is probably the best book written about this proud nation of people. I took it and Thesiger to Abu Dhabi with me when I went to visit the Bedouin schools in The Empty Quarter earlier this year.

I commend it to you
Bob Miller
Chelmsford
2.11.10
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The Arabs (Penguin History)
The Arabs (Penguin History) by Peter Mansfield (Paperback - 25 Jun. 1992)
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