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A History of the Arab Peoples: Updated Edition Paperback – 3 Jan 2013
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'Magisterial ... a fascinating insight into a civilisation spanning 14 centuries.' --Independent on Sunday
Following the Arab Spring, September 11th and the growing threat of ISIS, A History of the Arab Peoples by Albert Hourani is a fully updated new edition of an ever-popular classic of modern history, with an introduction and afterword by Malise Ruthven.See all Product description
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A History of the Arabs is not an afternoon speed-read by any means - but I found it highly informative. It filled in massive gaps in my knowledge, exacerbated by superficial news items which seldom, if ever, delve into an explanation based on a proper history of the Arab World. We tend to have things presented to us as 'this leader is a baddy so we want to get rid of him for someone better'....until the new ruler's turn in the unpopularity stakes comes in a decade or two. Frighteningly, we seem to back a new regime even when we have no idea what it is or what it will do.
The work covers the period from well before Mohammed - the time of the Roman and Byzantine Empires - up to the 1980s - with a useful afterword by Malise Ruthven in 2012. There are detailed descriptions of art, architecture, poetry, language, geography, changing national boundaries and the divisions of Islam - and the rapid spread of the various forms of the religion.
To begin to understand the role of Britain in the Arab and Israeli world can make one feel embarrassed and ashamed - though it has been argued that colonisation, even if patronising, is not actually all bad where a there are minorities liable to hostile treatment eg Coptic Christians amongst others.
Comments made by Hourani that "Women could still scarcely find a public role other than teacher or nurse" in the Maghrib in the pre WWII years I found amusing - as these jobs would have been a commendable achievement for the women in Hourani's native city of Manchester, Britain,in the 1970s.
Also his observations that there were rules - very many years ago - about when women could leave their houses is not dissimilar to the long period of post war UK - the rules were less explicit but there was huge debate about whether married women should work - often taken as a sign of poverty or stealing jobs from the men - and many, e.g. teachers, were expected to resign on marriage - leaving the house was with children, to go shopping or to visit a female relative. Even now most solitary females outside London do not feel comfortable going alone to public houses - and certainly not in the evenings.
To become acquainted with the myriad complexities of Islam, the Arab world, ancient "tribal" conquests and recent/current wars this is a great primer - the correct versions of the Arabic names took me some time to get used to but the brain cells benefited, I am sure.
The one downside is the maps which I found very poor and not at all easy to use - so you might want a separate map of the North Africa/Mediterranean Basin/Arab Peninsular unless you are already familiar with the areas.
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