Top critical review
Unbalanced, Western-orientated, discontinuous.
on 10 October 2016
This book provides some Middle Eastern history in a light way for the general reader. The author is capable of being measured and thoughtful, knows something of his subject and can write in a reasonably entertaining style. This book is however rather flawed perhaps because the author has chosen to take a hit-and-run approach to publishing rather than putting in the kind of effort needed to write the good book he appears capable of.
The main flaws are:
- his selection of material is a lazy, dipping in and out. It is Western-orientated and lacks contiguity.
- there has been a general lack of effort and thoughtfulness at the editing stage.
In a book with 29 chapters, there are three chapters devoted to the crusades and seven chapters devoted to the (modern) state of Israel. There is no discussion of Persia/ Iran pre 1940s in this account. The Turks do figure, for example in the guise of the Ottomans but there is no greater sense of a Turkishness that runs from the Middle East all the way to China. There is no discussion of the Silk road except briefly in connection with the Mongol invasions when the erroneous impression might be formed that this is when it first appeared. There is no sense of the spread of Islam eastward out of the middle east. There is no mention of an Indian ocean trading network. There is no sense of Middle Eastern diversity beyond the tags of 'Sunni' and 'Shia'. These omitted topics were things I wanted to obtain an impression of but instead the author gave an unbalanced account with a lot of material I was already familiar with. This is is the main cause of my disappointment.
The book shows a lack of care of various kinds. If it had been more carefully edited then a lot of irritating foolishness could have been avoided. Here are some examples:
His chapter on the Mongols is called the "The Wrath of Khan" which is presumably a conscious reference to the Star Trek film of the same name. Why do this? If it's funny it is only grudgingly so.
A quote: "Genghis [Khan] was also a popular figure with the fairer sex". This is actually code for: a lot of women were raped by Genghis Khan. Historians often use euphemisms for the sexual violence directed against the women of conquered populations but this seeming jokiness is actively distasteful.
Another chapter title runs "The Middle East in Europe: The Ottoman Empire (1516-1918)". This is odd in two ways. Firstly, the Ottoman Empire was not primarily a European empire. Secondly the dates: the Ottoman empire begins a lot earlier (and does not really end in 1918). The author does know these things so why give such a misleading title?