This “brilliant and erudite” history by the award-winning Arabist provides vital context for understanding the contemporary Middle East (Patrick Seale, author of Asad: The Struggle for the Middle East).
From Algeria and Libya to Egypt, Syria, and Saudi Arabia, the Arab world commands Western headlines. Nowhere else does the unfolding of events have such significant consequences for America. And yet its complex politics and cultures elude the grasp of most Western readers and commentators.
A Concise History of the Arabs provides an essential road map to understanding the Arab world today, and in the years ahead. Noted Arab scholar John McHugo guides readers through the political, social, and intellectual history of the Arabs from the Roman Empire to the present day. Taking readers beyond the headlines, McHugo vividly describes the crucial turning points in Arab history—from the Prophet Muhammad’s mission and the expansion of Islam to the region’s interaction with Western ideas and the rise of Islamism. This lucidly told history reveals how the Arab world came into its present form, why major shifts like the Arab Spring were inevitable, and what may lie ahead for the region.
A Choice Outstanding Academic Title, this accessible history is “the product of wide reading, hard thinking and years of direct experience of the Middle East . . . There are lively and informative insights on almost every page” (Patrick Seale, author of Asad: The Struggle for the Middle East).
Squeezing the history of a people into one volume is an ambitious undertaking with the end result bound to leave out more than it includes, the details needed to understand a time and place elided. McHugo, an international lawyer and Arabist, proves as much with this unfocused volume. It's very much history of the old school, a linear narrative detailing a "concatenation of historical events," which, while cogent and serviceable, fails to capture the essence of societal transformation and intellectual ferment. McHugo promises that "this is not a history of Islam" but begins with the birth of Muhammad, ignoring the much-older origins of Arab identity. The Maghreb and al-Andalus are mostly absent, as is the Arabian Peninsula itself a thumbnail sketch of Saudi Arabia appears only as an awkward appendage to a chapter ostensibly about Egypt and the two political entities discussed at greatest length are Israel and the Ottoman Empire. The last chapter, covering the recent uprisings and modern theories regarding the role of religion in governance, is more successful, but little sets it apart from better, more in-depth analyses of the same topics elsewhere. Maps.