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A Brief History of the Middle East: From Abraham to Arafat Paperback – October 17, 2006

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 309 pages
  • Publisher: Carroll & Graf (October 17, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0786717009
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786717002
  • Product Dimensions: 7.8 x 5.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,398,017 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Historian Catherwood (Churchill's Folly, 2004) first set out to write a concise history of the Middle East before the 9/11 attacks. His objective was to enter into the then-hot and currently even more volatile debate between scholars Bernard Lewis and Edward Said over the origins of East-West tensions. With this book, Catherwood revisits this debate--generally positioning himself alongside Lewis--as part of a broader thesis about the necessity of understanding the inextricability of Western history from its Middle Eastern origins. Much of Catherwood's analysis deals with the consequences of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, which he finds to be a root cause of many modern challenges, including Islamic terrorism and the Palestinian conflict, as well as the wars in Bosnia and Kosovo. Ultimately, however, Catherwood would have us look even further back to more distant battles, such as the massive defeat of the Byzantines by the Seljuk Turks at Manzikert, for insight into the present. Brendan Driscoll
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved


"This compelling volume raises eerie echoes of present day Iraq."

Customer Reviews

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27 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Teemacs on November 1, 2006
Format: Paperback
...and essential antidote to nonsense such as Tony Blankley's "The West's last chance" (avoid the latter, unless desperately in need of a good laugh). What a pleasure it was to turn to a genuinely even-handed approach, instead of a polemic trying to score points and promote a cause! This is a scholarly, yet completely approachable, history of the Middle East by a noted authority, starting `way back with the Sumerian Empire and coming forward to the present day (it's as recent as the election of Ehud Olmert as Israeli Prime Minister). Dr. Catherwood makes his own positions clear, but doesn't hesitate to point out alternative views and why he differs from them, the way a good historian should. It is full of insights as to why the Middle East is the way that it is, notably how the Western countries have so completely messed it up (and who, of course, are continuing this tradition). His final chapter on the alleged "clash of civilisations" is especially thought-provoking, making the point that the USA is under attack by Islamic militants mainly because it is a supporter of the corrupt, and in their eyes unIslamic, regimes of the Middle East, which are their real targets. Anyone who wants to understand the Middle East could do a lot worse than starting with this excellent slim volume.
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Peter Uys HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on March 2, 2007
Format: Paperback
For such a large subject, the author succeeds quite well in providing a concise history of the region. Starting with the ancient Sumerians, Hittites, Phoenicians, Assyrians and Babylonians, he deals with the history of the Middle East up to 2006. In this journey through time, Catherwood discusses the origin of monotheism, Akhenaten, Abraham, Judaism, Jesus, the early church and the council of Nicaea.

Two chapters are devoted to Islam: Muhammad And the Dawn Of Islam and The Golden Age Of Islam, where subjects like inter alia Jihad, the Sunni-Shia divide, the Fatimid dynasty and the arrival of the Turks are dealt with. The author frequently references great historians like Bernard Lewis and offers original insights. For example, he points out the significance of the Battle of Manzikert near Lake Van in 1071 where the Byzantines were defeated by the Seljuk Turks.

Then followed the Crusades and the terrible Mongol incursion of 1242. Next he deals with the rise of the Ottoman Empire, its expansion into the Balkans, Asia and Africa, and its fall. He discusses the significance of the end of the khalifate with this event and chronicles the Iranian revolution, the hostage crisis and the first and second Gulf wars in reasonable detail. A chapter is devoted to the creation of Israel and the Arab-Israeli wars.

The final chapter focuses on 9/11, the clash of civilizations, Sayyid Qutb, Arab regimes in the 20th century, Pan-Arabism, Islamism, transnational terrorism and the ideas of Francis Fukuyama and Samuel Hungtington. There are 4 maps and the book concludes with a Selective Chronology from 3500 BC to the present, a glossary of terms, bibliography and index.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Daniel Hurley VINE VOICE on November 26, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
If you are interested in a detailed introduction of the Middle East that is written by a scholar yet highly readable, well researched with numerous references to conflicting opinions by historians and archeologists, you will find this an excellent book. The span of coverage in just 265 pages, not counting references and index, is quite amazing. Starting from the early Middle East peoples to emergency of Jewish, Christian and Muslim religions to the present day (2006), this book is highly relevant to understanding the Middle East conflicts that stay with us today. The concise coverage of the major religions in the middle east, the various conflicts over time, dynasties (expansion of the Muslim domination into Europe) and central characters is brief but detailed enough to give the reader, particularly those less familiar, an excellent frame work for understanding how the history of the long ago past effects us today. In the modern era, the author's explanation of the decline of the Ottoman Empire and post war colonialism after WWI along (creation of Iraq) with the Balfour Declaration that led to the eventful creation of Israel are shown as the major seeds for the Middle East conflict today. The author, even in this concise history, provides the complete statement released by Osama Bin Laden that explains his view of his conflict with the west, while the author points out that Bin Laden's greater complaints of western exploitation go back to the colonialism after WWI. Also, well described is the difference between the Muslim religion and nationalism, in that Muslims are not so driven by creating nation states as they are in defining their religion and spreading their faith.Read more ›
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Steve Reina VINE VOICE on March 8, 2011
Format: Paperback
Like climbing Mt. Everest, one has to at least credit the ambition of someone who purports to tell a history of the middle east...particularly here where he also intends to do it in a mere 263 pages.

And for what it is, it's a wholy serviceable treatment.

For my part, I had some difficulties -- none of which augur against reading or buying this book -- but which I think still must be kept in mind when reading it.

First off, the title of the book promises to cover that period from "Abraham to Arafat." In that way, the book promises to sweep back before the time of recorded history to that reported in the Bible.

In carrying out it's mission to tell the Biblical story of Abraham, this book spends fully a third of its length discussing the origins of the Jewish people, of Christianity and finally of Islam (in other words, all the Abrahamic faiths). While this is certainly a commendable goal, it was an unfortunate editorial choice for the author who basically revealed his ignorance of the latest developments in Biblical archeology in doing so.

As to the origins of both Judaism and Christianity the author basically parrots what's written in the Torah and the Bible itself.

As to the origins of Judaism, the author recounts the familiar Biblical tale of Abraham whose journey from Ur to the promised land is featured in Genesis. What the author doesn't discuss is the modern Biblical scholarship that discusses the merely legendary nature of Abraham. In this way, his attempt to discuss "the historical Abraham" is a little like someone discussing the "the historical Mr. Clean" or "the historical Johnny Appleseed.
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More About the Author

Christopher Catherwood, a tutor for the Cambridge University Institute of Continuing Education and an instructor at the University of Richmond's School for Continuing Education, has written and edited more than twenty-five books, including Five Evangelical Leaders, Martyn Lloyd-Jones: A Family Portrait, and Christians, Muslims, and Islamic Rage. He holds degrees from Cambridge and Oxford in modern history and resides in Cambridge with his wife, Paulette.

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