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Dream Palace of the Arabs: A Generation's Odyssey Paperback – June 29, 1999


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Dream Palace of the Arabs: A Generation's Odyssey + The Arab Predicament: Arab Political Thought and Practice since 1967 (Canto original series) + The Struggle for Mastery in the Fertile Crescent (The Great Unraveling: The Remaking of th)
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Product Details

  • Series: Vintage International
  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1st Vintage Books Ed edition (June 29, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375704744
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375704741
  • Product Dimensions: 0.9 x 5.1 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #260,543 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The Arab world, writes Palestinian scholar Fouad Ajami, has been beset for years by divisions: religious, social, economic, and political. Many of these divisions came to the fore during the time of the Persian Gulf War, a "foreigners' rescue" in response to Saddam Hussein's attempt to seize Kuwait, which was, Ajami hints, in part a reaction against Iranian designs on the Gulf. Even those Arab intellectuals who supported Allied intervention at the time are now questioning whether it was the best solution to what they believe was a local problem. Ajami writes of the role of some of these intellectuals in shaping the culture of the region, among them the Lebanese writer Khalil Hawi, who committed suicide in the wake of Israel's invasion of his country in 1982. He also examines the terror that religious fundamentalists have been visiting on secular states such as Egypt, "a country with a remarkable record of political stability" that, Ajami believes, will be able to ride out the present storm. Ajami's essays will be most revealing for students of contemporary politics and Arabic history. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

In the mid-20th century, a visionary generation of Arab writers and intellectuals attempted to blend the best of "Arab heritage" with that of "contemporary Western civilization and culture" to create an enlightened "Arab awakening." In this nuanced, rich and accessible amalgamation of literary criticism, history and political commentary, Ajami, professor of Middle Eastern studies at Johns Hopkins, explores the origin of this dream and its almost complete destruction by the rise of Islamic extremism in the last 25 years. Drawing on the lives and the work of the most influential Arab writers born after the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, Ajami traces dramatic examples of how these writers' personal ordeals often spoke to a wider generational theme?the shift from creative idealism to disappointment with increasingly rigid political structures. He starts with a very specific example, that of Lebanese poet and Arab nationalist Khalil Hawi, who was so disillusioned with "Arab enlightenment" and so devastated by Israel's June 6, 1982, invasion of Lebanon that he killed himself that very day. Other sections deal with the reactions of other writers to Ayatollah Khomeini's theocracy; to the 1981 assassination of Anwar al-Sadat; to the 1994 stabbing of novelist Naguib Mahfuz by Islamic extremists; to the importation of Western consumerism rather than Western humanism; and to Israel. Though the "dream palace of the Arabs" is a complex, enormous, sometimes arcane structure, Ajami's cogent distillation of the works and politics of Arab writers offers even the most general reader a cohesive and illuminating cultural history.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Fouad Ajami is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the cochair of the Herbert and Jane Dwight Working Group on Islamism and the International Order. From 1980 to 2011 he was director of Middle East Studies at the Johns Hopkins University. He is the author of The Arab Predicament, Beirut: City of Regrets, The Dream Palace of the Arabs, and The Foreigner's Gift. His most recent publication is The Syrian Rebellion (Hoover Institution Press, 2012). His writings also include some four hundred essays on Arab and Islamic politics, US foreign policy, and contemporary international history. Ajami has received numerous awards, including the Benjamin Franklin Award for public service (2011), the Eric Breindel Award for Excellence in Opinion Journalism (2011), the Bradley Prize (2006), the National Humanities Medal (2006), and the MacArthur Fellows Award (1982). His research has charted the road to 9/11, the Iraq war, and the US presence in the Arab-Islamic world.

Customer Reviews

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A must read for anyone who wants a better understanding of Middle East, processes going on in Middle East and Arabs people thought.
Alexey Smolin
The work is scholarly and well researched, but the writing has a riveting and poetic quality that keeps the reader captivated throughout.
Pieter Uys
That is a great loss for everyone trying to understand the Arab world, particularly in these times of growing tension and violence.
J. A Magill

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

49 of 50 people found the following review helpful By simpcity on December 22, 2001
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
(...) I know very little about Arabic literature and poetry, and I have not read extensively about the "Middle East." Once the bar is set at that level, however, I found this book quite approachable.
The Dream Palace of the Arabs focusses on a particular time and space in the Arab world--the brief rise of Nasserism and nationalism generally and its subsequent collapse into bitterness. There is much great contemporary relavance in this 1998 work.
Ajami gives us Beirut and Lebanon, both before and during the terrible war; and he takes us into its rich literary world. He discusses the First and Second Gulf Wars [Iran-Iraq war and Desert Storm], explains the subtext of shia/sunni conflict, tells us a bit about Kuwait and a great deal about Saddam Hussein.
My favorite part of the book is the chapter "In the Land of Egypt." The last chapter "The Orphaned Peace" takes us to the heart of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, post-Oslo to the birth of the Palestinian Authority. Despite the tragedies and sorrows encountered in this book, I was left hopeful for peace.
Not conventional history I suppose, but a fine intellectual history of the last half-century in the Arab world. Inspires me to read some Naguib Mahfuz, where I go next on my journey through amazon...
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30 of 30 people found the following review helpful By N. Tsafos on September 28, 2004
Format: Paperback
The extremism that seems to pervade the Middle East is neither the region's predestined endpoint nor is it a historical inevitability-rather, it is a condition that sprung out from the failure of a great generation of reformers and free-thinkers that lived in the middle of the twentieth century, and whose passing away by the 1990s marked the triumph of theocracy and backwardness in the Middle East.

"The Dream Palace of the Arabs" is the sequel to the "Arab Predicament," which Fouad Ajami, a Lebanese professor at Johns Hopkins, published in 1980; back then, Mr. Ajami was younger and "approached [his] material more eager to judge." In the "Arab Predicament," he bemoaned the Arab political experience; in "The Dream Place of the Arabs" he tries to "appreciate what had gone into the edifice that Arabs had built."

This literary journey chronicles the birth of a generation of modernizing Arabs that fought and lost the case for modernity. The history of the past seventy years is narrated through the life of authors and their works-what they wrote, how the societies around them reacted, and how the political condition merged with their literary expression, only to suppress it and silence it.

As a parallel history, "The Dream Palace of the Arabs" could accompany any book. But in looking at the literary interplay between modernizing authors and their surroundings, Mr. Ajami has not only dug deeper in his probe of what brought about the present Arab political condition, but has analyzed the issue on a whole other level.

The reader who is familiar with Middle Eastern history will not feel burdened by the material. The refreshing tone and approach allows Mr.
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42 of 45 people found the following review helpful By J. A Magill TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 9, 2002
Format: Paperback
Because he lacks the flash and skill at sound bites of some of his more well known colleagues and does not crave to spend time on CNN, Professor Ajami?s work is frequently overlooked. That is a great loss for everyone trying to understand the Arab world, particularly in these times of growing tension and violence.
Ajami asks a profound and much debated question, why did modernity seem to pass the Arab world by? ?Scholars,? such as Edward Said, argue that everything is the fault of the West and imperialism and that nothing intrinsic in Middle Eastern and Islamic culture deserve the blame. In contrast, Ajami takes seriously the fact that prior to the enlightenment, Islamic society was both intellectually and materially superior to West. Indeed, after World War II, with a fair number of Western educated citizens and a burgeoning middle class, many observers say the Middle East having a bright future, likely brighter in fact, than those currently economic and political successes, South Korea, Tiwan, and the other ?asian tigers.? What then, went wrong? Ajami points to Arab society never internalizing the nation state and that democratic values never gained currency beyond a small clique of intellectuals. Instead, such modern political ideas were seen as imperialist impositions, given little more than lip service.
I disagree with Ajami on several points, most notably his rosy predictions for Egypt. Still, the work is well worth a serious read for any student of the Middle East.
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Big Dave on December 5, 2001
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I do not mean to imply by the title of this review that Ajami's book is "false" or polemical. Rather, I intend to warn readers that _The Dream Palace of the Arabs_ it is not a work of chronological accounting and crisp historical analysis.
Instead, it is impressionistic and non-linear. Events are narrated as episodes in the life or from the perspective of a certain poet or political figure. This gives the book a dreamy, subjective quality. This, surely, is the point: not to answer a specific historical question, but to tell the tale of "a generation's odyssey", as the book's subtitle has it.
The result is effective and haunting in its sense of disillusionment and frustration, and I recommend the book highly.
The one caveat I offer is that the reader will get much more out of this book if s/he has already read at least some Middle Eastern history, and preferably a fair amount.
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