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VINE VOICEon August 23, 2011
*****
"This is a brilliant book,...a landmark. It radiates the penetrating light of Albert Hourani's massive erudition upon what he calls the 'deeply disturbed societies' of the Arab world... Hourani is able to explain, concisely, matters of surpassing difficulty which must be understood in order to make sense of contemporary events." -- Thomas Lippman

Despite news making events in the Middle East, for the past nine months, of the Arab Spring, the Arab world has been hardly understood, and its history was poorly conceived in the West. The late distinguished historian Hourani's masterwork, "A History of the Arab Peoples," an introductory text for Arab history, is a panoramic view which encloses fourteen centuries of Arab history and culture. Written by the British-born Lebanese historian Albert Hourani, it was translated into Arabic, and has found some currency in Arabic schools and universities. Hourani brilliantly provided an understanding of the people and events that have essentially shaped the Arab world. Albert Hourani was Emeritus Fellow, St. Antony's College, Oxford. He died in 1993.

Although some pre-Islamic history is included as a prologue, the book mainly exposes the history of the Arabs(now 22 Arab speaking countries and Gulf emirates), since the advent of Islam to the late twentieth Century. Hourani examines Arabic-speaking nations of the Islamic world from the seventh century to the present in a volume that became both a bestseller and an instant classic, upon the release of its first edition in 1991, on bestseller lists for 12 weeks. Hourani's masterwork was hailed as the definitive story of Arab civilization and culture, written by an expert who knows well both the language and the culture. The book was referenced in the Lecture course "The United States and the Middle East: 1914 to 9/11".

Hourani, acutely aware of methodological commitments of historiography, became specialized in intellectual history, which constitute the main focus of his book. He follows the methodology employed by Ibn Khaldun in his Muqaddimah, specifically the reliance on asabiyyah, concept of bond of cohesion, as a means of accounting for dynastic and political changes. Thus, the book involves a considerable amount of social as well as economic history to account for the rise and subsequent fall of historical Islamic powers such as the Umayyad and Ottoman Empires. Considerable reasoning is given, explaning the rise of Arab nationalism in Syria and Egypt, Salafism in Saudi Arabia, Ba'athism in Syria and Iraq, Islamism in Lebanon and Gazza. Ruthven notes in his afterword, that much of the rise of Islamism advanced after book publication.

This seminal book is now available in an updated expanded second edition. Noted Islamic scholar Malise Ruthven, an Irish academic and writer brings the story up to date from the mid-1980s. He is a former editor with the BBC Arabic Service in London and is the author of Islam in the World. The new edition includes recent events as the first Gulf War; civil unrest in Algeria; the change of leadership in Syria, Morocco, and Jordan; and the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in the United States, ongoing crisis in Iraq, and renewed violence between Israelis and Palestinians. Maps and an extensive Bibliography are provided, an Arabic-English Glossary is available, and an Index. A family tree of Prophet Muhammad is portrayed. All contents underscore the need for a balanced and well-informed understanding of the Arab world, and make this insightful history of the Arab peoples more important than ever.

"There is something deeply reassuring and even redemptive about this very fine book...It is difficult to overestimate the importance of this book for this time. Here at last is a genuinely readable, genuinely responsive history of the Arabs...[Hourani] often lets the Arabs, their poets, historians, sages and ordinary people speak." --Edward W. Said
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on June 15, 2013
"A History of the Arab Peoples" focuses extensively on Islam's origins and the transition of Arab society from tribal communities, to Islamic empire, to political nation-states. The book is impressively thorough in its exploration of Islam's various intellectual strands. The book proceeds chronologically, but it is much more topic driven than event driven. Hourani is more interested in describing life in the Arab world in broad terms rather than recounting the exploits of important individuals. Thus you will learn a lot about the evolution of Islamic law, but very little about Saladin or Suleimein.

Hourani writes in an enjoyably magisterial tone that rarely appears in modern histories, but at times this can be more distracting than lyrical. For example, when describing the pilgrimages to Mecca from Damascus and Cairo, he states that "Of the two, that from Damascus had a greater importance..." but on the next page informs us that "The caravan which started Cairo was no less important." These types of empty judgments and other assumption-laden paragraphs render some of Hourani's arguments less than convincing, but overall there is a wealth of reliable information presented. I do not recommend this book for readers new to the subject, but students and scholars of Middle Eastern history or Islam should find this book informative if slightly frustrating at times.
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on March 3, 2014
This is a great asset to my personal library. It is informative, well documented, and scholarly, while at the same time fascinating reading. It has been an enormous help to me as I am studying the cultural-geopolitical history of the Mideast. It is next to impossible to understand the ongoing problems of the Mideast without understanding the history of the Arabs, Iranians and Jewish settlers of that region. This fine book covers the Arab history splendidly.
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on April 21, 2015
As Director of St. Anthony’s College’s Middle East Center, Professor Hourani acquired a reputation for resolute evenhandedness with regards to Middle East topics and issues. His book serves as a useful introduction to the history of the Arabs from the rise of Islam until just before the Gulf War in Iraq. Hourani uses clear language to create powerful images while presenting a concise overview of a considerable time span. He covers the evolution of Islam as well as the social and cultural evolution of Arabs from Morocco to the Persian Gulf. Exploring the daily lives of women and fellaheen, merchants, and the educated elites, among others, Hourani portrays the lives of the people in society highlighting many of the rich cultural traditions. Using explicit details with incredible scope and breadth, he also explores Islamic law, theology, and spirituality as it developed over time.
Aside from the comprehensive aspect of the book, Hourani succeeds best at discussing major events and issues that evolved over some 1300 years with elegant writing condensed into a single volume. This book is a useful read for the beginning student of the region in need of a broad understanding as well as anyone interested in an evenhanded review of the Arab peoples.
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on December 19, 2012
I love reading history and enjoyed this immensely. It was eye-opening as to the many different groups that make up the Muslim world.
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on June 9, 2016
A comprehensive history of the Arab people.
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on June 25, 2016
Arrived as promised.
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on September 28, 2015
great
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