If what you seek is a clear, succinct, yet detailed account of how "the Middle East" --including the Maghrib-- became what it is today, look no further. This is by far the best available account of the modern history of "the Arabs" and their worlds. (And, it IS necessary to stress the plural, "worlds." Language and religious convictions may be common threads among Arabs; but much else is diverse in ways that most of us have yet to fully appreciate).
Rogan writes in clear, accessible prose, and provides a coherent and engaging narrative. Teachers especially will find this volume helpful; but, the general reader too will find the main lines of Arab development (since 1516) covered in ways that both inform and illuminate. Despite the welter of books available on this subject area, none has the mastery of substance and the simple felicity of style necessary to meet the needs of today's deeply misinformed general audience. After Rogan, there is no longer any reason for us "westerners" to remain ignorant of the Arab past, and the Arabs' world. (Mainstream "News" commentators, please take note). If you want to know how it all began and why it has remained the single most barbaric "encounter" in "western" history, look no further. This is where all future students will begin their exploration of Arab history, and is the work to which they will most often turn in seeking to understand its main currents and conflicting personalities. Its perceptive analysis and insights no less than its narrative flow will provide food for thought for all who wish to learn.
OVERVIEW OF THE CONTENTS:
Despite its title, this book is less a history of "the Arabs" per se than of external attempts to govern them. For the Arabs themselves, we have Hourani's masterful work A History of the Arab Peoples: Second Edition
-- and it comes as no surprise that Rogan's work drinks from the same deep well of scholarship and insight (see page 499-500 for details). However, if Hourani gave us a view of the Arab world from the inside, as it were, this is the same story ... but from the outside. Rogan's prespective is that the modern history of the Arabs is, essentially, the story of external attempts to dominate and govern them. So, starting with the Ottoman victory over the Egyptian Mamluks in 1516, his first five chapters --about one third of the book-- deal with the main trends of Ottoman overlordship, down to the debacle of World War One. The next four chapters (six through nine) deal in considerable detail with the disastrous consequences of Anglo-French imperial self-aggrandizement from 1915 to 1945. (American readers may be pleasantly surprised to learn how positive was the Arab view of American international involvement in 1919. Then they were a positive counterweight to European rapacity. Now, of course, they've changed colors, and are the proverbial fox-in-the-henhouse). Chapter Nine on "The Palestine Disaster and its Consequences," is a masterpiece of concision and erudition, and on its own will more than repay the reader's investment in this book. The outsiders view of Israel (which is the one most of us have) will seem decidedly less rosy and congenial once seen in the real context of broader Arab concerns and indigenous contemporary developments. Chapters 10 and 11 deal with the "Rise" and "Decline" (respectively) of Arab nationalism between 1950 and 1970, using Egypt's Gamal Abdel Nasser as the yardstick of Cold War "superpower" involvement in Arab affairs. Chapters 12 through 14 bring the story from the "oil shock" of 1973 down to the present day, and show how remarkably short --and ghastly, in human terms-- has been the "western" journey from European arrogance to American hegemony. That all parties to the deepening conflict have been remarkably uninformed and self-centered may come as no surprise, but the true cost of such ignorance should horrify the reader.
To cover so much ground in less than 500 pages is an achievement in itself. To do so with such clarity and elan is nothing short of genius. (Keep in mind that almost half the book is given over to events since WWI).
I sincerely hope Mr Rogan will consider making this into a video history so it can reach a wider audience. (If nothing else, such a project would teach us how to pronounce unfamiliar names ... and perhaps even make them household words!)