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Archetypal Islamic History for Hodgson's Generation,
This review is from: The Venture of Islam, Volume 1: The Classical Age of Islam (Paperback)When surveys of Islam are mentioned, Hodgson's three volume work is the most formidable of the three often mentioned-the other two being either that of Lapidus or Hourani (although Hourani's history is limited to Arab history only). This first volume focuses on Hodgson's justifications for his own idiosyncratic preferences which he obviously aspired to be broadly accepted in the field as well as writing the early history of Islam through the absolutist tradition of the Abbasid dynasty. His awkward terminology has in general not been adopted although his insistence on rigor and uniformity in the transliteration of Islamic languages has become standard, and the general outlines of the history that he presents have stood the test of time. Most may leave this book behind, being bogged down in the first hundred or so pages of caveats and academic hair-splitting; however, those who persevere onwards will find the going gets better when the actual history begins wherein the analysis and information conveyed are generally profound.
Throughout Hodgson's rather phlegmatic march through the history of the central Islamic lands (being Muslim Spain, North Africa, and the lands from the Nile to the Oxus River), there is undoubtedly a dusty quality to his work that shows his methodology to be at least a generation behind the times. It is evident that he was influenced strong by the rise and fall of civilizations world history of the likes of Toynbee, and there is some indication that were it not for his untimely death that he would have wished to write just such a history. Though this is a weakness in part of his work-weak because its broad strokes necessitates a glossing over many technical and philosophical issues (the devil and often the more interesting question are in the details)-it did at it time overcome many of the faults of Orientalist scholarship of and prior to his time by integrating Islamic history in the broader streams of human civilization with antecedents and inherited legacies rather than the usual misrepresentation of Islamic civilization as sui generis.
I still recommend Lapidus over Hodgson because Lapidus is more up to date, a single volume and bibliographically also more recent, although Hodgson's work has more style and continuity and coheres better than Lapidus's disjointed text.