- Series: Venture of Islam (Book 1)
- Paperback: 539 pages
- Publisher: University of Chicago Press; 1 edition (February 15, 1977)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0226346838
- ISBN-13: 978-0226346830
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.8 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 15 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #530,453 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Venture of Islam, Volume 1: The Classical Age of Islam Paperback – February 15, 1977
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Of the three volumes, Volume III is largely out-dated, while Volume II has held up the best since the work's publication. Perhaps the most serious problem is that Hodgson doesn't pay much attention to the development of Islamic societies in Southeast Asia and Africa, though he does include India, a major step for the 1970's. His chapters on Sufism and literary culture are among the work's strengths.
Those interested in a serious understanding of the Islamic world will work through Hodgson at one time or another. Those wishing for a strong, more casual introduction are better off with something like Ira Lapidus's A History of Islamic Societies or The Oxford History of Islam.
Hogdson set himself a rather bold and difficult task: (1) to tell the story of Islam from its foundation until the mid 20th Century (2) to deal with all the lands of Islam and not just the Arabs, the Turks or the Persians (so his account does not suffer from specious generalization from one geographic area or major ethnic group to the whole) and (3) to write a comprehensive history - political, social, intellectual (to give a complete account of Islam).
By and large, Hodgson achieved his vision. The scope of his scholarship and range of his intellect is truly impressive. The work provides a very thought provoking account of the development of the Islamic world.
There are four particularly noteworthy aspects to his work:
(1) The book (like McNeill's "Rise of the West") does not address its topic in isolation, but rather shows how the major citied civilizations of the world influenced one another. This is one of the strengths of the book - placing Islam squarely within the currents of world history.
(2) This is an original, not derivative, work. It is based on an analysis of primary sources (accounts from the period he is studying) rather than a repetition of the conclusions of later Muslim or Western scholars. This results in several refreshing challenges to common "wisdom" on Islamic history.
(3) His analysis of the nature of agrarianate civilization is useful not only for understanding the development of Islam but of other civilizations as well. His discussion in Book 3 about the rise of the West and the fundamental shift from agrarian to modern technical society is particularly thought provoking.
(4) His discussion about how various groups in the Islamic world reacted to the challenge posed by overwhelming western superiority is very illuminating not only about some of the contemporary problems we face in the Middle East but in a larger sense about the reaction of other non western peoples to the West.
The book does have some drawbacks. First, its sheer bulk and discussion in detail of the various strands of civilization can be daunting and perhaps cause the reader to lose his way or interest. Second, Hodgson has a "social science" approach to writing history.
What this means is that he insists on defining terms very carefully in the first 69 pages
of Book I to ensure precision of meaning in their later usage. Personally, this was the most difficult part of the book for me.
As I view Amazon ratings as guides to the general non-specialist reader, I have assigned his work four stars.
For a historian of the Middle East or a university level student, this book probably would rate five stars for the sheer intellectual breadth and Hodgson's theories - which even if not accepted in whole cloth will at least spark some very serious thinking.
The non-specialist reader needs to make a real commitment in terms of attention. This is not an easy book, but if you make the effort, you will find not only your mind but also your perspective stretched.
As you consider whether to buy this book, one further thought. Hodgson died before the work was in final form. A colleague of his Reuben W. Smith, III, took time from his own scholarly pursuits to finish Hodgson's work. If you understand anything about the academic world, you will understand the sacrifice that Smith made in that "publish or perish" world. The book does not carry his name but that of Hodgson. He believed that Hodgson's ideas were worthy of transmission to the larger public. That may be reason enough to buy this magnificent work.