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This is the second book of Professor Rogan's that I have listened to (the first was the Fall of the Ottomans which I have previously reviewed). I purchased and listened to the book because I wanted to understand more about the Arab people and the source of the unrest that has plagued them and the Middle East since I can remember. I am very pleased with my purchase and although it is lengthy , I feel that I now a greater understanding the Arab people than I did before I listened to the book.
The book traces the history of the Arab world since the founding of Islam in the early seventh century AD. Despite the author's claims in his introduction, I feel that the book is divided into 5 phases: The growth of the Arab world (following founding of Islam; the Ottoman Empire and its governance through 1918; the imperialist (British and French mandate) phase of 1918 through the 1950's; the Arab Nationalist/Pharaoh Phase which lasted from the 1950's until the Iranian Revolution of 1979; and the Modern Era in which Islam has once again become the stirring force in the Arab world. Along the way we are introduced to historical figures- some of whom we have heard much of- such as Nasser, Sadat, King Hussein of Jordan, Khadafy, the Assad family in Syria and Sadam Hussein and Bath Party in Iraq; as well as some not so well known but very important personalities such as Muhammad Ali (not the fighter but the Albanian warrior who became a leading figure in the Ottoman empire and created the dynasty in Egypt), Urabi Pasha (whose rebellion led to the British occupation of Egypt) as well as well as Abd el-Krim who as leader of the Rif tribe in Morocco was able to defeat a modern Spanish army of 15,000 men after World War I. We are also introduced to the Islamic split between the Shira and Sunni Muslims which still pervades the Middle East to this day.
There were several takeaways from the book. The first was just how powerful the Islamic world was from its founding until its takeover by the Ottomans. I never also never realized that the Ottoman empire generally left the Arabs alone as long as its people paid its taxes to the Sultanate and how the change in this policy following the Young Turk Revolution in 1908 resulted in the Ottoman's rescinding this "laissez faire" attitude eventually led to the Arab revolt which was fanned by the British during World War One. Another takeaway was the perfidy of the British to the Arab Nationalists who fought in the war against the Ottomans. The British promised independence but actually tightened their grip on the Middle East by taking over Iraq, Trans Jordan and Palestine after the war (and concluding the Sykes Picot Treaty in 1916(. I also learned that many problems that now exist in the Middle East were caused by both the French (France actually carved out a Christian Lebanon from Islamic Syria following World War One which helped to cause the Lebanese Civil War and its aftermath); and how the British promises to both the Arabs (Independence) and the Jewish people (the Balfour Declaration) led to the disaster that now confronts the Palestinian Arabs and Israelis to this day.
I believe that the greatest takeaway from the book (which confirmed a theory I had) focused around the rise of Islamic Jihad in the modern day Middle East. Following World War Two, the British and French were pushed out of the Arab World by the rise of Arab nationalism led by the rise of Nasser in Egypt and his successful stance during the Suez crisis of 1956. This led to a the popularity of Nasser and his military progeny (such as Assad in Syria and Khadafy in Libya) which culminated in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and the defeat of the Arabs by a much better equipped and trained Israeli army. This defeat (when combined with the defeat of the Arab armies in the Yom Kippor war in 1972) led to the decline of Arab Nationalism and left the Arab world open the rise of radical Islam which took flight in 1979 following the Iranian revolution and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan (and which the world is now having to confront and contest even to this day). For me I believe, the book conveyed to me that the Arab people have a great tradition which has been dissipated by both outside forces and the in fighting that has taken place among them. It will be interesting to see if the Arab world can overcome these divisions and unify.
In summary, I believe that the book is a well worthwhile listen that anyone who wants to learn more about the Arab world should listen to. It is long and there is a tremendous information that is being hurled at the listener (as the author moves from era to ear and country to country), but there is a lot of great information in the book and the narration by Derrick Perkins (who also narrated the Fall of the Ottomans) is good.
15 of 15 people found this review helpful
This book is an excellent overview of Arab history and should be listened to by anyone interested in, and confused by, current events in the Middle East. The only way to understand the present is to study the past. Well written, and well narrated.
5 of 5 people found this review helpful