Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Arabs: A History by Middle East scholar Eugene Rogan

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So much has been written about the history of the Arab World, most driven by interpretations of emotion,  suffering and partisanship. Many of the books have been narratives reflecting the author's bias or political preferences, making them either easy to read satisfying your needs or difficult to read challenging your beliefs. Eugene Rogan, the director of The Middle east Centre at St. Anthony's College in Oxford, however, provides a clinically accurate and compelling "history" that gives the Arab World in a timely examination and explanation.

The introduction details why knowledge of the history of the Arabs is so important and it is followed by chapters that take you through the major developments and the evolution of today's Arab. How did they get to where they are at? And, are they being marginlized and erased by the growing Islamic revolution which is burying the richness and uniqueness of the secular Arab culture in a cult of religious bastardization? These are only some questions that one might answer in understanding the history of The Arabs in Rogan's book.

We all know the historical chronology, but Rogan takes us through a more interesting read through Ottoman rule, the Muhammad Ali empire, reformation, colonization in African, World War I, the disastrous rule of Britain in the Middle East, France in Lebanon, the disaster in Palestine, the rise of Arab nationalism, and the decline of Arab nationalism, the age of oil and the age of Islam, with a look at the consequences of the aftermath of the Cold War.

The other problem I have with past narratives of Arab history has been the writing. It's so hard to read some of the past historical collections. They are painful to the reader and intended for the scholar. Rogan's book mixes his firsthand experience living in the Middle East, his love for the Arab people and a writing style that encourages the non-scholar to appreciate and enjoy the rich cultural and political history of the Arabs. What the Arab World needs is less interference from the professors and scholars and more understanding among the public at large. The public needs this book more than the dusty shelves of some Middle East studies department or the classroom of affected PhD wannabes.

It's the ease by which one can read this thick scholarly work that makes it so valuable. Knowledge is worthless if it can't be expressed and passed along to the less knowledgeable. Rogan has taken the complexities of the Middle East and the role of its evolution under The Arabs and made it something everyday readers will enjoy. More importantly, they will take something away from this enjoyable reading experience. I've read almost every book on the Middle East and the Arabs over the past 35 years of American Arab activism, but Rogan's "The Arabs" has been the most enjoyable, and that makes it the most educational.

I am not a scholar on the Middle East, just a lifelong student. Reading through Rogan's book has been very informative and enjoyable. I highly recommend it.

More information on "The Arabs":

The Arabs

A History
by Eugene Rogan

Nov 2, 2009
US $35.00
CAN $44.50
ISBN: 9780465071005
ISBN-10: 0465071007
Published by Basic Books


To American observers, the Arab world often seems little more than a distant battleground characterized by religious zealotry and political chaos. Years of tone-deaf US policies have left the region powerless to control its own destiny—playing into a longstanding sense of shame and impotence for a once-mighty people. In this definitive account, preeminent historian Eugene Rogan traces five centuries of Arab history, from the Ottoman conquests through the British and French colonial periods and up to the present age of unipolar American hegemony. The Arab world is now more acutely aware than ever of its own vulnerability, and this sense of subjection carries with it vast geopolitical consequences. Drawing from Arab sources little known to Western readers, Rogan’sThe Arabs will transform our understanding of the past, present, and future of one of the world’s most tumultuous regions.

Eugene Rogan

Eugene Rogan is a faculty fellow and university lecturer in the Modern History of the Middle East at St Antony’s College, Oxford, where he serves as director of the Middle East Centre. His previous book, Frontiers of the State in the Late Ottoman Empire, was judged by the Middle East Studies Association of North America to be the best work on the Middle East in 2000 and awarded the Albert Hourani Prize. He lives in Oxford, England.

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