Eugene Rogan a lecturer at Oxford gives the reader a well reasoned history of the last 500 years in the Arab world. He tries to avoid just listing dates and events but tries to bring some life to the personalities involved. Importantly he also emphasizes the reaction to events upon the people living in the lands involved. This is important because it provides context as to what motivates the players in the region.
In theory just the Arab world alone, think North Africa from Morocco to Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, Iraq, Jordan and parts of Palestine/Israel and Lebanon should be a powerful engine in the world. This doesn’t even include the power of oil and this region’s influence in the rest of the Islamic world. Sadly for the region’s inhabitants even though powerful players have attempted to organize a collective Arab response the area has never been able to leverage it’s theoretical power.
Instead the area has been ruled by a series of outsiders including the Ottoman Turks, the British, French, Italians and Spanish. Even with independence in the 20th century most in the Arab world feel they are still being dominated by Western interests.
The author makes coherent arguments and explains how events in one country frequently reverberate throughout the Arab world. He also is good at presenting sequential events while not getting bogged down in petty details. I would have liked to have seen some more fleshing out of some of the major characters to more easily understand who they were. To be fair though the book is already lengthly and at some point I’m sure the author felt he had to sacrifice some material for other.
I do appreciate the author’s attempts at fairness and he is always willing to criticize whether it’s the behavior of different Arab groups or governments or others with influence in the region including the United States and Israel. This way it makes it easier for the reader to examine particular situations and come to well balanced conclusions.
The only thing the book seriously lacked was when action takes place that influences the Arab world takes place outside of the Arab world he doesn’t go into the detail that might have made this a better book. Two examples of this are the inner workings of the Ottoman Empire who spent 350 – 400 years running different parts of the Arab world and the last 25 years in places like Afghanistan and Chechnya which are still influencing daily events today in the Arab world.
All in all this is a must read book if you have a deep interest in the region.