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Dubai Books

The Arab World: Personal Encounters

Product Description
In an updated and expanded version of their award-winning survey, first published in 1987, two noted scholars draw on forty years of experience in the region to trace its recent political, military, economic, and social history. Original.”

The Arab World: Personal Encounters


  1. I bought this book thinking I would get a good overview of each of the countries the authors lived in. Instead the book consists of lengthy conversations between them and their friends, intersperesed with really trivial and banal comments. Given that both authors are academics, I expected some depth–but there was none. A real waste of money.
    Rating: 2 / 5

  2. The Arab World – Forty Years Of Change had a tendency of praising most things that are in some ways connected to arab culture. Everything is “wonderful” or “interesting” and so on. This tendency is enhanced by the fact that the authors seems to have more interest in achieving insight in Arab culture than Western culture, and thus have a pretty narrow and onedimensional view on issues that concerns Western politics and behaviour. Issues that are far more complex than the authors seems to believe. Anyway, The Arab World is also a book written by two people who seems to be genuinely interested in the matters that they are dealing with, and the analytical approach that the end of every chapter contains is a delight to read. In the next update of The Arab World, I would like a more balanced and critical view. It would double the quality of the book.
    Rating: 3 / 5

  3. I should know – this book is the reason why I studied Lebanon in college. No, its not the most in-depth “analysis” on Middle Eastern culture and politics, but it provides an excellent personal experience for the reader, with a dash of scholarly insight from the authors. I would highly recommend this book to someone who is really interested in learning about the Arab world from those who have lived and studied the culture. My only hope is that they have an updated edition post-911.
    Rating: 5 / 5

  4. Initially I thought that this thick book regarding the Fernea family’s travels through Arab countries would be informative, somehow. I agree with another reviewer’s observation that while this book contains lots and lots of “personal encounters” with mainly Muslim Arabs, it is primarilly of a lot of `pleasentary commentary’ between the Ferneas and their Arab hoats — no real substantive socio-economic `insight’ regarding the Muslim families is illustrated. Although the wife, Elizabeth, produced films regarding women’s issues throughout Arabia, they are not really discussed in this book: no `lessons learned’ are revealed. This book does reinforce the 1970s stereotype of the rural, poor `backwardness’ of the generic Arab – and the hassles of dealing with government `red tape’ in getting permission to travel to remote `restricted areas’; it is not very hopeful. I found a couple of tidbits to download into my computer regarding a handful of Arabic phrases, but then dumped the book into my trashcan – just not really worth keeping for sharing with anyone else – just no long-term `substantive knowledge’ worth being retained.
    Rating: 2 / 5

  5. This book is a collection of personal essays by Elizabeth and Robert Fernea concerning aspects of daily life in the several corners of the Arab world where they lived and conducted their anthropological research. The areas covered include Beirut (Lebanon), Amman (Jordan), Marrakech (Morocco), Cairo and Nubia (Egypt), Hail (Saudi Arabia), the West Bank, and Baghdad and Al-Nahra (Iraq). The Ferneas began their acquaintance with Arabia in 1956, when in their first year of marriage, Robert Fernea chose to do his doctoral research in Al-Nahra Iraq, and Elizabeth accompanied him there. After Robert was awarded his doctorate, the Ferneas went to Egypt, where Robert took a teaching post at the American University in Cairo. While in Egypt, Elizabeth wrote her now-classic description of women’s life in Iraq, Guests of the Sheikh. Later research projects took the Ferneas, together with their three children, to Nubia and Marrakech. In each location, the Ferneas observed local cultures for their formal academic publications. But they also kept journals of their daily experiences in dealing with the culture and trying to learn the answers to anthropological questions as Westerners, and it is excerpts from these journals that appear here. Interspersed with these descriptions of their personal experiences are short background or follow-up essays that provide further information about some of the associated topics.

    For readers who are not familiar with the Ferneas’ previous work, especially Elizabeth Fernea’s, the title of the book, The Arab World, may be a bit misleading. It is not the goal of this book to provide a comprehensive historical or political analysis of the region. Instead, the book provides mainly a collection of personal experiences of a family who lived and conducted research in the region off and on for over 40 years. In each country covered in this book, the Ferneas have made multiple visits over time, allowing them to compare the changes brought about development. The book also provides an epilogue of sorts for readers of the Ferneas’ other books, such as Guests of the Sheikh or A View of the Nile. As they return to their various “hometowns”, the Ferneas look up old friends and bring us up to date on how life has treated them.
    Rating: 5 / 5


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