5 thoughts on “The Arabs: A Short History

  1. After reading this book a new understanding of the Arabs along with meloncholy set in. Just yesterday this nation was the ruler of almost half the world, with sophisticated culture and centers of learning and a huge government humming under the sun, has now become silent and has acquired an almost vegetative state of that of a Parkinson diseased person. It’s sad, and educative to know that the peak and rise of a nation is not something to be taken for granted. Enjoy while it lasts! Once again the the gaping mouth of History taught me humility. Thank you Hitti, for your unbiased and honest presentation of these lions of the desert!
    Rating: 4 / 5

  2. Great book on a great civilization. It is interesting to read, and sad to realize that the Arabs lost their long golden-age.

    It is truely the history of a great culture and people.

    It is sad that they did not recieve what they deserve from respect and appreciation from us.
    Rating: 5 / 5

  3. I heartily echo the poor reviews others give this book. _The Arabs: a short history_ was first published in 1943; why the publisher felt the need to reprint it is a mystery to me, given not only the changes that have taken place in the region, but most significantly in the scholarship that has been done in the last 60 years. This book has not aged well.

    First, its few strengths: Hitti does a solid job of explaining Arabia before Mohammed: the culture, societal organization, and the economic and political ties amongst the Bedouin are among the best I have read. To understand Arabic (and by extension, Islamic) civilization, one must first understand the climate from which it was born. In this vein, Hitti also does a tremendous service by connecting these roots of Arabic culture to the growth and expansion of Islam, and the political trials and tribulations of the Umayyad and Abbasid caliphates.

    Sadly, the portions of the book that I found disfavor with outweigh these bright points. To begin with, I found myself regularly shaking my head at his repeated references to “the Arabic race” – race is an artifical construct (unless one speaks of the “human race”) – there is no more an Arabic race than there is an American race or any other group you wish to define in racial terms. (To be clear: I am not being “politically correct” here, but merely stating an anthropological and sociological fact that illustrates the vast difference 60 years makes in examining a topic.) Hitti does this not only with Arabs, but with Mamelukes as well (Egyptian slaves under the Fatimids, I know of no serious contemporary historian who would make the claim they were a “race”),

    To be fair, Hitti’s history is one of “the Arabs” – and therefore Mongols, Turks and Persians are out of the scope of the book, to my disappointment. The primary focus of his history is on the Umayyad and Abbasid dynasties, with only a cursory mention of the Fatimids in Egypt. This is another weakness: I can understand his leaving out the later conquests of the Turks and Persians of the Near East – the Fatimids, though, clearly should be a part of his survey and deserved more attention than the scant nod given here. Another shortcomming was his discussion of the sunni/shi’ii split. To virtually ignore such a critical event is akin to discussing the history of Europe without mention of the Reformation.

    Even making allowances for the emphasis on the early Muslim dynasties, Hitti’s summary of the rise and fall of these families is at times vague, stating that among the reasons for the collapse of the Abbasids was their “luxurious living with its emphasis on wine and song … (which) sapped the vitality of family life.” The complex web of political ties and rivalries, climatic changes and external political forces should have been made much more apparent.

    For those interested in a basic primer on the birth and growth of Islam, or who are seeking a brief history of the early Islamic empires, look elsewhere. Hitti was a man of his time, and it shows in his writing. There are better histories of the region available that reflect more recent scholarship and less loaded language than you will find here.
    Rating: 2 / 5

  4. I found this book interesting and entertaining — given the time frame when it was written it is less warped and biased by current events and politics. The Ottoman period is missing.
    Worth reading.
    Rating: 4 / 5

  5. Surveying this work certainly confirms the general historical facts laid-out one night, by my Lebanese friends a few years ago during an after dinner conversation, regarding the current technological/cultural blight of the Arab world.

    Their textured descriptions of traditional Arab ambivalence towards the greater social and material good of the community would probably leave a substantial number of listeners feeling melancholy and perhaps frustrated. As such, the classical and overly pondered question never fails to arise: Why does the latest chapter of the Arab condition in the Middle-east continue to deeply disappoint admirers of its history, Arab or otherwise? Well, needless to state, those scholars and regular enthusiasts have an obviously educated view and understanding of the problem. But for laymen, renowned scholar, Mr. Hitti is a blessing.

    Within this particular work, he directly outlines the glorious rise and, glorious downfall of once-upon-a-time Arab/Islamic hegemony – with what seems to be somewhat unfortunately, a translucent, circuitous plea for public mercy from the Western reader and God above. Whether this tactic was premeditated or not, and why, is certainly a risk on the part of this well-respected author. Specifically, Mr. Hitti to his discredit, awkwardly maintains a tedious narrative on a constantly dithering tight rope of monotony – an unceasing, “listed” description of facts-and-figures, thereby insufficiently describing the sociological reasons for the historically uncooperative tendencies of pre-mediaeval Arab man and beyond.

    There is the probability of Mr. Hitti trying to spare the lay audience, from frustration towards today’s Arab civilization in light of a once existing and certainly progressive Pax Islamica. If so, could this be the clarified risk of unjust paternalization by the author? I would dislike to think so. A sufficient admission of Arab self-criticism was sorely needed in this book. It is the corollary in establishing a truly comprehensive presentation to those interested in basic Arab history, long or short version.

    Perhaps for the next revised edition of this title, Mr. Hitti should also elaborate much more on the terribly negative and barbaric influences of the Ottoman Turks imposed on the Arabs furthering their state of eclipse. Overall, no doubt, and with just cause, the emotive aim by Mr. Hitti in declaring Arab history a subject of general inattention is accurate. Quite right he is.
    Rating: 3 / 5

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