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This is a fascinating historical narrative of the Arab Muslim conquests of the Middle East and beyond from 632 C.E. to 750 C.E. Kennedy (medieval history, Univ. of St. Andrews, Scotland; When Baghdad Ruled the Muslim World: The Rise and Fall of Islam's Greatest Dynasty) does a marvelous job of drawing upon and interpreting the written conquest accounts of the Arabs, and of the people they conquered, including the Byzantines, Christians, Persians, and Jews, while using the research of modern historians to give as clear and rich an account as possible. His analysis comes down to the instability of the Byzantine and Persian Empires, the small populations owing to the plague that occurred just before the conquests, the absence of any real resistance by local populations being conquered, and the toughness of the Arab armies and their ability to move quickly. The book also includes a chapter of personal responses (both positive and negative) to the conquests, ranging from a Chinese prisoner of war to letters of vanquished Greeks. Highly recommended for all public and academic libraries.
Posted March 26, 2008
This is a rather well written introductory book. It is more or less verbatim translation of Arab conquest histories into English. No effort has been made to critically appraise the original sources. If you know absolutely nothing about that period in history, it will provide you with a very one sided narrative. The author also suffers from a very common shortcoming of Arabists: while the bulk of the book is about Arab conquests in Iran, Spain, and North Africa, the author knows next to nothing about the histories of these regions. To put it kindly, his information about cultural, political, economic, and military history of Sassanid Persia (Iran, Iraq and parts of Caucasus and Central Asia and one of the two major empires of the late antiquity) is non existent, and it gets worse when he talks about Berber tribes in modern Algeria and Morocco, their relationship with Muslims and Byzantines, and their history and culture. He just repeats the Arabic texts without paying any attention to the research done in these areas within the last 50 years! Also, since professor Patricia Crone's influential work in late 1970s, there are a lot of doubts about the veracity of Islamic historiography. Many texts, including Koran itself, have been critically reread over the last 30 years. The author just glosses over all these works. In the end, it is an OK book, but not great.
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