The Great Arab Conquests: How the Spread of Islam Changed the World We Live Inby Hugh Kennedy
Today's Arab world was created at breathtaking speed. In just over one hundred years following the death of Mohammed in 632, Arabs had subjugated a territory with an east-west expanse greater than the Roman Empire, and they did it in about one-half the time. By the mid-eighth century, Arab armies had conquered the thousand-year-old Persian Empire, reduced the Byzantine Empire to little more than a city-state based around Constantinople, and destroyed the Visigoth kingdom of Spain. The cultural and linguistic effects of this early Islamic expansion reverberate today. This is the first popular English-language account in many years of this astonishing remaking of the political and religious map of the world. Hugh Kennedy's sweeping narrative reveals how the Arab armies conquered almost everything in their path, and brings to light the unique characteristics of Islamic rule. One of the few academic historians with a genuine talent for story telling, Kennedy offers a compelling mix of larger-than-life characters, fierce battles, and the great clash of civilizations and religions.
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.
Saudi Aramco World
“A lively tour d’horizon of the Muslim world circa 750…Each section’s tight geographical focus and ample bibliography make this a helpful guide.”
Claremont Review of Books, Fall 2008
“Comprehensive and scholarly…[Kennedy] is a real historian, doing what a historian ought to do…Kennedy has a good eye for a colorful story.”
Military History Quarterly, Fall 2008
“Kennedy’s account is a thoughtful reminder of how even the most epochal world-changing events can turn on the unanticipated intersection of a handful of diverse contingencies.”
- Da Capo Books
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- Hachette Digital, Inc.
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Meet the Author
Hugh Kennedy has taught in the Department of Mediaeval History at the University of St. Andrews since 1972. He was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 2000. Professor Kennedy lives in St. Andrews, Scotland.
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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.