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The Dream Palace of the Arabs: A Generation's Odyssey
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The Dream Palace of the Arabs: A Generation's Odyssey

3.61  ·  Rating Details ·  181 Ratings  ·  29 Reviews
From Fouad Ajami, an acclaimed author and chronicler of Arab politics, comes a compelling account of how a generation of Arab intellectuals tried to introduce cultural renewals in their homelands through the forces of modernity and secularism. Ultimately, they came to face disappointment, exile, and, on occasion, death. Brilliantly weaving together the strands of a tumultu ...more
Paperback, 368 pages
Published June 29th 1999 by Vintage (first published 1998)
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Nov 17, 2008 Tyler rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Anyone
Shelves: non-fiction
Written before September 11, Ajami's ever-relevant book asks why modern Arab society thinks so differently from others. This wasn't always so: Today's Arab society is the repudiation of a bygone liberalization among Arab thinkers, an opening up that faded after about 1967. But why did liberal trends end in the Arab world while they accelerated in other places?

The book takes a discursive approach, looking at the issue through four filters: Lebanese culture, the Iran-Iraq War, Egypt and its societ
Apr 20, 2011 Phil rated it really liked it
Ajami is the rock star Middle East Studies scholar at an exceptionally wonderful graduate school, and I wanted to read his stuff. For those of us who watch current events in the Arab World, and say, "Where did all this secular leftism come from?" this book chronicles where it came from. Ajami compellingly tells the stories of the Arab intelligensia of the second-half of the 20th century. He explains differences within their thinking, devotes pages to poetic translations of their poetry and does ...more
Jul 04, 2014 Murtaza rated it it was ok
This book is Ajami's exploration of Arab intellectual currents in the 20th century, from nationalism to Islamism; touching on topics such as relations with Israel and the rise and fall of the Saddam Hussein's Iraq.

While I've long been skeptical of Ajami's politics his work shows him to be an intellectual worthy of respect, but I was not particularly impressed with this book. Perhaps it is because it feels a bit dated, but there was little insightful or surprising. Furthermore his prose had the u
Jun 01, 2010 Lexi rated it really liked it
So far this is a beautifully written book which describes the lives of some of the key cultural leaders of the Pan-Arab and secular movements of the 50s-80s. Ajami blends history with a lyrical style which rings true to the convoluted and complex social and cultural threads of the time. I clearly need a better understanding of the history of those years (something we don't study in Arabic 101) but am thrilled with this introduction.

The book was lyrical and beautiful. Unfortunately, I became busy
Caloway Gavin
Dec 07, 2012 Caloway Gavin rated it really liked it
A good, interesting read, but not for the Middle East modern history novice. Fouad Ajami does a solid job of telling history through the eyes of culture and really captures the impact of colonialism and its long lasting ripple effect on more current history... But know it is pre-September 11th and seeing him often interviewed on tv during the last 2 years of Arab spring his pov has evolved even further. He is high on my 'would like to have coffee with' list.
Aug 12, 2016 Grace rated it really liked it
Shelves: school
In this book, Ajami traces the history of the revolutions that shook the Middle Eastern world from the time of Khalil Hawi to the 1990s. It explores the changing ideas of nationalism and the legacy of the west in the Arab psyche that shaped the political sphere. Central to the narrative are the vivid characters and historical figures behind the movements, from the Lebanese socialist leader Saadah to the more peaceful Egyptian prime minister Sadat. In addition to the political leaders, Ajami spe ...more
Joseph Stieb
Aug 23, 2016 Joseph Stieb rated it really liked it
Kind of an odd book, but rewarding in significant ways. I read this because Ajami was very influential in America's thinking about the Middle East in the 1990's and early 2000's and has been a figure of controversy ever since. The book itself is both a history and critique of Arab nationalist intellectuals since the 1950's. He knows this group of people intimately and probably should have labelled the book "The Lost Generation." His generation grew up on the Nasserite dream of Arab unity in conf ...more
Dec 20, 2015 Jerry rated it really liked it
This is a great introduction to the strange factions of the Arab world. Fouad Ajami describes how two generations of poets and other intellectuals went from supporting a pan-Arab world of letters and freedom, to decrying peace and pushing for war.

A whole world had slipped through the fingers of two generations of Arabs who had come into their own in the 1950s and 1960s. A city that had once been their collective cultural home, Beirut, had been lost to them. A political culture of Arab nationalis
Patrick McCoy
I guess The Dream Palace of the Arabs by Fouad Ajami is supposed to help us understand the politics, culture, and recent history of the Islamic culture. This book is a bit difficult to classify, since it is multifaceted: a sort of personal perspective of the Arab situation by an American Arab with cultural and diplomatic history mixed with political analysis. I felt that he spent too much time discussing the impact of cultural persons on the political situation. But I guess that was one of his p ...more
Michael Connolly
Jul 09, 2012 Michael Connolly rated it liked it
Shelves: reviewed, middle-east
The Arabs had hoped that after they were freed from European colonialism, they would be able to live in a free society. Between the two world wars, Arab society was tolerant and cosmopolitan and the future looked bright. The hope was that secular liberalism would reform traditional Sunni rule to produce a better society. Ajami describes this optimistic period and the subsequent disillusionment from the perspective of Arab poets. The forces for secular liberalism were defeated by military rule an ...more
A nice introduction to the attempts of the Arab intelligentsia of the recent past to realize the dreams of the enlightenment taken for granted in the west. Pretty depressing overall to read an insiders account of the failure of this group to move Arab culture in the direction of their dreams. Would that the Arab world looked today like this author dreamed it would. I would love to spend time in the Beruit of his youth, the Cairo of yesteryear, the Baghdad of some lost and forgotten dream past. W ...more
David Einav
Dec 21, 2014 David Einav rated it it was amazing
For people, like Shimon Peres, who see an ocean of opportunities in Israel-Arab peace, this book presents a mountain of obstacles standing in the way. The cold peace with Egypt and Jordan is apparently rooted in maximalist dreams of Israel distraction shared by 99.9% of Arab men of letters. Sobering account that could be summarized -- "Not Yet!" Let's wait for another 30 years so that Arabs could realize that disappearing oil revenues and growing population leave them no choice but joining the m ...more
May 29, 2008 Kendra rated it liked it
Written in an opaque style that I suppose is meant to illustrate the poetry and ambiguity of the Arabic language. The book traces the failed efforts of Arab intellectuals to encourage the spread of modernity and secularism and the price they paid for making their attempts. You get a feel for the clash between intellectual liberalism and conservative theology in the Mid East that has extended for decades.
Sep 06, 2012 Amy rated it liked it
This author was recommended to me as an expert on Lebanon and its complexities, and I don't doubt it. However, this book was very scholarly. I read the section about Lebanese poet and Arab nationalist Khalil Hawi. Indisputably well-written, but more academic than I was hoping for, and it was a chore to read rather than a pleasure. I checked this book out twice from the library, but just couldn't manage to finish it.
May 04, 2014 Bud rated it liked it
Ajami writes about the history of Arab nationalism as expressed in current literature and in the lives and passions of writers, poets, musicians - a cultural lens for looking at political change over the past century. His overall outlook for change is somewhat pessimistic since religion has become a more central factor than language or geography.
Jul 29, 2008 Mcgyver5 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: History Buffs, People who want to understand middle east.
Recommended to Mcgyver5 by: George Packer
Shelves: history, middle-east
This book has helped me understand the news out of the middle east much better. Obviously, the situation there is fluid. This book makes an attempt to describe the motivations behind various arab groups, their relationships with their neighbors, and the dreams of an Arab intellectual class and how those dreams have been destroyed. Great writing and some amazing historical characters chosen.
May 21, 2014 Martha rated it really liked it
I read so little about Arab culture before 9/11 and, suddenly, the world was smaller and more complicated. I was introduced to so many Arab poets and thinkers in this book. It was written before 9/11, and that has its benefits. Ajami's narrative leads me up to that day and how much wiser I would have been had I read Dream Palace before the catastrophic event.
Jul 04, 2008 Pam rated it it was amazing
Another attempt on my part to understand the Middle East. The author tells of a generation of Arab intellectuals (Khalil Hawi, Nizar Qabbani Naguib Mahfuz, to name a few) struggled to introduce modernity and secularism to the ME. Good to know about these people when all we hear on the TV is about war and terrorists in the ME.
John Rivera
Jul 01, 2008 John Rivera rated it liked it
Shelves: politics
A little dry but very well written. Especially moving was the story in the first chapter of the poet Khalil Hawi. This is a short but interesting work. If you're looking for something to read, this is a good book; but if you're seriously looking for something to study, this is not such a work.
Howard Cincotta
Jan 25, 2009 Howard Cincotta rated it liked it
Moving elegy to the secular, liberal, modernist hopes for the Arab world, held by a geneation, now shattered by a lethal combination of jihardist extremism, local oppression, and destructive Western intervention.
Clara Roberts
Apr 03, 2011 Clara Roberts rated it did not like it
I did not finish this book because it was not what I expected. It was a book a scholar would read about Arab writers. I did not think is revealed much about Arab culute and therefore was not something I wanted to read at this time.
Aug 14, 2009 Kristen rated it really liked it
So far so good. Very well written. Not dry, which is what you might expect from an academic. Hopefully, it remains as enjoyable throught the end.

Update - I gave up on it.... Will have to try again when I liberate the contents of my US storage locker
Mar 21, 2015 Minna rated it really liked it
I learned a lot about 20th century Arab intellectuals from this book. However, certain chapters are more inspired than others. Lacking in flow. 3.5*, but a worthwhile read.
Rafael Suleiman
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Jul 31, 2014
Kirsten rated it it was amazing
Oct 16, 2007
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Ed Sappin
Ed Sappin rated it liked it
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