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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

3.51 of 5 stars 3.51  ·  rating details  ·  161 ratings  ·  26 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
ebook, 368 pages
Published September 23rd 2009 by Vintage (first published 1998)
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Nov 17, 2008 Tyler rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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
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
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.
David Einav
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Jul 29, 2008 Mcgyver5 rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
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.
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.
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
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.
Difficult reading but helpful in understanding why progress is so difficult.
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
Clara Roberts
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.
Howard Cincotta
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.
20th century of the arab world explained through the life and woks of poets. Beautifully written.
I'm still working my way through this one. Kalil Hawi's story is difficult to push through.
Sep 17, 2007 Jessica rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone
turn out the lights on the age of reason!
Ali Bader
outstanding book, it is realy awesome!
I do not like this man.
Inter marked it as to-read
Nov 21, 2015
Ibrahim El-araby
Ibrahim El-araby marked it as to-read
Nov 20, 2015
Mila marked it as to-read
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