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The Arabs: A History

4.33  ·  Rating details ·  3,159 ratings  ·  329 reviews
To American observers, the Arab world often seems little more than a distant battleground characterized by religious zealotry and political chaos. Years of tone-deaf US policies have left the region powerless to control its own destiny—playing into a longstanding sense of shame and impotence for a once-mighty people. In this definitive account, preeminent historian Eugene ...more
Hardcover, 513 pages
Published October 1st 2009 by Basic Books (AZ) (first published 2009)
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ἀρχαῖος (arkhaîos) In Lockdown
March 22, 2016 - I put a great deal of effort into writing a comprehensive and, what I believed to be a relatively apolitical review of Eugene Rogan's history, The Arabs: A History. I completed it last evening with the intention of posting it today.

Today is a day of mass murder in Brussels a city that I have come to know. I shall not post that review. It would be both too trite and too political. No one needs that.

I can only add to what I wrote below that Rogan has written a history that is cl
Aug 01, 2011 rated it it was ok
A biased, selective, and misleading history of the middle east conflict. He paints the Arab people as almost entirely victims of western domination and leaves them with hardly any responsibility for their own failings. One of the longest sections in the book dealt with the Israeli-Arab conflict omits the following enormously important facts:

1. While Rogan slams Israel for the "eviction" of Palestinians in 1948 (which in reality was Arab governments telling all Palestinians to leave because of th
An outstanding history of Arab lands from about 1600 through 2013. It is composed of three main parts: the early modern history of the region and the slow disintegration of the Ottoman empire; the infiltration, rule and ouster of European colonialists; and the post-colonial history of the region from Iraq to Morocco. The Palestinian issue and the civil war in Lebanon are related in depth. The mastery and selection of detail, its organization, and its analysis are models for similar sweeping hist ...more
Feb 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
It amazed me how little of this I knew prior to reading Eugene's book despite being Arab born and raised in an Arab country. In addition to the extreme censorship occurring in many Muslim and Arab nations, I was born in the mid 1990's. Meaning my curious teenage years were the same years the influence of American media was at its strongest. I grew up playing video games and watching American TV distracting myself from the real world. Unfortunately, like many of my friends and Arabs my age, our f ...more
Sep 30, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
Before reading 'The Arabs' I thought it might be another classy book (and classical view) of the arab people. But this book soared beyond my expectations. It is the Arab identity that base the essential topics and unlike other books on Middle East region, this explains the development of the Arab mind throughout a whole century (from the Ottoman conquest to the making of islamic movements). I can't utter any critical word against this book. Read it, people! ...more
Paul Gibson
Dec 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An excellent history. Well written.
The current situation in the Arab world is so complex that when you get through with this book you still won't have the answers but you should at least have a better understanding of the questions.
My favorite quote from the book: "Democracy cannot be imposed without the messenger killing the message."
I might add that so far, too many messengers, on all sides, killing each other as well as their own message.
With all the conflicts going on in the Middle East, it can be easy for us Americans to listen only to Western and Israeli voices and completely ignore the voices of millions of Arabs who are more deeply affected by the consequences of war, terrorism, and despotism. In this great work of history, Mr. Rogan gives those millions of voices a chance to speak to us. Starting with the conquests of the Arab lands by the Ottoman Turks in the 1500s, Mr. Rogan charts over 500 years of Arab aspirations to b ...more
May 21, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
I read this immediately after Rogan's book The Fall Of The Ottomans to get a better perspective on the MENA region. This book is ambitious in scope but falls short of expectations in that aspect. However, it still makes for an interesting read, albeit one focused heavily on the modern Arab World as opposed to the Arab world throughout history.

The book starts with the brutal Ottoman conquest of Mamluk Egypt, in the 16th century, glossing over the Golden Age of the Arab World, and the cultural and
Roberto Macias
Oct 01, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This was my second attempt to read into Arab history. While it did take some time, it is a most enjoyable read, and one that gets hard to put down. If you are looking for to learn about the region this is certainly a book that will compel you to finish it.
Now on to the contents. Some reviewers have commented that it is one sided and pictures the Arabs world as victim. I disagree, there's certainly not the usual judgmental perspective, but the author is pretty objective on what he's saying. He al
Jul 30, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
I'm not entirely sure why I decided to read another survey of Middle East history book so soon after finishing the first one, but I finished it anyway. At least it helped to solidify events in my memory more, considering that while reading this I was starting to realize how much I'd already forgotten from the last book and it's only been two weeks. So yes, reviewing material after you've read it is helpful if you actually want to retain anything. [and the sky is blue.]

As the title suggests, the
Gokul Gr
Apr 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A must must read! West Asia and the wider Arab world shape the destiny of the world today like how Europe did till 1950s in a totally different fashion. It is also where the most intense political activity is happening. Ones which have ramifications all over the world.

It's easy to be carried away by the dominant narratives and the stereotypes of the Arab world while staying confused about the real causes. The current cycle of violence and counter violence began in the region only in the 1980s.
Dec 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I could still recall vividly the morning of 9/11, coming back from school and watching the World Trade Center collapsing on TV. I knew it was a big deal, just didn't know how big. Ever since, middle eastern affairs have always been like misty clouds to me. Why did they do that? Why would those young Palestinians throw themselves at Israelis guns? Why did the US bomb the crap out of Saddam Hussein, the rather badass-looking guy with the same birthday as mine? What about Islamist movements and ISI ...more
Jan 19, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Best read of the year. Unputdownable non-fiction.
Gave me the necessary information to understand the situation in the Middle-East and northern Africa.
The history of the far away countries my neighbours came from.
Otavio Albano
May 06, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Biased, selective, and misleading. The Arab people is most of the time painted as victim of western domination and influence, instead of responsible of their own destiny. And above all, it's one of the most confused (and boring) non-fiction historical books I've ever read. ...more
Shariq Chishti
Mar 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Excellent! Eugene Rogan has written a very readable history of the Arab world from the time of Ottoman Invasion to the present day and it should be required reading along with Robert Fisk`s The Great War for Civilisation for anyone interested in middle east. Highly recommended! ...more
Mar 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
An excellent book, informative and with the right amount of details but not a light read so take your time to enjoy it and grasp all the information. I highly reccomend it
Jan 25, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I never knew history books could be so captivating and addictive. I am amazed at Rogan's ability to weave and tie together so much information into a vivid, cohesive narrative. ...more
C. Patrick G. Erker
I picked up a copy of this book in the Dubai Mall, at the huge bookstore upstairs.

It’s a long one, but it reads fast. Lots of names, places, and dates, so it’s helpful if you have some familiarity with the region before reading (although the author has the useful habit of reminding you who various people are when he reintroduces them, if they’re not household names on the Arab street).

If you’re American, Israeli, French, or British, prepare to be pummeled as the book has a distinctly anti-West
Paul Culloty
Jul 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing
To date, there have been very few popular histories covering either the Arab world, or the Middle East in particular, so Rogan's work fills an essential gap. The first thing that immediately strikes iboth the breadth and depth of the work, as the author takes us on a whistle-stop tour of 500 years of regional history, covering the Ottoman Empire's wide array of provinces from Egypt to Iraq, not neglecting Morocco, outside the historical borders during the period. The book is extremely readable, ...more
Sep 26, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
This book addresses the very broad topic of the history of the Arabs from the conquest of Egypt by the Ottomans (1516) to the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. (The edition I had included an updated postscript that touched upon the Arab Spring briefly.) The book is an accomplishment in terms of research and scope; I certainly learned a lot. At the same time, I also felt that the broad scope caused the book to be not-the-best for it's targeted audience of interested layperson. The ratio of ...more
Mack Hayden
Nov 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, politics, world
This book is such an accomplishment. I've read some history books that attempt what Rogan did here and they're such slogs. Somehow, he manages to weave centuries upon centuries and countries upon countries into an engaging, easy-to-follow narrative from the Ottoman occupation of this territory to the Arab Spring. He never seemed to have an ax to grind—the good, the bad, and the ugly of every person, power, or movement is put on full display—but there's definitely a deep undercurrent of empathy t ...more
Sep 15, 2015 rated it really liked it
It's odd to give "stars" to a history book that served as an introductory overview for me, piecing together bits of history I'd gotten in other forms during my patchy American education in history (it's a crime, how little we are taught of it). Not knowing so much of this history prior to this book, I don't know how well I can rate the information. That's my disclaimer to the following:

This book gives an extremely concise yet fluid summary of hundreds of years of push and pull in the various Ara
Katia N
Aug 15, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Brilliant introduction into the history of the MIddle East. Overwhelming scope of the book does not allow to focus on any particular area or the country of the region. But the facts and the key events are very clearly set out. After reading this I understand much better the background and the roots in majority of cases of the current situation in the region. Also the author has managed to refrain from judgement while some of the content really makes your hair stand.

I've preferred "A line in the
Vikas Datta
Mar 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A magisterial history of the region but somehow with more detailed information of the past then tthe contemporary era - for example, there is a mention of military coups in Syria but no mention of anyone between Husni Al-Zim and Hafez Al-Assad, similarly, the politics of Iraq is also not dealt with after the 1958 revolution till the coming of Saddam Hussein, but Lebanon gets quite a bit of focus... But on the whole a most important compendium and required reading to know how history hangs heavy ...more
Waddah Arafat
Feb 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
An excellent, academic, unbiased overview of the Arab history starting with the Ottoman rule (the first non Arabic rule of the Arab world) until Arab Spring. He tried his best to rely on local authentic sources instead of using the Western historic sources.
The fluid transition between the history of different parts of the Arab world is just amazing. The author was able to connect the history of individual Arab countries in a common sequence of purpose and events.
Nov 04, 2018 rated it liked it
The Arabs: A History is panoramic view of 500 years of Arab history, and as such, is both a challenge and a rewarding endevor to read. The ancient history was engaging, but the recent history was a review of what was once current events for this reader and particularly interesting. Overall, it is an outstanding book in its genre.
Jacob van Berkel
Great book which does what it sets out to do: to get you up to speed on events in the Arab world, including some of its latest tragedies. Especially detailed and enlightening from the fall of the Ottomans onwards. Well written and easy to read.
May 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is a surprisingly engaging, readable history that weaves together, if in a bit of a formulaic way, political, historical and even feminist Arab history. Rogan does acknowledge at the outset that he does some regions less justice than they deserve -- aside from according fewer words to, for instance, the so-called Trucial states, I found some the sections on Lebanon, Iraq and Libya more narratively cluttered and uninteresting than the sections on Egypt, Palestine, Israel and Algeria (maybe i ...more
Stephanie Carr
Mar 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
This book is brilliant in exploring the history of the Arab countries in the Middle East and North Africa from the time of the Ottoman Empire, to the world today (or at least up to the Arab Spring of 2011). I'd almost call it something of required reading for anyone that has to try to make policy decisions in the area today. Sometimes with a broad brush, sometimes with many little details, it helps show how each country has its own identity, what issues they struggle with, and why. ...more
Badi Obeidat
Jun 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I have never been so sad to have finished reading a book. It’s not an exaggeration to say that I have enjoyed every part of this book. This masterpiece is a very objective and neutral review of the Arabs history. It is sadly true that this time is the rock bottom of the Arabic culture and Eugene’s book perfectly explains why, but it also carries the hope that it will get better.
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Eugene Rogan is Director of the Middle East Centre at St Antony’s College, University of Oxford. He took his B.A. in economics from Columbia, and his M.A. and PhD in Middle Eastern history from Harvard. He taught at Boston College and Sarah Lawrence College before taking up his post in Oxford in 1991, where he teaches the modern history of the Middle East.

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57 likes · 9 comments
“The Arab people are haunted by a sense of powerlessness . . . powerlessness to suppress the feeling that you are no more than a lowly pawn on the global chessboard even as the game is being played in your backyard.”6 Unable to achieve their aims in the modern world, the Arabs see themselves as pawns in the game of nations, forced to play by other peoples’ rules. This” 2 likes
“Many in the West see the greatest threat to their security and way of life coming from the Arab and Islamic worlds, in what is now known as jihadi terror. They don’t understand that many in the Arab and Islamic worlds see the greatest threat to their security and way of life coming from the West. What should be apparent to both sides is that there is a real connection between Arab stagnation and frustration, on the one hand, and the terror threat that so preoccupies Western democracies, on the other. Western” 1 likes
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