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A History of the Arab Peoples

3.84  ·  Rating details ·  3,417 ratings  ·  231 reviews
Encyclopedic and panoramic in its scope, this fascinating work chronicles the rich spiritual, political, and cultural institutions of Arab history through 13 centuries.

No region in the world today is more important than the Middle East: no people more misunderstood than the Arabs. In this definitive masterwork, distinguished Oxford historian Albert Hourani offers the most
Paperback, 551 pages
Published April 1st 1992 by Grand Central Publishing (first published 1991)
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Nov 12, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
For some reason unbeknownst to me I have a fascination with the history of the Middle East/Anatolia. From the Byzantines to the Ottomans I just find the history of the region of the people really interesting. I think it may be because there is such a unique mixing of people, cultures, and ideas in the region that more engaging to me than, say, Tudor England or Colonial America. This region has seen some of the greatest world empires, it is the birthplace of the major Monotheistic religions, and ...more
Derek Ide
Oct 22, 2012 rated it liked it
First, a preliminary comment warranted by any book of this size and magnitude, there is something overwhelming about engaging in the entire history of a people in one book. It was a feat that Hourani should have been proud of.

The book is jam-packed with information. It is fairly readable, considering the length, but Hourani accomplished the readability by not including any footnotes, only general references at the end of the book. This means, essentially, that none of his facts or statistics or
Matahari Kesadaran
Jan 07, 2013 rated it liked it
This is not a book for the faint of heart. To be honest, I stopped reading the book halfway through the section on the Ottoman Empire. It's huge, dry, oftentimes boring, but it gets the job done. This book lacks many of the exciting details usually covered in history, such as battles, wars, biographies, etc. However, whatever it lacks in excitement it totally makes up for in raw information. If you want to know how peasants in medieval Syria lived, bam! Here's your book. If you want to know the ...more
Michael Finocchiaro
Oct 19, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, non-fiction
For those interested in a factual and well-written account of the history of the middle east, Hourani's History of the Arab Peoples is extraordinarily good. There is no political grandstanding here, just facts. It is absolutely fascinating to see how the tribes in which the Prophet Mohammed became a major military and cultural force in only a few centuries conquering northern Africa to Malaysia. You learn about the split between the shiites and sunnites, the spin offs such as the dervishes and ...more
Jul 23, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history-global
I'm always impressed by scholars who can write these grand synthetic histories that draw together vast spans of time and space. In this case, the project is made all the more difficult because there is a long middle period in Arab history about which we know very little. Understandably, Hourani treats his starting point as the emergence of the school of thought that has become Islam – sources for any earlier period are patchy – but it also causes a problem in that the period covered by the 11th ...more
Feb 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: islam-history
Hourani acknowledges the challenges of his narrative in that his focus could be both “too large or too small” (preface, xvii). It’s a complicated matter to communicate a culture and people that have been shaped so foundationally by a particular revelation and Prophet made even more complex by the fact that their part of the world has rich meaning and value on many levels for everyone else. On top of this, Orientalism has inserted itself into the English language quite effectively, as have many ...more
Liz Polding
Apr 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing
An outstanding and thought-provoking book with some scarily accurate thoughts on how the situation in the Middle East might develop. The afterword by Malise Ruthven in 2002 discusses how the issues raised by Hourani's book have developed since his death a decade earlier and of course so much has happened since even that was written.

I found this a fascinating and highly readable work, with a wide-ranging investigation into the history of so many nation states and political and religious factions.
Aug 16, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Albert Hourani's A History of the Arab Peoples gives an excellent background how the peoples of the Arab world got from the days of Muhammad to 1991, the year the book was published. There are many additional chapters to be written after September 11, 2001; the US invasion of Iraq; the so-called Arab Spring; the Syrian Civil War; the advent of ISIS; the downfall of Qaddafi in Libya; and the movement of peoples from the Arab world en masse to Europe. These would be hard chapters to write, as we ...more
Erik Graff
Jun 16, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Erik by: A.M.
Shelves: history
I believe this book was recommended by a secular Muslim friend who loaned me her copy. It was, remarkably, the first book about Arab history as a whole that I'd ever read and is designed for Anglo-Americans who aren't very familiar with Arab history.
Lauren Albert
Sep 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
As the title says, there are Arab people"s". There is no uniform group. Similarly, Hourani shows that the plural of the title would apply to Muslims as well. As with Christians, there have always been divisions and not just Sunni and Shia. Political differences, social differences, etc. divide both Arabs and Muslims just as they do other groups. Read this book if you want to get a sense of the diversity that has been almost nonexistent in the hate language of Western bigots.
Jul 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
The Ottomans, Europeans, Americans etc come and go yet Hourani is far more interested in the development of Arab poetry than the conquerors. In short, the book does what it says on the tin. Personally, I would have liked to see more on the development of Wahhabism and political Islam/the Muslim brotherhood than Sufism, but I can see that their influence hasn't (yet?) reached the longevity of Sufism.
A very comprehensive history not only of the political/military campaigns, but most importantly (to me) the actual lives of the people. Unlike many history books, this concentrates on linking the larger movements in society to the lives of all classes of people in not only the arab states, but the larger Muslim world, including north Africa, Turkey, and Iran. It's not, however, a book for those casually interested in the area - it's huge and quite dry at times. I actually had to put it aside a ...more
Jan 27, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, non-fiction
An expert exposition on the history of the Middle-East. While it is not about Islam per se, Islam was the catalyst which unified the previously tribal people of the Arabian Peninsula and galvanized their rise to become a player on the world stage. Thus Islam plays a predominant role in the book, and it is a good resource for an understanding of many modern Islamic issues. He also explores in depth the era of European imperialism and its impact on modern Arabian social movements. The writing ...more
Jordan Bradford
Nov 10, 2012 rated it it was amazing

What I loved about this is how it gives valuable insights and answers to a Western audience while covering a broad swath of history while still being readable. Highly recommended .
Jan 22, 2010 rated it really liked it
I probably learn more about the Arabs from one reading of this book then from 65 years of reading newspapers.
Adam Khayat
May 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
Hourani's systematic explication of Arab civilization is superb. Rather than being merely a chronicle of events, it is also a history of ideas. His analysis is predicated upon a "Khaldunian" approach, which derives from the philosopher Ibn Khaldun's theories of cyclical renewal and asabiyya, "a corporate spirit oriented towards obtaining and keeping power." Hourani's academic modus operandi is thus both durable and insightful. Though published in 1991, this work provides readers with a ...more
Bernard M.
Feb 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
Particularly good when discussing the Palestinian tragedy. Somehow he managed to stay clinically unbiased which I think is rare. Also makes the intriguing point that as urbanization proceeded in the 20th century, cities may have undergone some kind of cultural "ruralization" as migrants poured into cities and "brought their own political culture and language." Thus by the 1980's "Islamic language had become more prominent in political discourse." Perhaps this got the ball rolling to where the ...more
Aug 05, 2018 added it
Some good insights here and there but it's ultimately a shallow work. The problem is in the title. The author never defines "Arab peoples" and what transpires is a shallow account of Islamic history in the Levant, Arabian Peninsula and North Africa, or roughly the area of Arab speaking peoples. Perhaps it seems to me that the "Arab" character is artificial and conceals more than it illuminates about 1500 years of history, even if the Arab conquests and the Arab language's importance in Islam is ...more
Markus Christoph schneider
No more complete history of the Arab world from the foundation of Islam through 2002 exists. This book is as dense with information as this region of the world is with history. A sober, factual account that leaves nothing out and little unanswered.
Maria El
Apr 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An important book to start exploring the complex history of the arab peoples
Dec 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the best works of non-fiction I have ever read. Hourani covers the history of Arabic speaking peoples from Muhammed to the mid-80's, right after America occupies Lebanon. Little time is wasted on personalities or the idiosyncracies of the many pro-Ottoman governments that post-date the power of the Abbasids; Hourani's main interests are history's great structural forces, sociology, intellectual history, geopolitics and economics; one of the best chapters is on the geography of the Middle ...more
Steve Middendorf
Sep 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Never have I changed the status of a book from 'reading' to 'read' with such a sense of relief (and some accomplishment.) In the end, I was able to plough through the final sections from the Ottomans onward due to some familiarity with the periods and a growing comfort with the author's framing and authority.

What happened to the great expectations raised by the rise of Islam? Hourani has answered many questions for me. From the great Caliphates to modern nation states, from 700 to 2018 these
Tom Meade
Apr 27, 2013 rated it really liked it
As someone who is largely ignorant of most of Arab history, I found this book fascinating. It's long and dense and manages to provide an interesting overview of the Arabs from their ascension following the conquests of Muhammad and his affiliates, through the establishment of the caliphates, the wars with Europe, the rise of the post-colonial nation states, and right up to the close of the 1980s, stopping just before the Gulf War. There are a number of parts where Hourani has to skim or ...more
Mar 20, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Solid history of the Arab peoples since the Islamic period. Hourani works with very loose definitions with 'Arab' taken to mean Arabic language. The Berbers and under non-ethnic Arab groups therefore become subsumed into this history, as to the Sudanese. The Turks have an ambiguous position in that they assume the main responsiblity for the defence of Arab civilisation's most prominent contribution to culture - Islam - but without ever adopting Arabic as the main language of their culture (ditto ...more
Jeffrey Franklin Barken
Sep 07, 2015 rated it really liked it
No question this book offers a good overview of Arab culture and Middle Eastern history. There are many names and it is difficult to keep track of the different timelines across different regions of interest. The studious reader will make good use of the various maps and notes included in the back of the text. Essentially what comes across is a notion that throughout history, Arab & Muslim societies have sought a status quo existence defined by relative peace and an ability to conduct ...more
Clay Kallam
Jan 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Given the pivotal role that Arab-speaking countries play in the world, "A History of the Arab Peoples" is a valuable primer -- especially for Americans, whose education seldom gives more than a cursory look at Islam and the Arab world.

Albert Hourani's 1,400-year overview of Arab/Islamic history is bound to fall short, I'm sure, for serious students of the area, but for general readers like me, the broad strokes of this description of the crucial combination of religion and culture only adds
Amjad Al Taleb
Nov 08, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
Generally the book is well constructed and covers a long period of the history concentrating on cultural and economic aspects rather than politics. The author tried to avoid details but it was not successful and commenting on the intentions of the imperial domination of Europe over the Arab world.
The author also tried to put all Arab countries since 1900 in the same historical destiny, commenting on few diplomatic disputes, which I think was not successful nor right, since albeit having common
Margo Johnson
Sep 24, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
This book is considered to be an important historical account of the people that inhabit that area of the world known as the Middle East. The author, Albert Hourani, begins with the 7th century A.D. and goes through til the 1980s. His account is jam-packed with all kinds of information concerning the culture, politics and religion of the Arab world.
Although I did find myself being overwhelmed by the amount of info in the book I did discover that the Middle East is not one united region where
Greg Tatum
Oct 02, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
This was a good basic survey of Muslim/Arab culture. It wasn't all inclusive but definitely broadened my understanding of that part of the world.

Pros: Not written from a western perspective, and provides a good look at the people who lived both in the past and currently in middle eastern countries.

Cons: Not exceptionally thorough, and a little dense to get through at times. It also for the most part ignored most of the political entities and movements. Thank goodness for Wikipedia.
Jul 01, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, history, fsot
Accessible narrative with a focus on cultural history. I could've done with more detail, especially regarding political history, and some chapters were a bit too repetitive. The recurring discussions of the development of Islamic law and the importance of law as a science in the Arab cultural sphere were quite interesting.
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Hourani was born the son of immigrants from South Lebanon. He studied Philosophy, Politics, Economics and History (with an emphasis on international relations)at the Magdalen College in Oxford. He graduated first in his class in 1936. During World War II, he worked at the Royal Institute of International Affairs and in the office of the British Minister of State in Cairo. After the war he helped ...more
“We should not be ashamed to acknowledge truth from whatever source it comes to us, even if it is brought to us by former generations and foreign people. For him who seeks the truth there is nothing if higher value than truth itself” 8 likes
“In the seventh century the Arabs created a new world into which other peoples were drawn. In the nineteenth and twentieth, they were themselves drawn into a new world created in western Europe.” 1 likes
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