cover image A Concise History of the Arabs

A Concise History of the Arabs

John McHugo. New Press (Perseus, dist.), $26.95 (352p) ISBN 978-1-59558-946-0

Squeezing the history of a people into one volume is an ambitious undertaking with the end result bound to leave out more than it includes, the details needed to understand a time and place elided. McHugo, an international lawyer and Arabist, proves as much with this unfocused volume. It's very much history of the old school, a linear narrative detailing a "concatenation of historical events," which, while cogent and serviceable, fails to capture the essence of societal transformation and intellectual ferment. McHugo promises that "this is not a history of Islam" but begins with the birth of Muhammad, ignoring the much-older origins of Arab identity. The Maghreb and al-Andalus are mostly absent, as is the Arabian Peninsula itself%E2%80%94a thumbnail sketch of Saudi Arabia appears only as an awkward appendage to a chapter ostensibly about Egypt%E2%80%94and the two political entities discussed at greatest length are Israel and the Ottoman Empire. The last chapter, covering the recent uprisings and modern theories regarding the role of religion in governance, is more successful, but little sets it apart from better, more in-depth analyses of the same topics elsewhere. Maps. (Sept.)