Arabs: A 3,000-Year History of Peoples, Tribes and Empires
By Tim Mackintosh-Smith
2019, Yale UP, 978-0-30018-0-282, $35 hb.
Reviewed by Charles O. Cecil on July 15, 2020
Who is an “Arab”? What makes one identify as Arab? Mackintosh-Smith sets out to examine these questions in this erudite, carefully crafted book. He does not take a strictly chronological approach. Rather, he pursues themes sometimes leading him to skip over details in the story, only to return to backfill later. Notably, he deals with the historical, cultural and centrifugal forces that have prevented Arabs from achieving the unity so many have sought for generations, while the magnetic attraction of language pulls them together. Readers who know Arabic likely will appreciate his approach more than those who do not. While seasoning the text with relevant translations of poetry and observations regarding the origin and meaning of Arabic words, his style remains light and entertaining. Mackintosh-Smith is as adept at coining a phrase in English as he is at interpreting terms in Arabic. This is a book that will be read by lay readers and scholars for decades.