A Concise History of the Middle East. 8th ed
This introductory textbook for college students studying the Middle East does its job well, and it is also a useful gateway for non-students who want to understand the re-gion behind the news. At 559 pages, it grows larger with each edition, but retains its clarity and its concise, highly readable style. Goldschmidt and Davidson survey the full sweep of Middle Eastern history from early Byzantine times to April 2005, and describe the birth and growth of Islamic civilization with balance and realism. They caution readers against drawing unjustified conclusions about the present day from past events, pointing out, for example, that the Prophet Muhammad’s disputes with Jewish tribes “did not poison later Muslim–Jewish relations nor did Muhammad’s policies cause what we now call the Arab–Israeli conflict.” The book features cogent profiles of diverse key figures in the region’s history, from the Prophet’s wife ‘Aisha to the science-oriented caliph Ma’mun to Egyptian nationalist Ahmed Urabi to al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. The book’s most recent chapters read more like press accounts, with a minimum of historical analysis and perspective, and the authors try to remedy this by introducing occasional “mini-debates” in these later chapters, each scholar presenting a different viewpoint on an issue. The technique is distracting, perhaps confusing, for newcomers to the region’s history. One of the work’s greatest strengths is its detailed bibliographic essay, which recommends a treasure-house of excellent reading material on the major topics in every chapter.