Arab history seems to follow Vico's cycles: continual risings and fallings within the desert civilizations. It also celebrates Carlyle's hero-cult. Nutting accents both tendencies, but he has chosen not to argue either of them so that his big book, for whatever interest it manages, which isn't always too much, is dependent largely upon a few towering figures thrashing about in a mosaic of events. Englishman Nutting is an Arab scholar and a former Foreign Office Middle East expert; here and there these credentials shine, here an there they are about as obvious as a needle in a sand-storm. The agenda includes changing dynasties, blood feuds, sybaritic splendors, the Islamic ""destiny"" motif, the Egyptian reformation, European influence and intrigues, and so forth. It begins with the Prophet, goes on through Haroun-al-Rashid's Baghdad immersions, Saladin's empire-building-and-toppling, the Turks and Napoleon, and ends with a sharp summary of the colonial phase and Nasser's power-politics. Occasional ironies, bizarre bits of petite histoire. Nutting in another book served an Arab manque, T. E. Lawrence, much better.