A look at Arab culture by Barakat (Sociology/Georgetown Univ.), an expatriate Syrian. Barakat's vision is that of the nahda, or Arab ``renaissance'': ``How is it possible to achieve unity, democracy, secularism, and social justice in a society burdened with fragmentation, authoritarianism, traditionalism, religious fundamentalism, patriarchy, erosion of a sense of shared civil society, pyramidal social class structure, and dependency?'' While he supplies no easy answers, the author does offer a provocative discussion of Arab phenomena--for example, in his view of religion as including an ``alienating'' component, and in his dismissal of it as a ``revolutionary or transformative movement'' because, he says, it subjugates believers and merely establishes a new elite in place of the old. Central to Barakat's view of the ``single, overarching society'' of the Arab world is the idea that this world is in a state of continual change--contradicting Western Orientalist views of it as static. Barakat loses few opportunities to browbeat Orientalist scholars but his rhetoric is neither so new--Edward Said routed the Orientalists a decade ago, and better- -nor so eloquent that it goes much beyond ideological ornamentation; moreover, when Barakat belabors Western Orientalist scholars for their lack of fieldwork, he reveals his own reliance on texts. He winds up his discussion with a knowledgeable, essentially political, typology of Arab literature, and with a discussion of 20th-century Arab thought. Underneath the rhetoric here, there's an erudite but hardly revolutionary summation of the state of the Arab world. A well- informed study, then, but one that's agenda-heavy.