A little-known history lucidly told, with episodes that might have come out of today’s headlines.




Talk about your clash of civilizations. How is it, wonders Kennedy (When Baghdad Ruled the Muslim World: The Rise and Fall of Islam’s Greatest Dynasty, 2005, etc), that a comparative handful of desert herdsmen could conquer much of the known world and topple several venerable empires in the bargain?

In 632 CE, when Muhammad died, Islam was confined to a few parts of the Arabian Peninsula. The dominant power in the region was the Byzantine Empire, with Greek the lingua franca of Egypt and the Holy Land; in much of the Middle East, Arabic was unknown. Yet, notes Kennedy, something unexpected happened; within the next century, Arabic-speaking armies, most smaller than 20,000 men, emerged from the Arabian desert and took down states from Portugal to Pakistan. The Muslim doctrine of jihad fit nicely with this unprecedented expansion, but it seems clear from Kennedy’s anecdote-rich narrative that there was more to it than all that; the possibility of leaving the desert for more congenial, better-watered climes beckoned, and so did the prospect for wealth and booty figure. One telling tale, in that regard, concerns a man who tried to enlist, was warned that he might be martyred as a holy warrior and tried to back out—until he dreamed that should he join he would become rich, “which proved more enticing than the spiritual benefits.” But the larger explanation for success, as Kennedy observes, is that the Arab armies were just that—armies: “The early Muslim conquests were not achieved by a migration of Bedouin tribesmen with their families, tents and flocks in the way that the Saljuk Turks entered the Middle East in the eleventh century,” he writes. “They were achieved by fighting men under orders.” Blend discipline, training and ideology with hunger, set all this up against ripe, decadent, even corrupt targets, and the Arab conquest seems nearly inevitable.

A little-known history lucidly told, with episodes that might have come out of today’s headlines.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-306-81585-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Da Capo

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2007

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

Did you like this book?


For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet