A Concise History of the Middle East, 8th ed. By Arthur Goldschmidt Jr. and Lawrence Davidson (Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 2006. 559 pages.)

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K. Luisa Gandolfo

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Abstract

In a discipline rich in studies addressing the multifarious aspects of the
Middle East, a publication exploring the region’s history fromthe pre-Islamic
period to the present confronts a fervent contest in establishing itself as a
notable work. As the authors of A Concise History of the Middle East indicate
from the outset, the challenge of conveying the relevance of past events
to contemporary affairs is both complex yet essential. For Arthur Goldschmidt
Jr. and Lawrence Davidson, the course is well-worn, as their publication
enters its eighth edition since 1979.With a plethora of maps depicting
the transitory regional borders dating from the Byzantine period to the present
day, alongside cogent depictions of the Hashemite lineage and the Ottoman
sultans and a piquant narrative, Goldschmidt and Davidson provide an
account that proves – although directed toward undergraduate students and
neophytes to the Middle East – a satisfying meander through regional triumphs
and despairs over the course of twenty-one chapters.
Consigned as “a dreary bore, a dead subject suited only to cranks,
antique-lovers, or perhaps a few students seeking bits of small talk with
which to impress their peers” (p. 2), the authors grapple with the waning
allure of history in contemporary society in their introduction. Aware of the
limitations, the opening chapter strives to rouse the reader with a swift
assessment of the Middle East’s global contributions to language, religion,
philosophy, mathematics, and science.Avoiding the plaintive plea to comprehend
the origins of the current conflicts, the authors combine drollness with
facts to ensure that the narrative does not falter and reiterate poignant questions
throughout the publication, such as: “AsAmericans, who may at times ...

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