The History of the Arabs


When I first picked up one of the four volumes of John Glubb’s history of the Arab empire I was hooked. I then set out to get the remaining three volumes. Lt-General Sir John Bagot Glubb’s style I (still) find easy to read, and importantly easy to follow and understand. However the one factor that makes these books stand out, head and shoulders above most other historical treatises written by men (and women) who may be far more learned than Glubb, are the maps. In volume one there are 37, and 43, 49 and 51 respectively in the others. Then at the end of each chapter is a list of Notable Dates and key Personalities from that chapter – making a quick refresher easy. To help understand the families, tribes and lineage there are genealogical tables 15 and 31 in the last two volumes.

Glubb begins with the life of Muhammad, in the mid 7th century, and traces the rise of the Arab Empire. The Caliphs ruled most of the Mediterranean region including most of Spain. They were, as we all know, the keepers of ancient knowledge during the so called Dark ages in Europe. Spain was finally lost in the fourteenth century and by the early fifteenth the Empire was no more, only remnants remained.

Reading such a clear exposition can help even today (the series was first published between 1963-67) in an understanding of the middle east. There have no doubt been many other histories written since, but I have yet to see one as clear and easy to follow. Glubb, following in the footsteps of T E Lawrence (of Arabia) fought with the Arabs in W W II. He also went back to original Arabic sources for his facts instead of re-hashing the few English language sources. And, being a military man as well as a scholar, he understood the importance of illustration.

There is a lot written about Israel; this is as good a story of the Arabs (if a little old fashioned in language) as one could hope to find.

John Bagot Glubb – The Great Arab Conquests.Vol 1
– The Empire of the Arabs.Vol 2
– The Course of Empire.Vol 3
– The Lost Centuries.Vol 4