Egypt: A Short History
by Robert L. Tignor
Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010. 363 pp. $29.95
Reviewed by Raymond Ibrahim
Middle East Quarterly
Appearing just before the uprising that overthrew Husni Mubarak, Egypt: A Short History offers a timely reminder of the wild vicissitudes and mass upheavals which have been integral to Egypt's history.
Tignor, emeritus history professor at Princeton University, begins 5,000 years ago with Egypt's Old Kingdom and ends with the last year of Mubarak's reign. The overview of Egypt's many different epochs—pharaonic, Greco-Roman, Christian, medieval Islamic, European imperialist, pan-Arab—offers a look at the totality of Egypt's history.
Because of this, otherwise important epochs receive a few pages of bare bone summary; likewise, the book follows traditional narratives and offers few unique insights or controversial interpretations. Worse, Tignor's history is marred by apologetics for Islam: suggesting that in the decades preceding Pope Urban's 1095 call for the Crusades, "Christians [under Muslim rule] no longer lived in danger of their lives or their livelihoods," is demonstrably false, as evinced by the Turkish advance into Anatolia following the Battle of Manzikert (1071) and the Egyptian Fatimid caliph's persecution of Christians and desecration of the Church of the Sepulcher.
The book offers no footnotes, even for the many quotes, which frustrates the specialist. In contrast, the general reader, for whom the book is mainly geared, will benefit from the fast-paced, readable narrative.
One comes away from this broad sweep with the insight that no civilization endures forever. Egypt experienced nearly three millennia of the pharaonic, nearly one millennium of the Greco-Roman, and 500 years of the Christian, so why assume that Arabic/Muslim civilization, now 1,400 years old, is the final and ultimate destiny of Egypt?
Related Topics: Egypt, History | Raymond Ibrahim | Spring 2012 MEQ
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