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Born in 1900 in a small Syrian town, the author "grew up fearing these bedouins, loathing the desert, and hating its people." 3 He later became a distinguished scholar of Semitic languages at the American University of Beirut and, over a sixty-year period, meticulously collected materials on the selfsame Bedouin he once despised. His magnum opus on the subject appeared in Arabic in 1988 and now (four years after the author's death) in English, in an excellent translation.

The Bedouins and the Desert has the look and feel of an instant classic, due in part to the author's mix of personal experience and erudition, in part to the State University of New York Press's publishing a beautiful (and commendably inexpensive) volume. The book follows in the grand tradition of Doughty and Musil, documenting and explaining the desert, but it may be the last of its genre, for the Bedouin way of life has so deeply changed and diminished during the past half-century that a successor volume is highly unlikely.

Jabbur organizes his book around four "pillars" of Bedouin life: the desert, the camel, the tent, and the Bedouin; naturally, the first and last receive predominant attention. While many of the sections read like a reference work (such as the listing of animals or tribes), the author's deep familiarity with desert poetry and his own observations frequently enliven the text with asides and insights -- on everything from the role of falcons hunting gazelles to love marriages among the Bedouin.