Doumani gives his study a political title, opens it declaring that his purpose is "to write the inhabitants of Palestine into history," and ends it referring to the process by which "Palestine became a nation." The reader has been signalled to expect a politicized history ahead. And yet, in a pleasant surprise, the contents turn out to be thoroughly unpoliticized. Plowing through court records and private papers permits Doumani to piece together a highly original and illuminating study of life in the Nablus region over the course of two centuries.

He establishes several main points. First, and most profoundly, the peasants around Nablus were not, as usually portrayed, the "passive objects of competition for access and control between local merchant communities, ruling families, the Ottoman government, and foreign businessmen." To the contrary, they were active participants "fully capable of adjusting to new circumstances." Second, he shows the region's transformation in the course of two centuries from economic isolation to integration in the world economy. Third, he shows how Nablus became the trade and manufacturing center of Palestine.

Beyond these large points, Doumani has an excellent eye for the specifics that make history click. His chapters on the cotton, olive oil, and soap trades brim over with a human drama about moneylenders, women disinherited from their rightful fields, clever contracts that permit the payment of interest on loans, and even the occasional peasant who bests his merchant adversary.