Book Review: A Brief Political And Geographic History Of The Middle East

A Brief Political And Geographic History Of The Middle East:  Where Are…Persia, Babylon, and the Ottoman Empire, by John Davenport

Part of a series devoted to teaching children historical geography [1], this book reminds us that among the most important part of a historical and geographical history is the geography.  Maps are rather important when one is trying to show how geographic conceptions change over time, and this book does a terrible job at such maps.  Examples abound.  On page 38 of this book for example, the author manages to drastically understate the expanse of the Chaldean Empire.  Page 15 shows a map of Alexander’s route that fails to include his route to Alexandria or through Central Asia after the battle of Guagamela.  Page 78 of this book shows a map of Muslim predominating countries that does not include Albania or Bangladesh, which is a pretty notable failing.  Examples could be multiplied, as nearly every map in this book has some kind of error, ranging from minor map errors to more serious ones that give a mistaken view of the history that the author is trying to present.  If you can’t get the maps right, you have no business writing a book that seeks to educate young people about the course of history in an important region of the world like the Middle East.

This book’s take on the history of the Middle East is remarkably selective.  Admittedly, one cannot cover thousands of years in history in an area as dynamic as the Middle East without some selectivity, but this book’s approach is baffling, beginning with the third battle between Alexander and the Persian armies, at Guagamela, and then moving to a look at ancient Mesopotamia, the Assyrian Empire, the Neo-Babylonian and Persian Empires, Alexander’s empire and the fight between the Romans and Parthians, then a look at the Byzantine and Sassanid Empires and a look at the rise of Islam and the Ottoman Turks.  The book inclines a timeline as well as some of the works consulted, which appear insufficient to write a book like this one.  Be that as it may, at least with this book the history is not as inaccurate as some of the other volumes in this series have been and the reader of this book should at least be interested in the history of the ancient Near East, which is generally a good thing to be interested in [2].  There are far worse books about the Middle East that one could read.

In reading this book, I feel like I am giving it faint praise, but my feelings on this book are deeply mixed.  On the one hand, I think the author does a good job at presenting the history of the Middle East in such a way that an interested reader would find much of interest to spur on further reading and research in the subject, which I wholeheartedly recommend.  I like the fact that the Middle East is counted as its own region instead of split apart among continents where its coherence would be minimized.  That said, it’s hard to get beyond how consistently bad this book’s maps are, both from an aesthetic perspective as well as from a factual one.  The book fails in an essential aspect of historical geography, namely the geographical part, even as it is a modestly successful work as a history for young readers.  With more attention paid to accurate maps, this is a book that I might be able to support, but as it stands I feel it necessary to give this book a negative review, and instead recommend that someone trying to encourage geographic literacy about the Middle East pick up one of the better biblical historical encylopedias and explain the maps for oneself.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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3 Responses to Book Review: A Brief Political And Geographic History Of The Middle East

  1. Pingback: Book Review: A Brief Political And Geographical History Of North America | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: Book Review: A Brief Political And Geographic History Of Asia | Edge Induced Cohesion

  3. Pingback: Book Review: A Brief Political And Geographic History Of Africa | Edge Induced Cohesion

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