Chronicling the Arab peoples and tribes, who conquered lands and disseminated their culture over vast distances, Mackintosh-Smith reveals how language is the string that runs through Arab history and identity. From the earliest graffiti on desert stones to the recent and often bloody stifling of dissent, he listens to Arab voices and to their eloquent silences. He covers the 1,400 years of recorded history before Islam and the 1,400 years since. Before Islam, literature and culture were largely oral, When the first Arabic book appeared – the Quran – it rapidly unified Arabs for a great moment in history. Yet within 300 years, united Arab rule was only a cherished memory; and for the next thousand years Arabs, with few exceptions, were divided among themselves and were ruled by Turks, Persians, Berbers and Europeans. The recent Arab Spring and its messy aftermath have shown how words continue to shape the course of the Arab world.
Tim Mackintosh-Smith is an eminent Arabist, translator and traveller and in 2011 was named by Newsweek as one of the twelve finest travel writers in the past one hundreds years. His books include Travels in Dictionary Land, Yemen, the Unknown Arabia, and the Travels of Ibn Battuta.
Ian Black is a former Middle East editor, diplomatic editor and European editor for the Guardian. He is now a visiting senior fellow at the Middle East Centre, LSE and a regular media commentator on regional affairs. His latest book is “Enemies and Neighbours: Arabs and Jews in Palestine and Israel, 1917-2017.