I must admit to having agreed to review this book with a high degree of trepidation. How could a single volume hope to cover in 658 pages, so vast an area with all its dimensions, conflict and, most of all the variety and the depth of its impact on civilizations across the world? And yet, by this singular work Lapidus, Professor Emeritus of History at the University of California at Berkeley, has, in a book more compact, placed himself in the recording of Islamic history on a pedestal equivalent to Gibbon’s for that of Rome.
Lapidus’s work begins from pre-Islamic times. It dextrously places the then civilized world as a group of societies increasingly ossified, questing for new beginnings. Part I ‘Beginnings of Islamic Civilisations’ is a must read for all students of Islamic history. Thereafter, for those who seek illumination of specific aspects of Islamic civilizations, it is quite safe to refer to those chapters which specifically relate to the subject of interest.