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4.4 out of 5 stars
In Ishmael's House: A History of Jews in Muslim Lands
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on April 12, 2012
I am well aware of the author's formidable reputation, although I have never before read any of his 82 books. To be blunt, I am not greatly tempted to read much more of his work after ploughing my way through the present text. It may be aberrantly unrepresentative of the author's usual style, but it is badly written and suffers from organizational problems that a competent editor should have detected and corrected. To begin with, the facts are not in dispute, as they are tediously referenced to the point of satisfying the most stringent PhD examination committee. Nor is the author's balance of judgement impeachable; nothing in the narrative would support the slightest charge of bias despite his proud relationship to the guests in Ishmael's abode. It is a work of immense scholarship, but one cannot escape the feeling that it is written by scholars for scholars. I use the plural for authorship with some conjecture, but there is nothing abnormal in a major academic figure using the efforts of students and trainees in data-gathering, and it is inconceivable that anyone could write 82 books on profound historical topics without such assistance. What strikes me is that information from many sources has been patched together to create the whole. Nothing wrong with that, as long as the stitching doesn't spoil the integrated appearance, but alas, that is precisely what has happened here, and Sir Martin must assume responsibility for this unfortunate outcome. This has resulted in unexpected reappearance of the same or similar passages in later chapters. The information presented at the end of one is sometimes repeated at the beginning of the next, as if the two were the texts of different lectures on different days, and the audience (or reader) requires reinforcement. There is at least one example of several lines appearing verbatim in adjacent chapters. The style of the writing is certainly uniform, and the words speak with one voice, but what they tell is often so unnecessarily detailed as to trivialize the text. Especially, but not only, in the later chapters describing more recent events, episodes of massacre or unjust imprisonment of Jews by Muslims provide the name, age, occupation and even family details of every single victim irrespective of their place in history. Where the person victimized is a communal leader or a person of some distinction, a whole paragraph may be devoted to that single individual; many such persons suffered repeatedly at the hands of their oppressors, and each time these new events are related, their biographical details are repeated. You might call this meticulous, but it becomes awfully boring. Sir Martin writes accurately enough, but his writing lacks flair, colour and excitement. I cannot think of a single phrase of his I would like to steal if I were giving a lecture on the same topic, although I would be very thankful for the mass of information he has placed at my disposal. Simon Shama's scholarly credentials may not match those of Sir Martin, but he certainly knows how to make history entertaining; his historical figures come alive in his narrative whereas Sir Martin's lie buried under a welter of narcotic fact. The one work I have read by Bernard Lewis, possibly as reliable an authority in this same field, gave me much more pleasure and, page for page, no less information. Do n't misunderstand me: this is a serious book about a topic that is much more universally serious than most contemporary intellectuals are willing to accept. Sooner than we think, we may all be in Ishmael's House ---- Jew and non-Jew alike, and it is chillingly educational to have such a well-researched account of what may be in store for us. Sir Martin deserves our gratitude for so ably making us aware of our potential destiny.
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on May 16, 2014
Excellent, well-researched, well--written. A must-read for anyone seriously interested in Middle East history. I will certainly recommend this book to my friends and associates.
One person found this helpful
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon March 20, 2012
Anything Sir Martin Gilbert writes is worth reading and this book is no exception.

This a well written, well researched and well balanced history of the treatment of Jewish communities in Muslim countries. It shows there were periods of toleration and protection of Jews by Muslim rulers, albeit under dhimmi status, amid more numerous periods of persecution and repression.

One interesting historical trend well illustrated in the book is how the rise of Zionism in the 19th century brought about increased persecution of Jews in Muslim countries. Following the creation of Israel in 1948 Jews were essentially harassed into leaving many Muslim countries, ususally having to forfeit their money and property when they left. Jewish communities that had existed for millenia in countries like Iraq, Libya, Egypt and Yemen, among others, disintegrated as Jews fled to Israel, Europe and North America to escape the persecution in these countries.

In short, this is a very interesting book. After reading this I can say with certainty that I would not want to be a Jew, or a Christian, living in a Muslim country.
2 people found this helpful
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on December 16, 2010
This historical view of the Jews living amoungst muslim is written fantastically well. I couldn't put the book down. The history of these Jews is not well known and very rarely covered so accurately. We are given an overview of Jewish life in syria, morrocco, egypt and yemen all in relation to the changes in world history such as the holocaust and the formation of the state of Israel. I recommend this book to anyone who wants to know why all Jews of Muslim lands eventually felt the need to migrate to israel.
7 people found this helpful
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on November 27, 2014
Great book. Excellent information.
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