Charles Issawi, The Arab World’s Legacy: Essays (Princeton, NJ: The Darwin Press, 1981).
Charles Issawi is well known for his important work in the social and economic history of the Middle East, and a number of his contributions are reproduced here. One finds, among other things, discussions of medieval demography and trade, and of capitalist penetration and industrialization in more recent times.
Among the discussions of contemporary political issues is “The Bases of Arab Unity” (1955), supplemented by a 1981 afterword. In the afterword, Issawi treats the effects of the proliferation of formally independent Arab states, the oil revenue windfall, the spread of education and literacy, and Egypt’s loss of Arab leadership on prospects for Arab unity. Another essay, unfortunately not updated, is “Economic and Social Foundations of Democracy in the Middle East” (1956), which discusses Middle Eastern political development within the modernization paradigm.
Two essays are presented here for the first time. “The Change in the Western Perception of the Orient” charts the “more arrogant and condescending tone” (p. 364) which Europeans adopted toward the non-Western world in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Issawi deals only briefly with the development of Western perceptions after 1914, thereby staying clear of contemporary debates about Orientalism. “Schools of Economic History and the Middle East” surveys the contributions which cliometrics, Marxism, the Annales school and dependency theory have made or can make to the study of Middle Eastern economic history. Recognizing the value of all these streams, though most critical of dependency theory, he advocates an eclectic approach which draws from them all.
Those without access to the original publications where these essays appeared may find this book a useful addition to their libraries. It is a worthwhile investment for students of the social and economic history of the Middle East.