The Waving Flag: The Arab Conquests

Saturday, 4 June 2022

The Arab Conquests

As regular readers will have noticed, I am busy building an Arab Conquest army for Art de la Guerre (ADLG).  However, not all of this project involves a paintbrush.  I've also taken the opportunity to read a few books about the period.  I knew next to nothing when I started.

So here are the four main history books that got me started; complete with brief, one paragraph type, reviews.  Since this post was written, I've found a fifth book, and it is very different to the other four.

They are listed in my recommended reading order.


Hoyland, R. G. (2014). In God’s path: The Arab conquests and the creation of an Islamic empire. Oxford University Press.

I finished it in 5 days: very readable.  As I have read two of Hugh Kennedy's books & Tom Holland's magnum opus before this, I can't decide if the book is brilliant, or I've got a grip on the period. On balance, I'd say the former and would recommend it as a first read for someone new to the period.

Kennedy, H. (2007). The great Arab conquests: How the spread of Islam changed the world we live in. Weidenfeld & Nicolson.

A book for the general reader, and I liked the approach he adopted.  Recommended.  He writes well, and this book provides a nice counterpoint to the approach taken by Hoyland.

Kennedy, H. (2013). The armies of the caliphs: Military and society in the early Islamic state. Routledge.

Lots of military details in this short book.  It is a text book and contains a lot about army funding.  The Arabic names are overpowering at first.  Worth reading once you've grasped the basic geography & chronology of the period.

There is a free preview pdf available from the publisher which covers the first chapter & maps.

Holland, T. (2012). In the shadow of the sword: The battle for global empire and the end of the ancient world. Hachette UK.

Not a great deal of military history here, rather quite a lot about religion and historical truth.  The first third is heavy going, but it's invaluable as it explains in detail the problem with the sources for this period.

Glubb, J. B, (1963). The great Arab conquests. Hodder & Stoughton.

I found this, a first edition hardback, during a visit to Hay-on-Wye and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

It may be outdated, and not reflect modern historical orthodoxy & social attitudes, but its approach is both simple and straight forward, making it eminently readable.  Plus there are lots of excellent maps and nearly all places in the text are shown on a map: modern authors please note.


Vexillia said...

Update: since this was first posted I've found a fifth book and it is very different to the other four: Glubb, J. B. (1963). The great Arab conquests. Hodder & Stoughton. Review to follow.

Vexillia said...

Update: added a review of Glubb's The great Arab conquests.

John the Red said...

Thanks for the pointers. I have all of the Glubb books. He lead the Arab Legion in Jordan and Iraq and so was very familiar with many of the places in the history. His summary and maps help make it very digestible. Worth looking up his other books.