Arabs Summary By Tim Mackintosh-Smith

*This post contains affiliate links, and we may earn an affiliate commission without it ever affecting the price you pay.

Arabs is an indispensable guide to better understanding the history and culture of the 3,000-year old group of people we know as Arabs.

This book dives deep into the ways that have shaped and defined Arab identity over time, looking at how forces of commonality and division have created an ever-evolving understanding of this pivotal group.

Covering everything from ancient empires to modern nation states, it provides readers with a comprehensive overview of how Arab history has been shaped by migration, religion, politics, colonialism, and more.

It’s essential reading for those looking to gain insight into the complex history behind one of the world's most influential societies.


Book Name: Arabs (A 3,000 Year History of Peoples, Tribes and Empires)

Author(s): Tim Mackintosh-Smith

Rating: 4.2/5

Reading Time: 30 Minutes

Categories: History

Author Bio

Tim Mackintosh-Smith is one of the best travel writers of the past 100 years, as evidenced by Newsweek's prestigious recognition in 2011.

Not only that, but he has also lived in Sana'a, Yemen for 30 years and written several books about the Arab World.

His books include both rich histories and detailed travelogues — gems which are sure to enchant any reader.

The Rich History of the Arab World: From Ancient Irrigation to Modern Culture

History of the Arab World

The history of the Arabs is a story filled with dramatic moments that we are still discussing today.

In this quick overview, you’ll get a comprehensive look at Arab history from its emergence to its global impact.

From the ancient civilizations obsessed with irrigation to the powerful Umayyad dynasty followed by the scholarly Abbasids, Arab history is full of memorable scenes and inspiring characters.

You’ll see how Chinese people were sporting Arab kaftans during the Tang Dynasty and learn how “algebra” became an English word as well as why Indonesian has so many loanwords from Arabic.

Get ready for a whirlwind tour of Arab history full of eye-opening twists and turns!

How the Land and Empires of the Arabian Peninsula Changed Arab Culture Forever

For early Arabs, three aspects dominated their lives: water, trade, and war.

Water was essential for survival in the region of the Arabian Peninsula.

In order to find it, two approaches were taken by the people living there – capturing and storing rainwater through large-scale agricultural works in the more fertile south, and rootless roaming from well to oasis in other parts of Arabia.

These nomadic tribes were the first groups referred to as Arabs.

Trade helped bring together settlements from both north and south to exchange goods like spices and luxury items such as frankincense.

One particular product that spread along these routes was poetry – a popular form of communication used by early Arabs for a variety of purposes.

Finally, war was an integral part of life for the inhabitants of the Arabian Peninsula due to battles against neighboring empires such as Assyria, Babylon, and Persia.

The introduction of horses alongside new innovations such as saddlebows and stirrups enabled them to become an effective fighting force against invaders.

Over time this increased contact between different Arab tribes resulted in them seeing themselves more as one people unified under a common culture.

How Muslims Formed an Ethical Code and Unified Arab Identity Through Poetry, War, and Religion


The Arabs have a long and storied history that began in the first century CE when due to bureaucracy issues, southern Arabia started to falter.

Two families – the Ghassanids and Lakhmids – arose out of the ashes and established themselves as clients of the Byzantines and Persians respectively.

They also exchanged courtesies with each other, moving between luxury camps, but also doing battle on behalf of their imperial sponsors.

Poetic language was highly revered during this time period which led to a sense of unification when it came to art, identity and politics among the various Arab tribes on the peninsula.

This refinement gradually led to something far greater – the idea of Arabs as a unified people with nationalistic pride.

Simultaneously, advancements in war technology incited fighting amongst them with an ethical code that highlighted generosity, hospitality, bravery and commitment to family & tribe upheld by all those involved in conflicts.

Many of these values are still relevant today within Arab communities across the world.

Eventually during 602 CE, a coalition of Arab tribes succeeded in bringing down Persia at Dhu Qar which became a major turning point for them and further strengthened their newfound sense unity.

About this same time, arose Muhammad; one belonging to Mecca’s Quraysh clan who had always been actively involved in trading on spice routes between north and south Arabia.

Experiencing revelations from Allah; an old high god now embraced by Islam as its sole deity with Muhammad as its great messenger – began propagating his culture globally through poetry featured in the Holy Quran; resonating well with many who latched onto his teachings becoming his faithful followers believe strongly in not just his religion but also formulating new civilization practices breeding collective consciousness amongst all endowing extremely powerful unified force thereby posing severe threat against invading enemies that tried to quash it off right up until present day age.

How Unity and Expansionism Established Islam as a World Power

Islam was born when Muhammad, a dissident to the ruling clans of Mecca, arrived in Medina with his followers.

Through his powerful personality and commitment to the Qur’an, he quickly earned the respect and loyalty of Medinians, establishing Islam as a sociopolitical force.

As news of Muhammad’s leadership spread across Arabia, more and more clans began to pay tribute to him.

His powers grew until he eventually rejoined Mecca triumphantly, whereupon the keys of the Ka’bah shrine were granted to his own Quraysh clan.

Abu Bakr had an ingenious plan to maintain unity amongst Muhammad’s followers: find a common enemy for all Arabs to unify against – which eventually resulted in both Byzantines and Persians capitulating against their upstart armies due in part to their faith-driven campaign.

As such, thanks largely in part to Muhammad’s powerful personality and teachings found within the Qur’an, Islam became an unstoppable force by uniting the people of Arabia under one God.

The Umayyad Dynasty: Blending Arabic Culture With the Perks of Imperial Power

Imperial Power

Arab armies were unstoppable as they marched across the globe, leading to the vast expansion of Arab culture and influence.

Yet while Arab society was achieving great victories abroad, a deep rift was forming in Arabia itself that would have far-reaching ramifications for the future of Islam.

This schism began when Uthman succeeded Caliph Umar in 644 and rewarded his fellow tribe with power and riches from their ever-increasing empire.

This caused growing unrest that ultimately resulted in Uthman’s demise and the establishment of Ali as caliph two years later.

Ali sought to place an end to corruption but wealthy tribes still desired the prosperity promised under Uthman’s rule, resulting in the devastating four-month battle of Siffin where support for Ali was divided and ultimately failed.

This battle created a permanent division between those who followed Sunnah (the customary practice)and Shi’at Ali (the party of Ali).

When Ali met his untimely death in 680, despair spread among his supporters as they felt guilty over not protecting him.

The turmoil over Siffin gave rise to the powerful Umayyad clan who founded a dynastic rule with Damascus as its capital.

The palace life enjoyed by these rulers became renowned for allegedly indulging in un-Islamic pleasures such as drinking heavily, casting an image starkly opposed to Islamic values passed down by Muhammed.

Yet despite this behavior these Umayyads are remembered as catalysts of an increased sense of Arab national identity, uniting people across territories through Arabic language and bureaucracy, trade coins which showed great technological advancement, and beautiful artwork like arresting geometric designs on woodwork inside Damascus’s iconic Umayyad Mosque that still captivates onlookers today.

The Abbasid Dynasty: How Arab Intellectualism and Cosmopolitanism Overtook an Empire

When the Abbasids took over rule of what was then the Islamic empire, they shifted Arab power east from Damascus to Baghdad, Iraq.

It was here that they really made their mark, transforming Baghdad into a thriving cultural and intellectual capital that attracted people from far and wide.

The caliphs of this dynasty were committed to making Baghdad a cosmopolitan city.

To do this, they imported architectural styles into it and constructed great pavilions and palaces built by 50,000 workers simultaneously!

This was possible due to the speedy news and revenue that came right up to the capital from all corners of the empire, taking just 12 days for a 1,200-kilometer journey from Central Asia.

Aside from an impressive infrastructure, The Abbasids also brought about an intellectual revolution in religion and science.

Caliph Ma’mun contributed significantly in this field by developing Islamic orthodoxy through which disagreements about several things could turn into rights and wrongs.

During his rule he also took huge interests in astronomy, mathematics, and geography which have resulted in Arabic loan words such as algebra making its way into English language today!

The Fall of the Abbasid Empire Marks the End of Arab Territorial Power and the Rise of Its Global Cultural Influence

End of Arab Territorial Power

The fall of the Abbasid Empire in 1055 marked a dramatic turning point for Arab territorial power.

The fracturing of the empire meant that unified Arab rule was no longer the norm, and new rival groups were emerging in Persia, Syria and Iraq.

Thus began a period of decline for Arab control and influence stretching from West Africa to Indonesia.

This decline was only exacerbated by the brutal intrusion of the Crusades into Levantine territory, as European Frankish forces invaded in search of treasure and plunder under a veil of religion.

Then came an even worse catastrophe: The Mongol invasion of Baghdad in 1258.

Hulagu’s army laid waste to this great city, leaving it ravaged and destroyed beyond recognition while they looted its libraries, throwing many precious books into the Tigris River.

This Mongol assault was finally repelled by Egyptian Mamluks; however, Baghdad never again recovered its former glory or dominance.

In more recent centuries there have been further cataclysms such as the ravages of the Black Death across Eurasia and North Africa which wiped out almost one-third of humanity.

Subsequently, even the last remaining vestiges or outposts of Arab rule at both ends of its empire ultimately fell—Grenada being conquered by Spanish forces in 1492 with Constantinople also taken within about two decades prior by Ottoman conquests.

Arabic Sea Migration: How the Mongols’ Ravages Pushed Arabs Out to Sea, Igniting World-Altering Voyages and Cultural Exchanges

The cultural influence of the Arabs was spread far and wide through their expeditions on the Indian Ocean.

Starting in the thirteenth century, their maritime explorations established an Islamic world that extended from Tanzania to Java.

Seas were strewn with newfound wealth and goods such as gold, gems, ivory, nuts, spices, and pearls were bought and sold across coastal lands.

Eventually, Arabs were a common sight all over Asia and Africa.

At the same time, Arabs didn’t just take their language wherever they went – many foreign tongues also adopted Arabic script – but therein lies a crucial problem.

Since much of Arabic is written in cursive, printing it posed formidable challenges that became increasingly difficult to manage; it took until the nineteenth century for an Arabic printing press to be developed.

Thus hindered by lack of tools to scale technological progress while their power was further limited by Portuguese monopolies at sea followed by those of Brits in India and Dutch in East Indies.

In 1798 Napoleon’s troops set foot in Egypt bring with them printed propaganda but more significantly planting within Egyptians a newfound appreciation for nationalism creating yet another competitor against Arab influnce amid a mounting European presence in the Indian Ocean.

Colonization and the Formation of New Identities in the Middle East

Middle East

The introduction of European influence across the Arab world elicited reactions that varied greatly between groups.

In Egypt, people saw the opportunity to be “Egyptian” while still utilizing the benefits of European technologies such as steam engines, opera houses and a modern canal – a massive canal at that, known as the Suez.

Meanwhile in the Arabian Peninsula, Wahhabi tribespeople unleashed a wave of vandalism in an attempt to remove what they regarded as polytheistic traits from the Islamic faith, even desecrating tombs of some of Muhammad’s companions.

This was in stark opposition to what was happening in the Levant; there Arabs were migrating en masse to Europe and West Africa in an effort to adopt new cultural influences.

After World War I, these shifts were compounded by the Balfour Declaration which set out plans for a Jewish state on inputted land without paying much notice to those who already lived there; and then with boundaries declared by colonial powers under Sykes-Picot Agreement.

Despite this sealing off process however, Arab nationalism was revitalized rather than diminished by colonialism and expressed itself through various local resistance fighters such as those in Morocco and Syria fighting their French and British rulers.

And ultimately with IbnSaud establishing The Kingdom Of Saudi Arabia with support from Washington thanks to its oil reserves being discovered in 1933 – finally achieving independence for it’s people after centuries of domination by foreign powers.

The Arab World’s Past and Present: Autocracy, Islamocracy, and Hope for a Better Future

After the flamboyant overthrow of colonialism in Egypt, through the movie-star-handsome leadership of Gamal Abdul Nasser and his electrifying voice broadcast via radio to millions, a sense of hope spread through the Arab world.

However, that hope seemed to come crashing down when Zionism defeated a fractured coalition of Arab allies to form the state of Israel in 1948.

This started a major wave of migrations with Jewish Arabs moving to the new state and Palestinian refugees flooding neighboring countries.

Then on June 5th 1967, Israeli warplanes destroyed Egypt’s air force and seized control of three territories formerly under Arab rule.

It was a devastating defeat for Nasser, who soon died afterwards.

To make matters worse, all across the region political Islam rose in response to citizens’ despair as they sought refuge from modern anxieties in promises of simplicity from their past.

Autocratic regimes took control governing with corruptions, arbitrary rules, and little regard for human life that resulted in Middle Eastern communities ran by despots for decades even up until the Arab Spring movement began.

But then shortly after its start it was co-opted by military rulers incurring further disappointment within society culminating with today’s dismal moments which saw half a million Syrians killed under civil

Wrap Up

The final summary of The Arabs is this: Over the course of their long and colorful history, the Arabs have been an integral part of the world.

They journeyed through the desert, excelled in intellectual developments, engaged in warfare fueled by religious zeal, explored distant lands to find wealth, and even encountered colonialism, Zionism and other political struggles in more recent times.

Despite these issues, they have made strides towards rebuilding their society and politics.

Arturo Miller

Hi, I am Arturo Miller, the Chief Editor of this blog. I'm a passionate reader, learner and blogger. Motivated by the desire to help others reach their fullest potential, I draw from my own experiences and insights to curate blogs.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.