T.C.F. Hopkins,
Empires, Wars, & Battles
(Tor, 2007)

The subtitle of this book is "The Middle East from Antiquity to the Rise of the New World." It covers the beginning of recorded history in Egypt to the late 17th century. A large part is about Europe, particularly the Roman Empire and its eastward expansion.

A book of about 250 pages cannot be much more than a summary of such wide-ranging history. Hopkins takes a "macro" approach, not dealing much with everyday lives, instead focusing on the various conflicts and empires. There were many. The litany of war, disease and palace intrigues shows that there is a long history of Middle East upheaval.

Many military defeats were caused by disease. As well as the familiar bubonic plague, leprosy, an unspecified "bone disease" and others devastated large swathes of armies and civilians. Climate change produced famine. Hopkins describes many bloody royal successions, which were often accompanied by the eliminations of brothers, cousins, fathers and other possible rivals.

A problem the casual reader will find is keeping track of the various rulers and ethnic groups. Whether the various kings only ruled for a short time (the fate of a great many) or for decades, most are not familiar to the average Western reader.

Hopkins does little analysis. In fact, he ends the book with only one paragraph of summary. Still, he uncovers patterns just by presenting history without comment. He shows how trade affected and moderated many wars. There are examples of the length and bitterness of the Islamic Shia-Sunni conflict. He describes the general hopelessness and often lunacy of the later Crusades. And he presents the evolution of battle tactics and sieges.

Empires, Wars, & Battles is recommended for a background on ancient and medieval Middle East conflict.

review by
Dave Howell

8 September 2007

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