Student Review: Politics and Society in the Contemporary Middle East

February 24, 2011

Editor: Michele Penner Angrist

Edition: First

Publisher: Lynne Rienner

Pages: 520

Price: £19.50

ISBN 9781588267177

Instantly accessible and excellently structured, this book provides a thorough introduction to the main themes involved in the turbulent and often little understood world of Middle Eastern politics.

The first section outlines the basic background information and thoroughly explains key areas of interest chapter by chapter. It is essential reading for those wishing to fully understand the political life of this complicated region. Comprehensive chapters are devoted to the region's religious tensions, as well as its economics, identities and civil society. The second section provides a detailed case study of every state within a broad, continent-spanning definition of the Middle East, with useful sub-topics linking back to the central themes.

Textbooks that include contributions from a wide array of different authors are at risk of seeming disjointed, reading more like a selection of related articles than a cohesive book with a clear message running throughout. Happily, this is not the case with this text; every theme that arises in the case studies is clearly and uniformly identified and explained. The common-sense structure of the text means that it makes the most of the important links (and, indeed, practically thinks) for you.

Another commendable feature is the editor's consistent awareness of gender issues, including a chapter on gender in the Middle East as a whole, as well as a brief summary of the prevailing gender attitudes in each individual country. In the traditionally male-dominated world of international relations, this attention to social and cultural detail is refreshing, and allows the reader to get a genuine feel for the region's values and social structures, which are, of course, crucial to understanding its politics.

Referencing is fairly sporadic, which makes it slightly harder to locate further reading. However, the book is written in absorbing, free-flowing prose, and as frequent academic name-dropping would run the risk of interfering with this readability, it is hard to see the lack of in-text citations as a drastic flaw.

The book is not a particularly challenging or in-depth read, but this does not appear to be its aim. The language is occasionally quite simplistic, and some who are already familiar with the subject may find a basic definition of the Islamic faith, for example, slightly unnecessary. However, because the book assumes very little existing knowledge of the Middle East, it is an excellent source for consolidation and clarification.

Who is it for? Those seeking a basic introduction to the Middle East, its people and its politics.

Presentation: Generic.

Would you recommend it? Yes, although only to those for whom the subject matter is relatively unfamiliar territory.

Highly recommended

The Politics of Human Rights

Author: Andrew Vincent

Edition: First

Publisher: Oxford University Press

Pages: 2

Price: £50.00 and £19.99

ISBN 9780199238965 and 8972

Vincent's book will be useful for both politics and philosophy courses on human rights.

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