Four volumes. Edited by REEVA S. SIMON, PHILIP MATTAR, and RICHARD W. BULLIET. New York: MACMILLAN, 1996. Pp. 2,182. $350.
Intended initially as a balanced reference work on the Arab-Israeli conflict, this encyclopedia expanded to include the entire Middle East, ranging from Morocco to Afghanistan, and from roughly 1800 to the present. This is a highly ambitious project, seeking to cover events, important personalities, religious and secular politics, and to integrate these items with "the historical and cultural development of the Middle East." There are nearly four thousand entries, authored by scholars (or possibly graduate students in some cases), with a greater focus on Egypt, Israel, and Turkey or the Ottoman Empire than other areas; cultural, economic, and social topics are included, as are many prominent novelists from various countries.
As a basic reference work for its intended audience, "schools and the general public," this encyclopedia achieves many but not all of its goals. The entries are well written and there is extensive coverage, for example, of Palestinian and Zionist/Israeli political and cultural leaders as well as poets and novelists. There are lengthy essays on topics ranging from the "Arab-Israeli Conflict" to "Imperialism," to "Industrialization," to "Literature," and to "Urbanization" and "Urban Planning." The section on "Literature" is divided into national or regional subsections. Lengths of entries range from several pages to brief items of five to seven lines summarizing the life of a minor notable or politician with whom the average reader will be totally unfamiliar.
This reviewer believes that the Encyclopedia ultimately may be more useful as a reference for scholars than for the general public. Most encyclopedias have a specific format to which they adhere, one that allots specific lengths to entries with a specific format, especially with respect to the citing of a few works for further reference. The Encyclopedia of The Modern Middle East has no such rigorous format. Not only does the length of entries vary greatly, as noted, but there is no apparent rule for citing reference works. Many brief items have no bibliography, perhaps understandable, but longer items meet the same fate. For example, "Kaylani, Rashid Ali al-" has two full columns but no bibliography for future reference, whereas another Iraqi politician, "Suwaydi, Tawfiq al-," has half a column and one reference. Numerous entries have works...