William Harris. Lebanon: A History, 600-2011

By Pethel, Mary Ellen | Teaching History: A Journal of Methods, Spring 2013 | Go to article overview

William Harris. Lebanon: A History, 600-2011


Pethel, Mary Ellen, Teaching History: A Journal of Methods


William Harris. Lebanon: A History, 600-2011. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012. Pp. 400. Hardback, $34.95; ISBN 978-0-19-518111-1.

The history of Lebanon remains culturally and religiously complex, and with this work, Lebanon: A History, William Harris presents the reader with both a blueprint and a roadmap. With well-written prose and clear evidence, the author enables readers to navigate and unlock the labyrinth of Lebanese history--its people and its culture. Harris appropriately begins by defining Lebanon in geographical terms with the coastal mountain range of Mount Lebanon forming its central core. However, the country's modern borders extend south of Beirut to include the Shi'ite Jabal Amil region and north of Tripoli to the coastal plains of Akkar, a religiously diverse province with Greek Orthodox and Catholic Christians, Sunnis, Maronites, and Alawites.

Harris aptly quotes the Syrian Lebanese novelist Ghada Samman in his introduction: "I see a cat giving birth to a mouse, a tiger, a squirrel, a snake, and a kitten--all from the same womb." The chapters that follow seek to unravel the multifaceted and seemingly oppositional forces that have created both conflict and peace in Lebanon. The first three chapters outline the foundations of Lebanese history beginning with the Orthodox and Maronite Christians of the Byzantine Empire and the Shia and Sunni Muslims of the Umayyad and Abbasid Dynasties. The ascension of the Druze lords in the late thirteenth century, operating within the Mamluk and Ottoman Empires, remains essential to understanding the formation of the modern geopolitical state of Lebanon. The final three chapters build on this historical context, giving the reader a firm foundation as Harris coherently articulates the influences of the Maronite-Druze Civil War (1860), World War I, French colonialism, and World War II on Lebanon. …

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