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David Lamb's "The Arabs: Journeys Beyond the Mirage" is a journalistic -- as opposed to scholarly -- examination of the Middle East. Books by journalists describing their observations of foreign cultures are often illuminating and contribute a great deal to our understanding of those cultures. They are distinct from scholarly studies, such as are published by universities, in that they are less likely to have something that could be considered an easily definable thesis. Rather, they are broad looks at large topics. What Lamb does demonstrate in "The Arabs," as he did in "The Africans," is the enormous diversity of culture across a vast region stretching from the west coast of Africa to the Persian Gulf (or, as Arabs prefer to call it, the Arabian Gulf). In between those geographic points is an indeterminate number of tribes, clans, political parties, theological divisions, and so on. The one commonality is their self-description as Arabs and, with small but significant exceptions, Muslims.
If "The Arabs" can be said to have a thesis, it is that the stereotypes of Arabs held in the West are grounded in enormous misconceptions of the region, with images of sheikhs and terrorists more likely to come to the American mind when hearing the word "arab" than the far more complex picture presented in this book.
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