Syria's Peasantry, the Descendants of Its Lesser Rural Notables, and Their Politics

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Syria's Peasantry, the Descendants of Its Lesser Rural Notables, and Their Politics

By Hanna Batatu
Princeton University Press, 1999
413 pp. $49.50
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Vintage Batatu, with awesomely thorough research and a misleadingly modest title. This solid sociopolitical study of modern Syria will take its place among the classics of rural history. Unlike the Marxist image of peasants as so many potatoes in a sack, Batatu presents Syria's rural population in their rich variety, underscoring variables such as proximity to cities, clan and land status, and religion. He demonstrates their increased politicization over the past half-century and details the rural base of Syria's Baath Party. He then offers an impressive interpretation of Hafiz al-Asad's rise to power and his modus operandi for remaining there, concluding with a final chapter on Asad's relations with the Palestine Liberation Organization. More details than perhaps even specialists might require, but by relying on the fine table of contents (evoking in its expansiveness an eighteenth-century English novel) the reader can skip or skim. Best not to skip too much, however -- Batatu's detailed text is laced with penetrating insights and comparisons.

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