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In Praise of Books
A Cultural History of Cairo's Middle Class, Sixteenth Through the Eighteenth Century

Nelly Hanna

Cloth $45.00L    |    0-8156-3012-3    |   2003

Paper $19.95s    |    0-8156-3036-0    |   2003

A landmark volume that reveals a lively middle-class Egyptian culture during the first three centuries of Ottoman ruledasha major departure from traditional studies focusing on the ruling/elite class rather than on the popular masses.

"In Praise of Books represents a major contribution to Ottoman economic and cultural history, both due to the new, unpublished sources that the author explores in her book and to the methodological arguments that she makes. Because of the strong links that she draws between Ottoman and Western European literary trends, the book should be read by Europeanists, world historians, and literary scholars as well as by Ottomanists. Her accounts of the vicissitudes of specific individuals from the merchant and tradesmen classes who sought a higher education, often only to be forced to abandon their pursuit owing to financial necessity, make her book not only a very valuable contribution to the history of education in the Islamic world, but an engaging narrative that provides a window into individual personalities as well to a whole culture"
Alexandra Cuffel, Macalester College

"Nelly Hanna's wonderfully concise and elegant In praise of Books argues that from the sixteenth century to the eighteenth, in sharp contrast to received wisdom, the situation in Egypt was not so different from that in the other Mediterranean countries, as literacy spread to an emerging bourgeoisie. In Egypt, however, this was due not to printed books, which might have been cheaper than manuscript copies, but to the availability of inexpensive paper, which made even hand-copied books affordable to middle-class readers. . . .This thoughtful book suggests that the deep and previously unexplored traditions of Cairo's middle-class culture provided the real foundation on which these supposed 'innovations' rested."
dash Times Literary Supplement

In fine detail, the author explores economic influences on culture during periods of plenty and poverty. She examines the bond between commerce and escalating literacy via the building of schools, the availability of cheap paper, and the proliferation of books. And she assesses coffeehouses, storytellers, and phantom plays as a principal circuit for the spread of oral middle-class culture. Drawing on published and unpublished sources, she unveils a full-fledged Cairene middle-class culture that bridges the gap between the salons (majalis) of the elite and the common people.

A major contribution to Egypt's cultural record, this book sets a high standard for work on the history of the Middle East.

Nelly Hanna is professor and chair of the Department of Arabic Studies at the American University of Cairo. She is the author or editor of a number books and articles including Making Big Money in 1600: The Life and Times of Ismail Abu Taqiyya, Egyptian Merchant, also published by Syracuse University Press.

6 x 9, 224 pages, index, notes, 2 tables

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