A full review of "Slaves on Horses: The Evolution of the Islamic Polity" by Patricia Crone is provided. In his review, Dr. Ferguson surveys the book and presents the strengths and weaknesses of the author's arguments.
Patricia Crone's "Slaves on Horses: The Evolution of Islamic Polity" is a complex treatise which seeks to explain how and why slave soldiers became the focus of Muslim polity. While this statement sums up Crone's goal, it by no means reflects the full contents of her monograph.
The monograph is divided into three parts, all equal in length: the text, the appendices and the notes. The text is further divided into three sections: "Introduction", "Evolution of the Conquest Society", and "Failure of the Islamic Empire". Each of these parts is divided into a number of chapters, each of which covers a limited topic. As such, the chapters tend toward the short side, which makes the complicated work a bit easier to get through. Chapter One is an historiographic introduction to early Islamic sources. Crone states her belief in the unreliability of these early works in a rather lengthy explanation which declares the almost complete uselessness of oral sources in general, and of Islamic sources specifically. She notes that the century of oral tradition that existed between the generation of the Prophet and the generation that first wrote down his history was sufficient to destroy any truth. Crone further discards tribal recollections as worthless, citing their tendency to relate only things of local interest, such as who married whom, etc. Where the author turns to find "accurate"' information is the written work of Islam's neighbors: Greek, Armenian, Hebrew, Coptic and other sources. While she acknowledges that these sources contain much that is biased, Crone believes that ...
This book review is included to summarize key points.