You won’t know how fascinated you are by the economy of an ancient city until you start reading Doumani’s engrossing portrait of eighteenth-century Nablus. It’s written with the thorough, poignant eye of a biographer and the tacit but relentless authority of a historian: far from the “wasteland” it’s been made out to be in other histories, Palestine had a diverse, thriving economy. Also interesting was the robust capitalism, entrepreneurship, and speculation banking linked all levels of Palestinian society–long before it engaged with the West.
I am supposed to be reading this as research on soap factories, but found myself sidetracked into reading the whole text. It makes me appreciate how detailed, and perhaps even how accurate, a rendering of one’s life can be made by looking only at one’s business activities: orders, contracts, inheritances, suppliers, and sales. I speak mostly as a small businesswoman, but generally, as someone living in the West, it’s difficult to not speculate at times that we are so deeply imprinted by the market that it distorts identity. The text was a clarifying reminder that humans are transactional creatures, and an economy is an intrinsic part of the human environment.