One would t rmally expect students of biology to dissect frogs without prior kwledge of frog anatomy; yet students of history are regularly expected to analyse pre--modern institutions and events without any prior kwledge whatsoever of the general anatomy of pre--industrial societies. Gifted students will often acquire considerable kwledge of their particular areas -- own individual frogs, so to speak -- but the extent to which these conform to or depart from a common pattern remains unkwn to them, a fact which seriously limits their capacity for interpretation. What goes for students goes for n--academic readers too. They have at their disposal a mountain of historical works written at every conceivable level of popularization and specialization. But most of these works are devoted to specific historical phemena, or at most to a comparison between two or three; and those which attempt more general surveys tend to be either irdinately long or else irdinately abstract. Where does one turn for a brief summary of the ground--rules? A bluffera s guide to the behaviour of pre--modern societies does t seem to be available. What this book attempts is precisely that: to offer a bluffera s guide to the nature of pre--industrial societies, or more precisely to pre--industrial societies of the complex type (omitting primitive societies whose nature, again, is different). It sketches out the general anatomy of all such societies without attempting a full description of any one; and it is neither excessively long r (it is hoped) excessively abstract. Armed with this book, the reader ought to find the specific cultures, societies, institutions and events of pre--industrial history considerable less puzzling than they are when approached directly.
Patricia Crone is Fellow of Jesus College, Oxford and University Lecturer in Islamic History.