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Empires of the Sand: The Struggle for Mastery in the Middle East, 1789-1923 Paperback – May 2, 2001

ISBN-13: 978-0674005419 ISBN-10: 0674005414

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 426 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (April 2, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674005414
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674005419
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #804,558 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Empires of the Sand presents the diplomatic and military history of the Middle East, beginning with France's Egyptian campaigns during which Napoleon startled Europe by claiming to have converted to Islam. The conventional wisdom has been that during the 19th century, the Great Powers of Europe actively sought the dismemberment of the region's preeminent power, the Ottoman Empire, finally using its alliance with Germany during the First World War as an excuse to carve it up into artificial entities and thus sow the seeds for the Middle East's problems today. This is not how London-based historians Efraim and Inari Karsh approach their subject. They see a constant interplay of interests and intrigue, with pressures from regional forces, such as the Hashemites, as the main impetus for the destruction of the Ottoman Empire. When they needed support and protection, local states and rulers didn't hesitate to call on infidels they had previously vilified. The West played similar diplomatic games, for example, preventing Bulgaria from taking Istanbul in 1912 for fear of upsetting the overall European balance of power. In the Crimean War of 1854, France and Britain actually went to war with Russia to defend Turkish interests. Though it is fashionable for relations between the Christian West and Islamic Middle East to be presented in terms of a "clash of civilizations," the well-researched analysis of Empires of the Sand convincingly reinterprets the turbulent diplomacy of this endlessly fascinating region. --John Stevenson --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

This survey of the demise of the Ottoman Empire reeks of academic turf wars. In assessing the last 130-odd years of the Turkish empire, the authors assault the prevailing wisdom that the decline of the "Sick Man of Europe" was inevitable; they claim, rather, that it resulted from a series of poor choices made by its leaders. This approach is both provocative and productive, as the authors, relying on an impressive array of archival and secondary sources, demonstrate how the Ottoman leaders sealed their own fate--their decision to play cat-and-mouse with both sides during WWI was only the final error in a series of blunders. The two London-based scholars also debunk the myth of early Arab nationalism and show that, as the empire was being divvied up after the war, Arab leaders grabbed whatever land they could get in search of personal gain. But the authors' relentlessly negative depictions of the motivations of Turkish and Arab leaders--"Greed rather than necessity drove the Ottoman Empire into the First World War," for example--in contrast to the nonjudgmental ways in which they describe Western leaders seem to derive from an anti-Eastern animus. Indeed, this apparent bias undermines their plausible argument that "there has been no 'clash of civilizations' between the Middle East and the West in the past two centuries, but rather a pattern of pragmatic cooperation and conflict," and prevents this otherwise comprehensive text from being a much more useful source. (Dec.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

And it is remarkably well written.
Lester Mann
Yet Europe's great powers remained loathe to devour the Ottoman carcass, by then controlled by the Young Turks.
Alyssa A. Lappen
I read this knowing very little about middle east history, and found it a very good overview.
Amazon Customer

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

56 of 57 people found the following review helpful By Frank J. Konopka VINE VOICE on August 7, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is an excellent revisionist history of how the modern Middle East came into existence. It turns completely around the conventional theory that the Western countries were directly and solely responsible for what happened during and after World War I in the area of the Ottoman Empire. The authors place much of the blame for the results on the Ottoman leadership iteself, and the political land-grabbing of the Hashemite family. Not being an expert in this area, I have adopted a neutral attitude in this controversy, and am more than willing to read works that contradict this idea. My one quibble with this book, and it caused my rating to be lowered, is that there is an almost complete absence of adequate maps of the areas in question. To discuss places not normally familiar to Western readers, it is essential that works provide maps as references. I was continually frustrated throughout my reading when I couldn't find a map that showed a place that was under discussion in the text.
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43 of 49 people found the following review helpful By Lester Mann on January 27, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This book. the first of the authors that I read had been recommnded in passing by The Wall Street Journal. I found it to be a remarkable work. It presents historical perspectives not to be found in other "mid-east" works. And it is remarkably well written. Unlike many fine histories it does not periodically lapse into obtuseness and vagueness.
Furthermore, it has legs. It was the first history book that my wife read over the past ten years and she came away, altered in her perceptions as well as impressed. I then sent it to my so who is a distinguished Cardiac researcher who rarely these days can spare reading time away from material in his own speciality area. He too could not put it down.
It is a pity that books such as this do not get the comprehensive audiences they deserve.
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32 of 37 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 28, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This book does a lot to rectify the cult of victimization and anti-Arab conspiracy theories prevalent in analysies and histories of the Arab world. It should be read in conjunction with the works of Bernard Lewis, especially his short volumes The Arabs in History and Islam and the West.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Frank Bunyard on December 28, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Professors Efriam and Inari Karsh (husband and wife) have produced a tour de force and a sound rebuttal to the standard interpretation of modern Middle Eastern History. According to the orthodox version during the early 1920's a domineering, imperial Europe imposed its will on a humble and enervated Middle East. Perhaps the best account of the orthodox view is David Fromkin's "A Peace to End All Peace" (1989).

Using original sources and masterful scholarship the Karshes' effectively refute the Fromkin version. (The Karshes refer to Fromkin's standard history as a "caricature" (p. 351).) In the orthodox view the Germans swindled the naïve Ottomans into an alliance in WWI. But the Karshes' researches reveal that it was the ambitious young Ottoman rulers who took the initiative and rushed into an alliance with Germany in hopes of territorial expansion and restoration of the great days of Ottoman power. And this alliance for aggrandizement by the Ottomans is, according to the Karshes, "by far the most important decision in the history of the modern Middle East." In effect it was the Ottomans' hubris and lust for power that brought them down, by forming an alliance with Germany, the losing power in WWI.

And after WWI, far from being supine, the Arabs were busy vying for their own, smaller religious and ethnic groups, which were in constant conflict with one another. If the Great Powers had not pushed for the formation of larger states, the Arabs would have fallen into innumerable small clannish social units - which would have forever been in total chaos with internecine power struggles.
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74 of 96 people found the following review helpful By Alyssa A. Lappen VINE VOICE on June 18, 2001
Format: Hardcover
People best remember their own experience and the recent past--a "framing effect" that behavioral scientists have successfully applied to the study of finance. These historians look beyond the recent Western "frame" at Middle East history, exposing the falsity of Arab claims that the region was illicitly colonized: in fact Arab and Ottoman rulers were the true architects of the modern Middle East.

Hardly isolated from Europe, the Ottoman empire often called great Western powers to its aide: Napoleon Bonaparte's 1789 conquest of Egypt prompted Sultan Selim III to declare Jihad against the French and join the infidel British and Russian empires to keep his own in tact. In 1804, the Russian and Austrian empires similarly guaranteed the Ottoman empire's integrity. A falling out with Russia produced an Ottoman treaty with the British in 1809. And so on.

Arab and Ottoman pleas brought Britain to Egypt too. The British, French and Ottoman empires originally opposed the Suez Canal, which they feared would violate Ottoman integrity, harming overland trade routes to Asia. But successive Egyptian khedives pushed the idea, concessions for which the Sultan ratified in 1866. Khedive Ismail's bribes to Abdul Hamid II brought Egypt to near-bankruptcy; he sold his Suez shares to Britain in 1875. In the following upheaval, the Sultan begged Britain to take control of Egypt. Prime Minister Gladstone refused. Only renewed Ottoman pleas convinced the reluctant British to send a naval squadron to quell an Egyptian rebellion in 1882--ironically making Britain the Canal's chief beneficiary, an entanglement from which she tried mightily to withdraw. The Sultan snubbed Britain's offer to give Egypt back.

Similarly, Ottoman escapades redrew Europe's map.
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Empires of the Sand: The Struggle for Mastery in the Middle East, 1789-1923
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