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Faisal I of Iraq Hardcover – March 11, 2014

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Editorial Reviews


"A reverent, stirring life of the Arab nationalist, friend of T.E. Lawrence and first monarch of Iraq. Using a host of lost Arab voices in painting the portrait of Faisal I (1885–1933), the author fills a void in scholarship with this nuanced biography of a seminal figure in the shaping of the modern Middle East . . . A misunderstood sharif finds a worthy, erudite biographer in Allawi."—Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review
(Kirkus Reviews)

Faisal I of Iraq is a sympathetic but by no means uncritical portrait, drawing on all the available sources, in English and Arabic. It is unlikely to be dislodged as the standard treatment for some time to come.”—Christopher de Bellaigue, Financial Times
(Christopher de Bellaigue Financial Times 2014-02-01)

“Through his skilful use of Arabic as well as British sources, he portrays Faisal as a convincing multi-dimensional figure. . .This is the fullest portrait yet of a fascinating figure who played a significant role in the making of the modern Middle East.”—The Economist
(The Economist 2014-02-08)

“[A]n important achievement and fully confirms that King Faisal was an outstanding Arab leader.”—Alan Rush, The Spectator (Alan Rush The Spectator 2014-02-15)

“One of the strengths of Allawi’s book is that it ignores received ideas of imperialism and nationalism and shows the links, as well as conflicts, between them. . .This biography makes a compelling case that Faisal I, a foreign monarch born in the Hejaz, educated in Constantinople, imposed by Britain, was a better rule of Iraq than most Iraqi leaders.”—Philip Mansel, Literary Review
(Philip Mansel Literary Review 2014-03-01)

"This tome will hold the interest of both general readers and specialists, and is notable for being the first full-length biography of the monarch written in English."—Publishers Weekly (Publishers Weekly)

'Ali Allawi’s Faisal I of Iraq is excellent and indispensable, effectively a history on the making of today’s Middle East.'—Simon Sebag Montefiore, Evening Standard
(Simon Sebag Montefiore Evening Standard 2014-11-20)

Shortlisted for the 2014 Slightly Foxed Best First Biography Prize
(Best First Biography Prize Slightly Foxed 2015-06-02)

About the Author

Ali A. Allawi is research professor, National University of Singapore. He was appointed Iraq’s first postwar civilian Minister of Defense in 2004 and in 2005 was appointed Minister of Finance. This is his third book. He lives in London and Baghdad.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 672 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (March 11, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300127324
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300127324
  • Product Dimensions: 2.2 x 6.5 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #521,468 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Although the movie Lawrence of Arabia departed significantly from reality in many aspects, it's portrayal of Faisal was more accurate than one might suppose.

This 669 page book, Faisal I of Iraq, is not a fast read, but it is a terrific eye-opener regarding not merely the man who would come to lead two nations, first Syria, then, following a French initiated regime change, Iraq. It very well shows a careful, wise, gradualist young man maturing from conservative loyalist to the Ottoman Empire leadership, to a firebrand revolutionary leader, thence to a statesman who sought a united Arabia.

Mind you, emerging such was a dramatic Herculean challenge, when one realizes the his main benefactor in wresting free from one tyrant would become his greatest detriment to build a nation capable of greatness equal to that benefactor.

Pity Faisal was lost to the world at a point so early in Iraq's history.

Not only did I enjoy the detailed history of the period immediately before and during the revolt in the desert, but I loved the photographs in this Kindle edition.

I should note, my wife's grandfather was a member of Faisal's inner circle. Rafik Jabbour of Lebanon was Consul for Persia (Iran) and, later, to Egypt. Jabbour was a hero cited in Enlightenment Through a Needle's Eye.

I recommend Faisal I of Iraq for anyone interested in early 20th Century history of the Arabs, and for anyone trying to get an understanding of the current so-called Arab Spring and just why western nations are so little trustd by the region's dissidents, terrorists, and the disenfranchised, as well as why our governments are despised by leaders within the Middle East - Faisal I of Iraq by Ali A. Allawi is a must-read.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Ryr Voch on May 8, 2014
Format: Hardcover
I suspect many people will approach this booking looking for a counterpoint to T.E. Lawrence's version of history - and of Faisal himself - as expressed in 'Seven Pillars of Wisdom.' If so, they may be disappointed. The overview of Faisal's early life is little more than a sketch, and the account of the war years is brief, and not strengthened by Allawi's heavy leaning on Seven Pillars' as a source, which is problematic given his unresolved ambiguity about Lawrence's credibility.
Where the book really gets going is after 1918, digging enthusiastically into the complexities of Syrian politics and the Paris peace conference. This section acts as the real background to the core of this political biography: Faisal's troubled rule in Iraq. One would have to have much more detailed knowledge of Iraqi history than I do to properly assess Allawi's treatment of the large cast of characters, but overall he appears to at least be attempting even-handedness, and there are few heroes or villains in this book (although he misses few opportunities to suggest that the French made a mistake in evicting Faisal from Syria).
Anyone with an interest in the governance of developing nations, especially those with complex cultural mixes, should find this biography interesting. One of the core themes is the difficulty Faisal faced in balancing his objectives - which depended on developing and maintaining his political legitimacy within Iraq - with his obligations to the British who, in pursuance of their own interests, placed and to some extent kept him in power. It is not difficult to find modern echoes of this problem, which was not new in the last decades of imperialism and will not end with the War on Terror. Ali Allawi appears to recognize that history will never treat Faisal with great admiration, but his generally sympathetic portrait should give pause to those who would summarily condemn or dismiss him as a failure or a puppet.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By José Saavedra on September 1, 2014
Format: Hardcover
It is a remarkable accomplishment and one that requires the highest degree of education and intelligence to write such a comprehensive biography of the unique figure of King Faisal. It covers every aspect to be expected in such a rich, endearing and subtle personality operating in a historical environment of the greatest complexity. Professor Allawi’s nuanced descriptions are essential for understanding the birth of Iraq as a nation containing so many different groups and for making sense of the current news. They are well worth the effort of concentration required!

The photos are good and there are some useful maps, although a few more would have been welcome.

Inexcusably, I have counted over three dozen typographical errors, which demonstrate a less than perfect proof reading effort. These detract from the pleasure of reading such a good book and I would encourage Yale University Press to deal with these as promptly as possible.

Given the interesting curriculum of professor Allawi, I recommend a look at his home page: http://www.aliallawi.com/.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By peter w. mcclean on April 5, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
An extraordinary book. Faisal is a subject in need of work as thoroughly researched and well written as this one.
For those interested in the modern history of the Middle East this book is a must read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Expat Family on February 22, 2015
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I would agree with some of the other reviewers that this is not a book written to be Faisal's version of the adventurous "The Seven Pillars of Wisdom", but a deep dive into the complex world of Arab Nationalism from the First World War primarily dealing with Faisal's diplomatic challenges. It would be a difficult first read for someone without some Middle East background, but it definitely fills a gap in historical information that has been largely filled with "Lawrence of Arabia' in the West by default.

I read the book based on the Economist recommendation, and was not disappointed. This book provides an explanation of why so many in the Middle East are so reluctant to trust U.S. and Western intentions in the region and even explains some of the still open wounds that have not healed from the battle for Arab independence in WW 1 to this day.

This book is recommended for readers with an existing understanding of Middle East politics and history. It is a timely read, as the astute reader will notice many of the places and sects that Faisal discusses are right now intertwined with the ISIS tragedy across Syria and Iraq.

Finally, I am also confused about the review discussing Faisal's support for/or lack of support for the creation of the State of Israel. I thought that the author used excellent historical analysis to come to his conclusions and dealt with Faisal's change in policy in reference to the new Israeli State fairly.
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