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Kingmakers: The Invention of the Modern Middle East Hardcover – Deckle Edge, June 17, 2008

4.2 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Eminent Imperialists might be a better title for this sprightly episodic history of Anglo-American meddling in the Middle East, from the 1882 British invasion of Egypt to the current Iraq War, told through profiles of the officials who spearheaded those policies. Journalists Meyer and Brysac (Tournament of Shadows) spotlight well-known, flamboyant figures like T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia) and British Arabist Gertrude Bell. But they focus on unsung toilers in the trenches of imperial rule like A.T. Wilson, the British colonial administrator whose idea it was to cobble Iraq together out of three fractious Ottoman provinces, and Kermit Roosevelt, the CIA agent who choreographed the 1953 ouster of Iranian prime minister Mohammed Mossadeq. Policy continuities—securing the approaches to India and access to oil—sometimes get overshadowed by the authors' biographical approach, but in a sense that's the point. Their imperialism is marked by idiosyncrasy, improvisation, unforeseen circumstances and unintended—usually tragic—consequences. Policy was very much driven by the personalities who constructed it: their Orientalist enthusiasms, knee-jerk assumptions of Anglo-Saxon racial superiority, arcane Straussian precepts and stubborn maverick streaks loom as large as cold geostrategic calculations. The result is a colorful study of empire as a very human endeavor. 30 illus., 2 maps. (June)
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From Booklist

The term Middle East is a Western creation; that is appropriate, since some of the nation- states in that volatile region were cobbled together to serve the imperial and economic designs of Britain, France, and the U.S. Meyer is a foreign affairs writer for the New York Times and the Washington Post. Brysac is a journalist and formerly a producer of documentaries for CBS News. They have written a timely and engrossing study of the men and women who were instrumental in giving birth to some of the nations, institutions, and chronic problems of the area. Some of these figures, like T. E. Lawrence and Gertrude Bell, are famous. Others were almost faceless civil servants and bureaucrats who effectively operated in the shadows on behalf of the interests of their nations. There is even a chapter devoted to Paul Wolfowitz, whose fantasies were influential in bringing on our current predicament in Iraq. What seems to unite these characters is a degree of imperial hubris and an appalling unwillingness to consider the long-term consequences of their actions. This is an important work. --Jay Freeman

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 512 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1St Edition edition (June 17, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 039306199X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393061994
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.4 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #475,820 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This is a dandy book! The charismatic and fascinating persons featured have been the subject of much biographical treatment on a individual basis, but never woven into a timeline such as has been done by these authors ... a continuum which truly puts them into perspective. It shows what it was that made each of them worth knowing about, and illuminates their crucial roles in the drama that has devolved into a world scene that persists to this very day! A scene that seems relentless in determining the fates of so many on this planet no matter how fervently it may be wished that the destiny which seems to chain them to us might be disjoined, once and for all! Their successive stories make any fictional adventure pale to paltriness. What a job it was to do this ... to wrangle a monumental pile of researched elements into their proper sequences and cross-linkages with few, if any, errors! (Something I've considered doing with just a couple of these folks and found too daunting for my meager talent and store of patience, Wow!) Its extensive bibliography provides a rich resource to use as a basis for further inquiry and research in support of essays, articles, and yet additional insightful books similar to this and to such gems as "Milner's Kindergarten," "A Peace to End All Peace," and "Troublesome Young Men." Kudos to Meyer and Brysac!
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Format: Hardcover
Although Meyer and Brysac don't tell why Americans learn so disastrously little from history, they've made some of the history itself wonderfully accessible. Now they do that for the modern history of the Middle East, whose "three universal faiths" extol "brotherhood and peace, compassion and humility" but whose "mortal disciples through the ages have engaged in reciprocal butchery. The very landscape of the Holy Land forms an outdoor museum of warfare." That's a sample of writing in this elegant, instructive book, the kind whose vividness thrusts readers through the otherwise baffling story of a region where the United States is again bogged down in confusion and loss, thanks to hubris grounded in ignorance.
What importance! How, forgive me, entertaining the authors make it! "Modern history" here means from roughly 1880, when the rapacious British invaded and occupied Egypt, largely to ensure control of the new Suez Canal. It ends with now, the last kingmaker - the predominantly greedy, short-sighted, full-of-themselves imperialists through whom Meyer and Brysac dramatically story-tell - being Paul Wolfowitz of very recent ill fame. I happened to have known two of the intruders: Kim Roosevelt and Miles Copeland, who bragged about their leading CIA roles in deposing Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadeq of Iran in 1953. Simplifying hard, the Land of the Free that has little compunction about using the dirtiest tricks while preaching democracy to the world has paid and will continue to pay hugely for that folly, whose current expressions draw heavily on the older ones.
However, Kingmakers doesn't simplify, nor pull punches either. Weary as everyone is of "this is a book every literate citizen should read," I find myself saying it to friends.
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Format: Paperback
For better or worse (and for most of contemporary history it has been for the worse) the Middle East is a Western (meaning mostly a U.S. and UK) invention. So says, these authors of this well-written and well-researched book.

Most of the personalities responsible for that invention we have seen and heard from before: And here we mean in particular William Gladstone; the mythical Lawrence of Arabia; the legendary spy Miles Copland; and the now infamous Paul Wolfowitz, among others.

There is a distinct pattern and subtext to this multi-generational international drama of politics, religion, military power and culture. And although the pattern is formulaic and has been applied in its most extreme form in the Middle East, it is a formula that is by no means repeated only in just this one region.

The authors here have carefully and convincingly isolated it and told it through the chronology of the inventors. It is the witch's brew of unintended consequences that results when geography intersects with exploitable natural resources, messianic religious fervor and outsiders with the economic power to enforce their hidden agendas (that without access to the resources of those in the region, their own nation's vital interests would be at stake). And while the author's description of the formula is not quite as conspiratorial as I have described it here, no matter how it is described, the end results are recognized as being the same: generations of religious, political, and cultural strife, hatred and distrust.

Once the vital resource of oil had been discovered, the U.S. and the UK could not leave the region alone. Before reading the book, I had theorized as most of us do that getting our hands on that oil was merely a complicated fait accompli.
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Format: Paperback
This is an excellent overview of British and American influence on the Middle East from the late 19th century to the present. Each chapter is a stand-alone biography of an influential person going from well known persons such as T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) to lesser known persons. The emphasis of the book is on the British colonial period.

The author's do cover a great bit of detail so it's sometimes easy to get lost in the numerous names and places.

I highly recommend this book as it gives a good backdrop to Western influences on the modern Middle East.
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