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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan; First Edition edition (May 27, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0230606032
  • ISBN-13: 978-0230606036
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.2 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #336,325 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In July 1798, Napoleon landed an expeditionary force at Alexandria in Egypt, the opening move in a scheme to acquire a new colony for France, administer a sharp rebuff to England and export the values of French republicanism to a remade Middle East. Cole, a historian of the Middle East at the University of Michigan, traces the first seven months of Napoleon's adventure in Egypt. Relying extensively on firsthand sources for this account of the invasion's early months, Cole focuses on the ideas and belief systems of the French invaders and the Muslims of Egypt. Cole portrays the French as deeply ignorant of cultural and religious Islam. Claiming an intent to transplant liberty to Egypt, the French rapidly descended to the same barbarism and repression of the Ottomans they sought to replace. Islamic Egypt, divided by class and ethnic rivalries, offered little resistance to the initial French incursion. Over time, however, the Egyptians produced an insurgency that, while it couldn't hope to win pitched battles, did erode French domination and French morale. Perplexingly, Cole ends his account in early February 1799, with Napoleon still in control of Egypt but facing increasingly effective opposition. Napoleon's attack on Syria is only mentioned, not detailed, and his return to Cairo and eventual flight to France are omitted altogether. In a brief epilogue, Cole makes an explicit comparison between Napoleon's adventure in Egypt and the current American occupation of Iraq. Though at times episodic and disorganized, this doesn't detract from the value of Cole's well-researched contribution to Middle Eastern history. Illus. (Aug.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

At the end of the eighteenth century, the Middle East had remained beyond the orbit of European concerns since the end of the Crusades in the late thirteenth century. Egypt, in particular, was viewed as a backward Ottoman province. In 1798, Napoleon led a massive force across the Mediterranean to the Nile Delta, quickly overwhelming the Egyptian forces, but the French occupiers were expelled by British and Ottoman armies in 1801. Although the military effects of the French incursion were minimal, the long-term cultural and political results were immense. Historian Cole, effectively utilizing diaries and letters of contemporaries on both sides, illustrates the confusion, hostilities, and necessary accommodations as two distinct cultures collide. French scholars who accompanied the expedition make the now familiar claims of "liberating" a people from backward oppressors while respecting the traditions of a great people. Arab reactions range from outrage to indifference. At the center of events, of course, is the young emerging titan, Napoleon, who is revealed here as cynical, power hungry, but possessed of an enormous intellect and insatiable curiosity. Jay Freeman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

The bad part comes at the end of the book.
John Chamberlain
A highly recommended text for the history reader, political scientist, or anyone wishing to make further sense of the Middle East as it is known today.
Ray
When I pre-ordered the book in July, I had only been familiar with Cole's writing in his blog Informed Comment (a staple in my morning reading).
Alan J. White

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

44 of 52 people found the following review helpful By Alan J. White on August 15, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I'm a recent graduate of UC Santa Cruz (History of the Islamic World '05), and I've completed additional course work in Arabic at the University of Jordan in Amman. As a somewhat informed reader, Juan Cole's new book appears to me to be a refreshing synthesis of modern historiographical trends, with a classic writing style. When I pre-ordered the book in July, I had only been familiar with Cole's writing in his blog Informed Comment (a staple in my morning reading). While I love his commentary and analysis in the blog format, I felt compelled to write and comment on how wonderfully surprised I was by his historical writing, as exemplified by this book. The research and the narrative style compliment each other quite nicely, and it's a pleasure to read. Perhaps it's time for me to purchase Sacred Space and Holy War?
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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful By John Chamberlain on December 18, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This book was difficult to rate. Where it was good, it was very good. Where it was bad, it was very bad. So, I compromised at three stars.

At first I almost didn't buy it. The topic was intriguing because I have an interest in the Napoleonic wars. But I looked on the back cover and found five intellectually bankrupt quotes from academic reviewers who were, directly or indirectly, trying to draw parallels between Napoleon's invasion of Egypt and the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Only a politically fevered college sophomore, or an academic desperate to be a star at their next wine and cheese party, could make such an equivalency, moral or otherwise. So, I feared for what might be in the book. I bought it anyway, and was pleasantly surprised by most of it.

Cole does an excellent job of taking you through (part of) Napoleon's Egyptian campaign. Using accounts drawn from contemporary journals, he weaves together numerous tales of adventure and misadventure into an interesting whole. At the same time, he provides genuine insight into the complex clash of two very different cultures. That's the good part.

The bad part comes at the end of the book.

Try to imagine yourself listening to a detailed account of a football game; then, when the commentator gets to the fourth quarter, he says: "Then they ran a bunch of plays and everyone went home." That is basically what Cole does to the reader.

The siege of El Arish, the capture and sack of Jaffa and of Gaza, are handled in THREE SENTENCES! The siege of Acre gets a whole paragraph; but the two-month battle, in which a British Naval officer defeated Napoleon on land (!), is reduced to "[Cezzar Pasha] enjoyed naval backing from the British."

Unbelievable!
Read more ›
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37 of 47 people found the following review helpful By Agnostic on August 27, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Napoleon had the most advanced, highly trained, effective and best armed army in his known universe. He was, in a way, the leader of an economic and military superpower. Then he invaded and occupied Egypt. In almost every battle, his superior forces won. In almost every deliberate move, his forces persevered and succeeded. Except for one pesky problem. He was stuck in the muddle east, where no invader is safe, no matter how much larger, richer and more superior their tactics and weapons were.

Sounds familiar? It should About 10 pages into the book you get this sense that the same description, the same arguments, the same approach was used by Team Bush. Yet, clearly, such a comparison was not Prof. Cole's purpose or intent.

I had little interest in reading about Napoleon's Little Egyptian invasion. In fact, what little I knew about it bored me. Then, I read this book. It is an eye opener. It is a serious, informative, and enjoyable read, while never lecturing or sounding like a college text.

Cole has a nice touch, and treats every subject he writes on with respect and a scholar's vision. This book is no different.
Whether you are interested in current affairs, and the IraqNam fiasco, or whether you love history, or even if you simply want a good read, I strongly recommend this book.
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21 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Brian Comnes on July 7, 2008
Format: Paperback
I recently finished this book. I liked it a lot. I would recommend it to anyone seeking a longer view on relations and their consequences between Europe and the Middle East. Professor Cole's has done a great job of capturing the essence of this story which rings frightfully true today - a self absorbed megalomaniacal leader, telling fibs to his troops about the noble reasons for going, making major blunders along the way (Nelson burned and sank the French fleet - oops), presiding over the degradation of his own troops, and then total bewilderment as to why these "Mohammedans" just don't "get it", in spite of lavish French (occupier) spectacle followed with mostly vain attempts to co-opt other portions of the local population, ending with a rapid personal withdrawal from the whole affair leaving it to others to clean up the mess left behind. Sound familiar? In any case, the book is well written and documented thoroughly with source material. If I was to improve the book I would have added an epilogue as to the consequences of this campaign to Napoleon's imminent ascension in French life.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Scott Banks on September 23, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Both a military and a cultural history, and for good reason. After Napoleon's infantry squares and artillery techniques prove absolutely lethal to fast and courageous Ottoman cavalry, the war becomes an occupation, and the occupation will not be decided by military might alone. It is a joy to watch the gifted and ruthless Napoleon gamely struggling to master occupation politics in a cultural setting of which he has only the dimmest grasp, and to watch his opponents outwit him using time-tested strategies of resistance while making up a few of their own.

Unforgettable moments range from the ridiculous to the macabre. Napoleon lets word get out that he might convert to Islam and bring his army with him, in an attempt to curry favor among Muslim clerics, but his army quickly nixes the idea, as the French were unwilling to endure circumcision and give up wine. French officers discover the pleasures and perils of harems. And in a remote desert fortification, one third of Napoleon's soldiers contract a local disease that causes their eyelids to flip inside out and they go blind. An attack comes, and the blind soldiers are pushed to the front by their comrades and told not to fire until the enemy closes to 75 yards.

Juan Cole is a mideast expert and knows Arabic, so he well understands the Egyptian context and can show how locals perceived the French as well as the reverse. He enjoys the occasional victories of the Egyptian underdogs while at the same time retaining empathy for the French as they try to adapt to what becomes a terrible predicament.
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