From Publishers Weekly
In an ably researched and well-told account, Karabell (The Last Campaign) chronicles the origins and legacy of one of the greatest undertakings of the 19th century. While the construction of the Suez Canal across a 100-mile stretch of arid Egypt to link the Mediterranean and Red seas was largely (and rightly) seen as a marvel of engineering and planning, Karabell demonstrates that the political machinations behind the project were just as intricate and daunting. European involvement in the canal stretched back to Napoleon, but the two main players in its execution were the French diplomat Ferdinand de Lesseps and the Egyptian ruler Muhammad Said. The book skillfully outlines the intrigue among their supporters and detractors without getting bogged down in meticulous detail, and it does the same for the exacting creation of the canal itself. But Karabell does an especially fine job of balancing the ballyhoo and symbolic grandeur of what the canal was meant to be and the more or less forgotten entity it has become. He quotes de Lesseps as saying to Said, "'The names of the Egyptian sovereigns who erected the Pyramids, those useless monuments of human pride, will be ignored. The name of the Prince who will have opened the grand canal through Suez will be blessed century after century for posterity.'" Ultimately, he was wrong, and the canal became a mixed blessing for Egypt at best. But Karabell's book is more sensitive than damning, and it provides a fascinating look at an early attempt to bridge East and West at a time when such history is particularly relevant.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
*Starred Review* A middle-aged ex-diplomat rusticating in the French countryside hardly sounds like someone who could bring off an audacious feat of engineering, but such was the case with Ferdinand de Lesseps. Known to readers of David McCullough's classic The Path between the Seas
(1977), de Lesseps later came to grief attempting to carve a canal through Panama. In depicting de Lesseps' glory days on the Suez Canal, Karabell proves just as able a raconteur as McCullough, as he thematically contrasts the dreams invested in the construction of the Suez Canal with its fading importance today. Long gone, Karabell notes, is a statue of de Lesseps that overlooked his creation; vanished, too, is the dreamy romanticism invested in all things Egyptian by French artistic and progressive thought in the first half of the 1800s. Although de Lesseps was fascinated with the exotic, Karabell appraises him as a salesman who viewed the canal as a way to etch his name in history. Because de Lesseps' personal connections to potentates were crucial to his success, Karabell amplifies his story with figures from the worlds of diplomacy, finance, and French and Egyptian societies. A brilliant narrative. Gilbert TaylorCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved