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Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East: 1776 to the Present Hardcover – Deckle Edge, January 16, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this engaging if unbalanced survey, the author of the acclaimed Six Days of War finds continuity in U.S. relations with the Middle East from the early 19th-century war against the Barbary pirates to today's Iraq war. As America's power grew, he contends, strategic considerations became complicatedby the region's religious significance, especially to the Protestant missionaries whose interests drove U.S. policyin the 19th century and who championed a Jewish state in Palestine long before the Zionist movement took up that cause. Meanwhile, Oren notes, Americans' romantic fantasies about the Muslim world (as expressed in Mideast-themed movies) have repeatedly run aground on stubborn, squalid realities, most recently in the Iraq fiasco. Oren dwells on the pre-WWII era, when U.S.-Mideast relations were of little significance. The postwar period, when these relations were central to world affairs, gets shoehorned into 127 hasty pages, and the emphasis on continuity gives short shrift to the new and crucial role of oil in U.S. policy making. Oren's treatment views this history almost entirely through American eyes; the U.S. comes off as usually well intentioned and idealistic, if often confused and confounded by regional complexities. Oren's is a fluent, comprehensive narrative of two centuries of entanglement, but it's analytically disappointing. Photos. (Jan. 15)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

This engrossing, informative, and frequently surprising survey of U.S. involvement in the Middle East over the past 230 years is particularly timely. Oren, a frequent contributor to the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and New Republic, illustrates that American interests have frequently combined elements of romanticism, religious fervency, and hardheaded power politics. In the early nineteenth century, President Jefferson, perhaps acting against his own instincts to remain aloof from the affairs of the Old World, sent the infant American navy to confront the Barbary pirates off the coast of North Africa. Like many of our future endeavors in the region, the results were a mixture of success, failure, and farce. Other episodes covered here that are particularly interesting include previously obscure American efforts to locate the source of the Nile and the efforts by American missionaries to convert vast numbers of Ottoman subjects. But Oren is at his best when describing American involvement in the twentieth century as the U.S. replaced Britain as the dominant "imperial" power in the area. Appealing to both scholars and general readers. Jay Freeman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 778 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1st edition (January 16, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393058263
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393058260
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 0.2 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (185 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #195,234 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

199 of 217 people found the following review helpful By Marc E. Nicholson on February 18, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Michael Oren's book is both scholarly and very entertaining. That's usually a difficult combination to achieve, but one made easier for him by the dearth of previous books comprehensively covering U.S. relations with the Middle East since 1776. So there are plenty of "wow's", "really's" and "heh, I never imagined that's" in this book. They make it a lot of fun. But, though they are entertaining, this is also a very serious book. The "gee-whiz" aspect merely reveals how little most of us knew about an American engagement with the Middle East which began well before the epoch when American oil drillers struck it rich in Saudi Arabia in the 1930s.

Those previous 150 years of history are well worth knowing. And they inform today, to include the fact that the current evangelical Christian romance with Israel dates not from the last 20 years or so, but has been a waxing and waning phenomenon for 150 years depending on the strength of religious revivalism in America. That insight alone, which takes up a considerable part of the book, makes it well worth reading.

The last fifth of the book is disappointing, but Mr. Oren is an honest man and in his preface practically tells you that it will be and that he really did not want to write it: it is the history of the Middle East from about 1950 on. He doesn't feel he has adequate (declassified government document) sources. It has a sort of breathless, once-over- lightly perfunctory approach suggesting he just wanted to get through it as quickly as possible. It also unhappily gives vent to two failures of objectivity on his part as an Israeli author who otherwise plays the history of Israeli/Arab conflicts remarkably straight: 1) his unqualified claim that the Israeli air attack on the U.S.
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117 of 128 people found the following review helpful By J. A Magill VINE VOICE on January 16, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Few fields have been as well plowed as that of Middle East studies. Indeed, the ever expanding shelf in the bookstore on the topic groans under the weight of a torrent of new works, many which might be charitably described as derivative of already existing work. What a thrill then when a new book appears covering otherwise undisturbed ground!

Michael Oren's excellent "Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East: 1776 to the Present" is such a book. Instead of covering familiar subjects, Mr. Oren offers an insightful study of an area few consider, America's relationship to the Middle East in the 19th Century. Many will surely wonder at how any author can squeeze more than 600 pages - not including footnotes and bibliography -- over a topic that you might suspect could be covered in scant pages. Such is the wonderful surprise that Oren offers. In gripping prose that will be familiar with those who have already read his definitive history of the Six Day War, Oren traces America's involvement in the Middle East and North Africa all the way back to the Revolutionary War period.

Philosophically and temperamentally committed to avoiding "old world entanglements" Thomas Jefferson, first as Washington's Secretary of State and then as President, confronts the question of what to do about American shipping seized by the petty north African Berber and Arab kingdoms. The Middle East a lucrative market, European states pay tribute to these states in exchange for "protection" a notion offensive to many early American statesman. Thus, having first resisted the creation of a standing navy, Jefferson reverses course in order to protect American shipping interests. Thus begins US involvement in the region.

The study of this period provides much data of interest.
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80 of 89 people found the following review helpful By Arthur Leonard on February 11, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Michael Oren's book presents essential information for anybody who wants to understand the background for America's current policies and involvement in the Middle East. It is presented from a particular point of view, naturally. Oren is an American-born historian who lives in Israel and, of course, identifies with the Jewish State. He is a military reserve officer there (as is most of the non-Orthodox adult male population) who has seen combat, and that has to color ones views, although given the historic disputatiousness of Israeli society, that doesn't necessarily dictate what those views will be. (We have to remember that Israel is a democracy in which there is lots of active dissent from the policies pursued by the government.) It is also an interesting datum that Oren opposed the U.S.'s current war in Iraq during the period prior to the invasion....

At any event, I found this book endlessly fascinating. Oren knows how to tell a good story, and there are plenty of good stories packed in here. I was fascinated by the account of how American oil companies first got a foothold in the Middle East, at a time when the U.S. State Department was, according to Oren, pretty much oblivious to the potential significance of such engagement. And Oren's accounts of the travails of American Protestant missionaries working in the 19th century Middle Eastern provinces of the Ottoman Empire are entertaining and instructive.

To me, the last chapter of the book, recounting the history from after the foundation of the state of Israel to the present, is a big let-down.
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