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A History of Modern Libya

3.3 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0521615549
ISBN-10: 0521615542
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Editorial Reviews


""Much more than a political, chronological or narrative review in 200 pages, this work effectively delivers a sympathetic, nevertheless critical, thorough and authoritative analysis.[...] Highly recommended." - Choice

"Vandewalle, an associate professor of government at Dartmouth, is recognized as one of the most knowledgeable students of Libya, and his A History of Modern Libya does not disappoint." - Middle East Quarterly

"There has clearly been no lack of studies on Libya and its leader over the years. The book under review, however, has the advantage of placing developments after 1969 in perspective relative to the country's early history: it shows how Qadhafi's apparent dramatic and idiosyncratic political ideas can be seen as a logical conclusion of Libya's earlier weakness or failure as a state. Emphasizing economic structures and policies, the book places these into a political, ideological, and structural context that makes it an excellent and up-to-date analytical introduction to the history of this country, which has had an impact so much larger than its size." - International Journal of Middle East Studies

Book Description

Dirk Vandewalle offers a lucid and comprehensive account of Libya's past, and corrects some of the misunderstandings about its present. This book will be welcomed by scholars and students of North Africa, the Middle East, and by those who are visiting and doing business in the region.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 274 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press (February 13, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521615542
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521615549
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #526,059 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This is a concise history of modern Libya, with token background from the Ottoman period, slightly more detail from the Italian colonial period, and the vast majority of its focus on the monarchy (1951-1969) and the Qadhafi period (1969 to present). The author deals almost exclusively with political and economic history, with very little attention to cultural or religious themes.

Even on such limited terms, the book fails in a number of ways. First, Vandewalle has an odd habit of not defining terms that a reader of such a general history might find useful. For example, he refers often to the Sublime Porte -- a term that a general student of the Middle East and especially of the Ottoman Empire ought to know, certainly, but probably not familiar to the general reader. Another example is the Bab al-Aziziyya, which the author defines on page 150, but which he began using on page 121 (without any hint that a definition was forthcoming).

Second, and more importantly, the book lacks a surprising amount of detail. We are informed that a small group accomplished a coup against King Idris in September, 1969, but we are told almost nothing else: where did the coup happen? How did it happen? Perhaps a palace was stormed, or military installations seized? We are not even told of the fate of King Idris -- was he executed, banished, imprisoned, or left alone? These are all natural questions when dealing with something as momentous as the coup that changed Libya from a shaky kingdom to a radical, terrorist-sponsoring anti-state.

We are informed that two Libyan planes were shot down over the Gulf of Sirt after some kind of dispute. What was the nature of the dispute? Again, we are not told.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I teetered between a C and D rating for this book. It offers a decent overview of contemporary Libya with a brief background on its colonial experience. Of particular interest was the detailed manner in which it examined Libya's oil and economic sectors during this time period. The book cover art is a little misleading. At first glance, the flag evokes images of the rebellion against the Gaddafi regime and the book has supposedly been updated to include these events; said updates however are so brief and lacking in their detail that they might as well not be included in the book. None-the-less history of course does its own job in helping the reader to understand the deeper roots of the more current unrest and these roots may be found within these pages. Unfortunately, the book itself is a bit of a clunky read; and reads as though the author took a number of independent papers on the subject and jammed them together in order to quickly create a book on Libya. In doing so, the author misses detailed examination of crucial aspects of Libyan history, particularly in the area of its foreign policy and within its military adventurism in neighboring Chad and Sudan. These conflicts are almost completely absent from the book as is much of Libya's other intra-African political interactions. The author simply was not a suitable choice to write a comprehensive history of the country and would have been a better choice for an examination of Libya's modern economic and structures and how they influenced internal political and social discourse. Worth a read, but fails to stand by itself.
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Format: Paperback
(Disclaimer: the author of this review has no professional expertise in the Middle East. This is only a review of a book--in particular, the 2nd edition published in 2012)

This is very much a "present-oriented" account of Libya's history: everything presented in the book is very clearly intended to help explain the situation in Libya now. This is very natural, but it can be pushed too far. The Ottoman period (1553-1911) rates a few paragraphs; the Italian period (1911-1945), ten pages; negotiations to create the Libyan state, 8 pages; the monarchy (1951-1969), 21 pages; and the Qadhafi regime, 133 pages. Some readers will find this acceptable, although in my opinion, in order for this to work one really needs to be a succinct writer.

It seems to me that information is presented in a confusing and repetitive way. Despite having only read short articles about Libya's history (like the Area Handbook for Libya), I never once read anything at all in this book that surprised me. Worse, I was puzzled as ever about the attitudes Libyans had toward their newly-deposed leader.

One problem is, Vanderwalle presents Qadhafi (probably with good reason) as the central, and almost only, political actor in the Jamahiriyya (1969-2011); as such, he's arbitrary and original--like he could have done anything, and picked this. But Qadhafi was a product of, and continued to be a product of, his time and place. His framing of the great Arab struggle probably was chosen to resonate with younger Libyans. And yet, in early 2011, a revolution toppled his state and he was killed in the fighting. Why did this happen? We are advised that "tangible sign[s] that internal dissatisfaction was [...] at a breaking point" (p.
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