- Paperback: 320 pages
- Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (May 11, 2004)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 037570812X
- ISBN-13: 978-0375708121
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 26 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,149,936 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Parting the Desert: The Creation of the Suez Canal Paperback – May 11, 2004
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“Karabell writes with the authority and power of a gifted arabist…an entirely splendid book.” --Simon Winchester, The New York Times Book Review
“Karabell tells the story of a crucial development in the history of the modern world with economy and lively grace.” --Los Angeles Times
“Zachary Karabell reminds us in this concise and pleasantly digressive history [that] the waterway’s creation stirred great passions in the 19th century.”–The Economist
“Read Karabell’s wonderfully written book to remember the dreams people had about the Middle East–and what became of them.”– Newsweek
"A fascinating saga: of diplomacy involving primarily the French and the Egyptians, of raising gigantic sums of money, of overcoming massive geographical and technological obstacles long before the invention of mechanized earth-moving equipment. . . . The business aspects sometimes seem as if they are ripped from last month's headlines." —Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
“A rich and engaging narrative of one of the greatest engineering feats of the nineteenth century [with] resonance beyond its time.” —Alexander Stille, author of The Future of the Past
“An absorbing, well-written narrative. . . . [Karabell gives] dimension to the personalities, eccentricities and strengths of key figures. . . . [A] fascinating account.” —San Antonio Express-News
“Karabell tells his story elegantly . . . distilling a large cast spread across several countries into a manageable one. . . . A gifted crafter of sentences, Karabell seldom wastes a sentence as he offers one well-chosen anecdote after another that sheds light on the greater drama of this important and historic construction project.” —Charleston Gazette
“A fascinating, epic, elegiac story. Zachary Karabell’s account of the political intrigue, quixotic dreamers, and engineering genius that led to the construction of the Suez Canal vividly brings to life one of the underappreciated marvels of the modern world. The book is a triumph of history and art.” —Bruce Feiler, author of Abraham: A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths
“A tale shot through with . . . unexpected twists. . . . Karabell tells his story concisely and with narrative skill, peppering the account with many wry anecdotes.” —The Jerusalem Post
“Engrossing. . . . As accessible and vividly written as a novel. . . . It maintains a page-turning pace. Superbly researched, it is a volume to keep.” —The Sunday Times
“Zachary Karabell has written an absorbing narrative. . . . [He] traces with skill the complex diplomatic and engineering feat. . . . [and] prompts reflections . . . about the futility of human effort and the evanescence of glory.” —Times Literary Supplement
“Excellent and well-written. . . . A riveting story, and Karabell tells it handsomely. . . . An exceptional book, one of the best of its kind I have read. . . . A splendid account of a great project.” —Sunday Herald
“Well-researched and very well-written . . . The tens of thousands of the Egyptian fellahin peasantry who dug the canal . . . did indeed part the desert, and their story cannot have been better told than by this fine book.” —The Sunday Telegraph (London)
“Fascinating. . . . Elegiac. . . . Parting the Desert is an excellent story, skillfully told. Even those who are bored to tears by canals, whose eyes glaze over at the first mention of engineering, will find themselves, as this reader did, racing through it.” —Justin Marozzi, Literary Review
From the Inside Flap
Award-winning historian Zachary Karabell tells the epic story of the greatest engineering feat of the nineteenth century--the building of the Suez Canal-- and shows how it changed the world.
The dream was a waterway that would unite the East and the West, and the ambitious, energetic French diplomat and entrepreneur Ferdinand de Lesseps was the mastermind behind the project. Lesseps saw the project through fifteen years of financial challenges, technical obstacles, and political intrigues. He convinced ordinary French citizens to invest their money, and he won the backing of Napoleon III and of Egypt's prince Muhammad Said. But the triumph was far from perfect: the construction relied heavily on forced labor and technical and diplomatic obstacles constantly threatened completion. The inauguration in 1869 captured the imagination of the world. The Suez Canal was heralded as a symbol of progress that would unite nations, but its legacy is mixed. Parting the Desert is both a transporting narrative and a meditation on the origins of the modern Middle East.
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My mistake was approaching this book as if it would read similar to David McCullough's Path Between the Seas. It does not. There are similarities but do not make the same mistake I made but looking for a comparison.
As we are going through the Suez Canal soon, I wanted more knowledge. I did get the knowledge I desired but it took a long time for me to get through this book. Would I recommend this to someone interested in the Suez Canal? Yes.
Unfortunately, I got only the former.
Author Karabell spends most of the book on the history of Egypt in the 19th century focusing on political relationships between France, Turkey, Ferdinand De Lesseps (FDL), and Egypt. FDL, France's emperor Napoleon, and the three leaders of Egypt in the mid 1850s are the major characters. Their interplay and fate is Karabell's story.
FDL was driven to be someone in his time, and the Suez Canal made him someone in the late 1800s. It was his political skill, connections, and drive to avoid failure which brought the project to fruition. What I hadn't known, and was well covered by Karabell was the fate of the canal -- considering what country opposed it from the beginning to the end (read the book to know more).
What I didn't get from this book was any detailed sense of the technical details of the creation of the canal. This was a main interest because I am an engineer. I doubt Karabell spent 1,000 words in 200+ pages on technical details. The other thing I didn't get from this book was a useful map to follow what was done where. Yes, there is an apparently complete overall map. But it's printed in a non-contrasty way which makes it hard to read anything. I used Google Maps to find places which were mentioned in the book about which I was reading.
In summary, this is a useful book -- worth reading for the political context. But it's nearly silent about technology and hard to follow without a good map. Minus 1 star for each defect.
Thank you to Zachary Karabell for teaching while entertaining in such a beautiful piece of literature! His name will surely be added to my list of favorites!
Bitter Lake, I was fascinated by the references to them. The back and forth dialogue of the history was a bit wordy.