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Kingmakers: The Invention of the Modern Middle Eastby Karl E Meyer
Synopses & Reviews
Kingmakers is the story of how the modern Middle East came to be, told through the lives of the Britons and Americans who shaped it. Some are famous (Lawrence of Arabia and Gertrude Bell); others infamous (Harry St. John Philby, father of Kim); some forgotten (Sir Mark Sykes, Israel's godfather, and A. T. Wilson, the territorial creator of Iraq); some controversial (the CIA's Miles Copeland and the Pentagon's Paul Wolfowitz). All helped enthrone rulers in a region whose very name is an Anglo-American invention. As a bonus, we meet the British Empire's power couple, Lord and Lady Lugard (Flora Shaw): she named Nigeria, he ruled it; she used the power of the Times of London to attempt a regime change in the gold-rich Transvaal. The narrative is character-driven, and the aim is to restore to life the colorful figures who for good or ill gave us the Middle East in which Americans are enmeshed today.
"'Eminent Imperialists' might be a better title for this sprightly episodic history of Anglo-American meddling in the Middle East, from the 1882 British invasion of Egypt to the current Iraq War, told through profiles of the officials who spearheaded those policies. Journalists Meyer and Brysac (Tournament of Shadows) spotlight well-known, flamboyant figures like T.E. Lawrence ('of Arabia') and British Arabist Gertrude Bell. But they focus on unsung toilers in the trenches of imperial rule like A.T. Wilson, the British colonial administrator whose idea it was to cobble Iraq together out of three fractious Ottoman provinces, and Kermit Roosevelt, the CIA agent who choreographed the 1953 ouster of Iranian prime minister Mohammed Mossadeq. Policy continuities — securing the approaches to India and access to oil — sometimes get overshadowed by the authors' biographical approach, but in a sense that's the point. Their imperialism is marked by idiosyncrasy, improvisation, unforeseen circumstances and unintended — usually tragic — consequences. Policy was very much driven by the personalities who constructed it: their Orientalist enthusiasms, knee-jerk assumptions of Anglo-Saxon racial superiority, arcane Straussian precepts and stubborn maverick streaks loom as large as cold geostrategic calculations. The result is a colorful study of empire as a very human endeavor. 30 illus., 2 maps. (June)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Book News Annotation:
Meyer (editor emeritus, World Policy Journal) and Brysac (a former documentary producer at CBS News) explore the history of the Middle East through the biographies of Westerners who have played significant roles in its political development. Among the people profiled in individual chapters: Evelyn Baring, the British consul-general of Egypt from 1883 to 1907; Frederick Lugard, Governor-General of Nigeria who had served in the Afghan War of 1879-1880 and the Sudan campaign of 1884-1885; Mark Sykes, the British politician forever associated with the Sykes-Picot Agreement; A.T. Wilson, the British colonial administrator of Mesopotamia (Iraq) during and after World War I; Gertrude Bell, the British colonial administrator credited with inciting the Arab revolt against the Ottomans and with creating the Hashemite dynasty of Iraq and Jordan; Lawrence of Arabia, who worked with Bell on both of those tasks; Kermit Roosevelt, the CIA agent principally involved in overthrowing Iranian Prime Minister Mossadegh and installing the Shah in 1953; and Paul Wolfowitz, who helped engineer the US invasion and occupation of Iraq while working under Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Annotation ©2009 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
A brilliant narrative history tracing today's troubles back to grandiose imperial overreach of Great Britain and the United States.
About the Author
Shareen Blair Brysac, formerly a prize-winning documentary producer at CBS News, is the author of Resisting Hitler and co-author of Tournament of Shadows and Kingmakers with Karl E. Meyer. The couple lives in New York and Weston, Connecticut.Karl E. Meyer has written extensively on foreign affairs as a staff member of the New York Times and the Washington Post.
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