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Empires of the Sand: The Struggle for Mastery in the Middle East, 1789-1923

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Empires of the Sand offers a bold and comprehensive reinterpretation of the struggle for mastery in the Middle East during the long nineteenth century (1789-1923). This book denies primacy to Western imperialism in the restructuring of the region and attributes equal responsibility to regional powers. Rejecting the view of modern Middle Eastern history as an offshoot of gl Empires of the Sand offers a bold and comprehensive reinterpretation of the struggle for mastery in the Middle East during the long nineteenth century (1789-1923). This book denies primacy to Western imperialism in the restructuring of the region and attributes equal responsibility to regional powers. Rejecting the view of modern Middle Eastern history as an offshoot of global power politics, the authors argue that the main impetus for the developments of this momentous period came from the local actors. Ottoman and Western imperial powers alike are implicated in a delicate balancing act of manipulation and intrigue in which they sought to exploit regional and world affairs to their greatest advantage. Backed by a wealth of archival sources, the authors refute the standard belief that Europe was responsible for the destruction of the Ottoman Empire and the region's political unity. Instead, they show how the Hashemites played a decisive role in shaping present Middle Eastern boundaries and in hastening the collapse of Ottoman rule. Similarly, local states and regimes had few qualms about seeking support and protection from the infidel powers they had vilified whenever their interests so required. Karsh and Karsh see a pattern of pragmatic cooperation and conflict between the Middle East and the West during the past two centuries, rather than a clash of civilizations. Such a vision affords daringly new ways of viewing the Middle East's past as well as its volatile present.


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Empires of the Sand offers a bold and comprehensive reinterpretation of the struggle for mastery in the Middle East during the long nineteenth century (1789-1923). This book denies primacy to Western imperialism in the restructuring of the region and attributes equal responsibility to regional powers. Rejecting the view of modern Middle Eastern history as an offshoot of gl Empires of the Sand offers a bold and comprehensive reinterpretation of the struggle for mastery in the Middle East during the long nineteenth century (1789-1923). This book denies primacy to Western imperialism in the restructuring of the region and attributes equal responsibility to regional powers. Rejecting the view of modern Middle Eastern history as an offshoot of global power politics, the authors argue that the main impetus for the developments of this momentous period came from the local actors. Ottoman and Western imperial powers alike are implicated in a delicate balancing act of manipulation and intrigue in which they sought to exploit regional and world affairs to their greatest advantage. Backed by a wealth of archival sources, the authors refute the standard belief that Europe was responsible for the destruction of the Ottoman Empire and the region's political unity. Instead, they show how the Hashemites played a decisive role in shaping present Middle Eastern boundaries and in hastening the collapse of Ottoman rule. Similarly, local states and regimes had few qualms about seeking support and protection from the infidel powers they had vilified whenever their interests so required. Karsh and Karsh see a pattern of pragmatic cooperation and conflict between the Middle East and the West during the past two centuries, rather than a clash of civilizations. Such a vision affords daringly new ways of viewing the Middle East's past as well as its volatile present.

30 review for Empires of the Sand: The Struggle for Mastery in the Middle East, 1789-1923

  1. 5 out of 5

    Douglas Berry

    As I've said before, reading history is much like exploring a mansion. Every new room has its treasures, and a few new doors to explore. I got this book by studying the Eastern Roman, or Byzantine Empire. That led me to the Ottoman Empire, and to the details of their long collapse, so brilliantly explained in Sean McMeekin's "The Ottoman Endgame." But that book focused mostly on the inner workings of the Ottoman court. Thre failed attempts at modernization, the string of weak Sultans, the rise of As I've said before, reading history is much like exploring a mansion. Every new room has its treasures, and a few new doors to explore. I got this book by studying the Eastern Roman, or Byzantine Empire. That led me to the Ottoman Empire, and to the details of their long collapse, so brilliantly explained in Sean McMeekin's "The Ottoman Endgame." But that book focused mostly on the inner workings of the Ottoman court. Thre failed attempts at modernization, the string of weak Sultans, the rise of nationalist groups, and the near Hollywood career arc of Mustafa Kemel, who rose from dismissed Army officer to being the first president of the Turkish Republic. Karsh's book brings a very different view. More than half the Ottoman state was occupied by Arabic-speaking peoples, and the long decline of the "Sick Man of Europe" led to a near comedy of ambitious Arab leaders who sought, either inside the framework of the Ottoman state or outside it, to carve empires of their own. A common theme is the utter inability of the European powers to understand Arabia, Egypt, and the Levant. Tim,e and again, some Emir would make grand promises to England and France, get all the aid promised, and then show nothing for the investment. This was not an easy book. Karsh has an amazing attention to detail which will at times have you flipping back pages or looking places or people up on Wikipedia. But if you want a better understanding of how the modern Middle East Came to be, I can not endorse this book with any more vigor.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Yunis Esa

    I wish that the author dropped the first section of the book and renamed the book The fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Hashemite Empire,because that was focus of the book.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Desiree

    I bought this book in 2002 and put it down after 50 pages. Now after 11 years I gave it a new chance. What is positive about the book is that the Karsh couple seem to have done a good job researching many archives and working their way through a number of secondary sources (French, British, Arabic and Turkish studies). The book gave me the impression of being 2 Books put together into one. The book starts with Napoleons campaign to Egypt and the Ottoman Empire's reaction and Egyptian's Muhammad Al I bought this book in 2002 and put it down after 50 pages. Now after 11 years I gave it a new chance. What is positive about the book is that the Karsh couple seem to have done a good job researching many archives and working their way through a number of secondary sources (French, British, Arabic and Turkish studies). The book gave me the impression of being 2 Books put together into one. The book starts with Napoleons campaign to Egypt and the Ottoman Empire's reaction and Egyptian's Muhammad Ali's socalled "Imperial Dream" - it seems evident in the book that for the authors "Imperial Dreams" of various parties is the only reason on creating the Middle-Eastern map. Then, for nearly 90 pages the book focuses on the causes of the many Turko-European wars and crisis which in the end lead to WWI and the final push to the Porte's demise. For me those where interesting 90 pages to read, but should have been part of another book. It is known that the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire resulted in Arab States on the Arab Peninsula. So the European conflicts where an intersting, but unnecessary extra. Main focus of the book's third part is the Hashemite family's quest for an empire, any empire. Again the authors talk of "Imperial Dreams" and emphasise that the former Ottoman subjects of Arab origin never had developed any national feelings, whilst the Zionist movement dreamt of a Jewish State. This is a rather Eurocentric view to my concern, as Jews who too were subjects to the Ottomans never thought of setting up a Jewish state themselves either. Also the impact of the expulsion of the Hashemits and the Rashidis by the Salafist Al-Sauds is not considered by the Karshs. In some parts the reading was a little tiresome, especially when I had the feeling I was beeing persuaded to see the Arabs as ignorant and ruthless eager for fame and Empires. Very often the word "Infidel" is mentioned, as if all Muslims only see Westerners (European and American) as such. At one step it is claimed, Napoleon wanted to destroy the Ottoman Empire, which I highly doubt. I gave this book one more star than it deserves because I have gained some new information on Eurpe pre-WWI and on local Middle-Eastern players. Also, there is no possibility to give a half-star. The book lacks maps which are essential studying the change of borders during conflicts and wars which was frustrating throughout reading about discussed places. The book gave me in parts the impression on beeing written to serve Zionist propaganda. I cannot recommend this book to those seeking a sound introduction to the Middle Eastern history of the begin of the 20th century.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Lucas

    Very intriguing. I was entranced by the narrative sewn together by this duo, and I learned a great deal from my reading of it. I think the Karshes lean a little too far in the opposite direction from the mainstream, but that is not necessarily a bad thing, it expands horizons even when it fails. The responses that the book has received are quite weak, which makes me think they are on to something. One thing is for sure, the tendency for people of the Middle East to blame outside factors for thei Very intriguing. I was entranced by the narrative sewn together by this duo, and I learned a great deal from my reading of it. I think the Karshes lean a little too far in the opposite direction from the mainstream, but that is not necessarily a bad thing, it expands horizons even when it fails. The responses that the book has received are quite weak, which makes me think they are on to something. One thing is for sure, the tendency for people of the Middle East to blame outside factors for their own misdeeds and failures is a dangerous pathology. Unfortunately, that message will be a hard pill for them to swallow coming from a couple of Israelis.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Broc

    Even if one does not accept the central premise that the current makeup of the Near East is largely a result of local political and "national" forces rather than the result of Western imposition, it is an excellent discussion of the many other factors that also contributed the map as it currently exists. At the its best it is an excellent discussion of how the West largely created the map largely in response to the will of those in power in the region. Even if one does not accept the central premise that the current makeup of the Near East is largely a result of local political and "national" forces rather than the result of Western imposition, it is an excellent discussion of the many other factors that also contributed the map as it currently exists. At the its best it is an excellent discussion of how the West largely created the map largely in response to the will of those in power in the region.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Richard Willis

    There's an interesting premise behind this book, and one that cannot be wholly discarded. It's in an episodal format, rather than a single narrative, but I feel that this was the best way to present the information: piece by piece, as it related to the subjects. There's an interesting premise behind this book, and one that cannot be wholly discarded. It's in an episodal format, rather than a single narrative, but I feel that this was the best way to present the information: piece by piece, as it related to the subjects.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Ghada Arafat

    Very selective when it comes to using primary resources. At fist it seems like a great book with new ideas but unfotunatly for someone how knows a lot about the Middle East it does not bring anything new. For new readers about the ME do not start with this book.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Jack

    I highly recommend reading this one. An in-depth study on the Ottoman Empire and its dissolutoin to the states we have now. A bit high level in many areas, but overall a very good read.

  9. 4 out of 5

    F

    very good

  10. 4 out of 5

    Brian

    The premise of this book shouldn't be controversial. The rulers of the Middle East were just as greedy as the Western Powers. The desire for power and riches is universal across the world. The premise of this book shouldn't be controversial. The rulers of the Middle East were just as greedy as the Western Powers. The desire for power and riches is universal across the world.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Arlian Sorkal

    very good

  12. 5 out of 5

    Iqbal Latif

    Middle Easterners are responsible for their own fate. They created their own modern existence. "Western Guilt" is not a historical reality. Middle Easterners are responsible for their own fate. They created their own modern existence. "Western Guilt" is not a historical reality.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    Before you commit to a view of middle eastern politics, read this history.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Ekul

  15. 4 out of 5

    Andy Biggs

  16. 5 out of 5

    Kenzie

  17. 4 out of 5

    Alexander Wood

  18. 4 out of 5

    Vincent Fahy

  19. 5 out of 5

    Brian

  20. 5 out of 5

    Cameron

  21. 4 out of 5

    Willliam

  22. 4 out of 5

    Amanda

  23. 5 out of 5

    A Orley

  24. 4 out of 5

    Josef Kropotkin

  25. 5 out of 5

    Joey

  26. 4 out of 5

    Matthew Kelsey

  27. 5 out of 5

    Borhsarchives

  28. 4 out of 5

    James Merante

  29. 5 out of 5

    Karl

  30. 5 out of 5

    Jordan

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