The story of the battle to gain power over the River Nile in Egypt at the end of the 19th century, complete with a title that neatly capitalizes on the current news media’s hunger for anything that could be described as a “jihad.”
Using richly descriptive language and dramatic pacing, Green, a graduate student at Harvard, lays out a turbulent chapter in African history. The subtitle is somewhat misleading—no parallels are directly drawn with current turbulent events in the Middle East, although they will doubtless form in the minds of most readers as they progress through Green’s text. The author begins by briefly outlining the central figures, which is useful since the events fly past at breakneck speed. The figure who causes a domino effect of spectacular events is Egypt’s autocratic leader Khedive Pasha, who amassed enormous debts and alienated himself from his people. Green traces the subsequent invasion by British troops, as well as the anger and hostility of Muslims who suddenly found themselves under British rule. While depicting these events, Green also expands on the key figures whose actions caused seismic shifts in the country’s fortunes, creating fully formed portraits of characters such as British military man Charles Gordon and the leader of the Egyptian revolt, Colonel Ahmed Urabi. Green barely pauses for breath as he delineates how Urabi came to issue the jihad against the British, and he reveals facts that may seem strange to Westerners—such as that many Muslims believed that the passing of a comet in 1882 would have great impact on the fortunes of the Islamic community.
A vivid history presented in a style that has more in common with epic movies than with most historical texts.