A satisfying, uncluttered account that makes a welcome addition to the shelf of books on the Middle East.



Succinct overview of 12 people who have exerted significant influence on the fortunes of the Middle East since England invaded Egypt in 1882.

World Policy Journal editor emeritus Meyer and former CBS News producer Brysac (co-authors, Tournament of Shadows: The Great Game and the Race for Empire in Central Asia, 1999) dedicate a chapter each to individuals ranging from historical icons (Lawrence of Arabia) to current-day politicians (Paul Wolfowitz). They begin by profiling Evelyn Baring, Egypt’s unpopular British consul-general from 1883 to 1907, unaffectionately dubbed “The Great Bear” by his charges. Accounts of explorer Frederick Lugard, risk-taking diplomatic advisor Sir Mark Sykes and the former British civil commissioner for Baghdad, Arnold Wilson, follow. The book concludes with brief histories of former CIA operative Miles Copeland Jr. and Wolfowitz. Even with well-known subjects like Lawrence, Copeland and Wolfowitz, the authors keep things relatively fresh by spotlighting the key elements in familiar stories. Meyer and Brysac often draw links between historical events and current developments in the region. The passage on Wilson, for example, details an Iraqi insurgency that rose against the British in 1920 and unearths some eerie parallels with the 2006 uprising against the Allied forces. Similarly, they note that the Hashemite dynasty and the Baghdad Archaeological Museum, both established by Gertrude Bell, were destroyed many years after her death by (respectively) Saddam Hussein and the military invasion of Iraq. The authors close with an empathetic summary of the views expressed by present-day Iranians, neatly encapsulating the feelings of many Middle East citizens for America.

A satisfying, uncluttered account that makes a welcome addition to the shelf of books on the Middle East.

Pub Date: June 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-393-06199-4

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2008

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.


An engaging, casual history of librarians and libraries and a famous one that burned down.

In her latest, New Yorker staff writer Orlean (Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, 2011, etc.) seeks to “tell about a place I love that doesn’t belong to me but feels like it is mine.” It’s the story of the Los Angeles Public Library, poet Charles Bukowski’s “wondrous place,” and what happened to it on April 29, 1986: It burned down. The fire raged “for more than seven hours and reached temperatures of 2000 degrees…more than one million books were burned or damaged.” Though nobody was killed, 22 people were injured, and it took more than 3 million gallons of water to put it out. One of the firefighters on the scene said, “We thought we were looking at the bowels of hell….It was surreal.” Besides telling the story of the historic library and its destruction, the author recounts the intense arson investigation and provides an in-depth biography of the troubled young man who was arrested for starting it, actor Harry Peak. Orlean reminds us that library fires have been around since the Library of Alexandria; during World War II, “the Nazis alone destroyed an estimated hundred million books.” She continues, “destroying a culture’s books is sentencing it to something worse than death: It is sentencing it to seem as if it never happened.” The author also examines the library’s important role in the city since 1872 and the construction of the historic Goodhue Building in 1926. Orlean visited the current library and talked to many of the librarians, learning about their jobs and responsibilities, how libraries were a “solace in the Depression,” and the ongoing problems librarians face dealing with the homeless. The author speculates about Peak’s guilt but remains “confounded.” Maybe it was just an accident after all.

Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4018-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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