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.