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A History of the Middle East

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A History of the Middle East , By Peter Mansfield. (New York: Penguin USA; Revised edition, 1992.) ISBN: 0-1401-2538-8

Reviewed by Rochelle Caviness - January 14, 2002

Peter Mansfield's prodigious work, A History of The Middle East provides a sweeping survey of Middle Eastern history from the time of Napoleon's invasion of Egypt, in 1798, until the start of the Gulf War in the 1990's. This work not only details the salient historical milestones of this period, but it also covers the political and social history of this volatile region. Mansfield is a former Middle Eastern diplomat and journalist, and he has written extensively on the Middle East, and he brings his detailed knowledge of the region to this narrative. This work is primarily a historical chronicle, rather than analytical work. However Mansfield does offer his personal opinions when it comes to discussing what the future might hold for the region, especially regarding the only democratic country in the region, Israel.

A History of The Middle East begins with a short introductory section that provides a general historical overview of Middle Eastern history and a geographical description of the region. This introduction also explores what the term Middle East means, and how the term came into being. It also describes what countries are included under that moniker, and how this has changed over time. Building upon this foundation, Mansfield embarks upon a detailed and compelling account of 200 years of middle eastern history. He provides a detailed survey of the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the long term impact that the Empire had on the political and social development of the Arab states. Mansfield also takes a thorough look at how the fall of the Ottoman Empire allowed Western colonial powers, especially Britain and France, to gain a foothold in the Middle East.

Throughout, Mansfield explains Middle Eastern history in terms of the political, economic, and social changes that have occurred in the region over time. He also explains the tremendous impact that religion has had on the region. Both in terms of how religion shaped and directed the political development of many Middle Eastern countries. He also shows how religion has largely determined how Muslim countries have chosen to interacted with non-Muslim countries. He expends considerable effort to detail how Western colonial involvement in the region, after World War I, laid the groundwork for many of the geo-political problems that now plague the region. He also details how Soviet and American foreign policy decisions have helped shaped the modern Middle East.

In addition, Mansfield also covers a wealth of social and economical topics, such as the rise of Arab Nationalism and Muslim fundamentalism. He also takes a detailed look at the political and economic effects that the discovery and exploitation of the Middle East oil reserves has had on the region and the world. He also details modern conflicts such as the Iran - Iraq War, the Gulf War, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Most important, he discusses the long term possibilities for peace in a region, both in terms of settling the Israeli and Palestinian 'question', and in terms of the interreligious, political and economic rivalries between the various Muslim countries that make up the bulk of the Middle East.

This book is clearly written, well organized, and provides a comprehensive overview of a contentious region, a region in which isolated conflicts have the potential of taking on a world wide significance. A History of The Middle East is well suited as introductory text on the Middle East for undergraduate students, and for readers who simply wish to gain a deeper appreciation and understanding of the Middle East.

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