American Sheikhs: Two Families, Four Generations, and the Story of America’s Influence in the Middle East

Brian VanDeMark. Prometheus, $25 (256p) ISBN 978-1-61614-476-0
VanDeMark, an associate professor of American diplomatic history at the Naval Academy and coauthor of Robert McNamara’s In Retrospect, offers an enlightening history centered on the American University of Beirut and its influence in the Middle East. In 1855, missionaries Daniel Bliss and his wife, Abby, left Boston for a new life in the Middle East. Seven years after their arrival in Beirut, wealthy New York businessman William E. Dodge teamed with Bliss to raise funds for the creation of a Syrian Protestant College, later renamed the American University of Beirut. Over four generations and 131 years, the Bliss and Dodge families led the university, making AUB into the pre-eminent symbol of American culture and values in the region, and an integral part of life in Lebanon, a country whose diversity of cultures made it a Middle Eastern melting pot. By the 1950s, graduates were assuming leadership positions globally, but the school was vulnerable during the bloody 1970s civil war, when “Beirut became a writhing viper’s nest of rival militias....” Setting the university against the backdrop of such conflicts and political power struggles, VanDeMark’s closing chapters skillfully document post-9/11 anti-Americanism in the Middle East. Yet “AUB still promotes moderation and understanding” as antidotes to extremism. (Jan. 24)
Reviewed on: 10/31/2011
Release date: 01/01/2012
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