SOWING THE WIND: The Seeds of Conflict in the Middle East

John Keay, Author . Norton $28.95 (512p) ISBN 978-0-393-05849-9

This thorough and dense history of the Middle East from the crumbling of the Ottoman Empire through the Suez Crisis (roughly 1900–1960) is written with an eye toward the topical and with confidence that "narrative crammed with dramatic events and eloquent personae would surely contain its own commentary." The commentary of any narrative is determined by its content—by the sources and facts deemed worthy of inclusion. Keay's emphasis on the life stories and personality quirks of individuals impacting history recalls his bestselling The Great Arc as well as Peter Hopkirk's classic The Great Game. His choice of protagonists also follows the pattern of these books: usually Western (most often British) travelers, diplomats and entrepreneurs, from T.E. Lawrence to Kermit Roosevelt, the CIA's Middle East head who played a large role in overthrowing the shah of Iran in 1953. As the title implies, Keay blames these foreign trouble-makers and profit-seekers for "sowing... the seeds of conflict" in the region. This critique of the short-sighted colonial and mercantile policies of England, France and the U.S. is not a new one, but it is replete with fresh detail and thorough strategic analysis. It should be welcomed as an approachable and engaging introduction to a big and complex subject, but not mistaken for an expert's distillation. Keay freely admits his own naiveté, claiming to be a reader and a traveler, not a scholar. Thus, as can be expected, the chapters sometimes read like they've come right off the assembly line—packaged by a popular pen's formulaic recipe. 16 pages of b&w photos, maps. (Sept.)

Reviewed on: 08/04/2003
Release date: 09/01/2003
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 560 pages - 978-0-393-33508-8
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