- Paperback: 344 pages
- Publisher: Cambridge University Press; 2nd edition (May 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1107615747
- ISBN-13: 978-1107615748
- Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 1.5 x 22.8 cm
- Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 918,710 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- See Complete Table of Contents
A History of Modern Libya Paperback – 24 May 2012
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'Much more than a political, chronological or narrative review in 200 pages, this work effectively delivers a sympathetic, nevertheless critical, thorough and authoritative analysis … Highly recommended.' Choice
'Vandewalle, an associate professor of government at Dartmouth, is recognized as one of the most knowledgeable students of Libya, and his A History of Modern Libya does not disappoint.' Middle East Quarterly
'There has clearly been no lack of studies on Libya and its leader over the years. The book under review, however, has the advantage of placing developments after 1969 in perspective relative to the country's early history: it shows how Qadhafi's apparent dramatic and idiosyncratic political ideas can be seen as a logical conclusion of Libya's earlier weakness or failure as a state. Emphasizing economic structures and policies, the book places these into a political, ideological, and structural context that makes it an excellent and up-to-date analytical introduction to the history of this country, which has had an impact so much larger than its size.' International Journal of Middle East Studies
In the wake of civil war and Qadhafi's demise, Dirk Vandewalle updates his classic study of Libya to trace events since 2005. These were the years that Qadhafi came in from the cold and was courted by the west. At home, though, his people were disillusioned, and economic liberalization came too late to forestall revolution. In an epilogue, the author reflects upon Qadhafi's premiership and the legacy that he leaves behind.See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
The history is less one of relating events and then interpreting their consequences and significance. Rather the book is most weighted to the author's views on Libya with relatively little historical underpinning. This should not necessarily detract from the validity of his conclusions but one is left with the feeling that a little more "proof" would be welcome. The book would have benefited enormously from more detail about the change in the economic and social life and structures in Libya. It would also have been improved by at least a few graphics (population growth, GDP per head, trade balance, oil production and prices etc). This would have meant one could avoid ponderous repetition of the same observations.
Finally the book could have done with some professional editing. There is far too much repetition and loose structure and (perhaps this is a little pedantic) but ponderous verbosity along with the to this, British ear, the wrong use of verbs (e.g. to augur).
In short I have to respect the author's grasp of his subject but am of the opinion that editing and serious peer review would have allowed the writer to shine more brightly and enabled the reader an easier passage.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
I know quite a lot of this history as Libya was my second home for years but I feel a bit neglected when the book tells nothing about the people of this region.
This is very much a "present-oriented" account of Libya's history: everything presented in the book is very clearly intended to help explain the situation in Libya now. This is very natural, but it can be pushed too far. The Ottoman period (1553-1911) rates a few paragraphs; the Italian period (1911-1945), ten pages; negotiations to create the Libyan state, 8 pages; the monarchy (1951-1969), 21 pages; and the Qadhafi regime, 133 pages. Some readers will find this acceptable, although in my opinion, in order for this to work one really needs to be a succinct writer.
It seems to me that information is presented in a confusing and repetitive way. Despite having only read short articles about Libya's history (like the Area Handbook for Libya), I never once read anything at all in this book that surprised me. Worse, I was puzzled as ever about the attitudes Libyans had toward their newly-deposed leader.
One problem is, Vanderwalle presents Qadhafi (probably with good reason) as the central, and almost only, political actor in the Jamahiriyya (1969-2011); as such, he's arbitrary and original--like he could have done anything, and picked this. But Qadhafi was a product of, and continued to be a product of, his time and place. His framing of the great Arab struggle probably was chosen to resonate with younger Libyans. And yet, in early 2011, a revolution toppled his state and he was killed in the fighting. Why did this happen? We are advised that "tangible sign[s] that internal dissatisfaction was [...] at a breaking point" (p.138) were appearing, but seldom what those actually were. What led some Libyans to defend the Jamahiriyya to the death, and others kill their neighbors in order to destroy it? This book offers little insight,
I recommend the book by Anna Baldinetti (although this will be difficult or costly for most readers) or "Divided we stand" (see below for references).
SOURCES & ADDITIONAL READING
Anna Baldinetti, The Origins of the Libyan Nation: Colonial Legacy, Exile and the Emergence of a New Nation-State, Routledge (2014)
Helen Chapin Metz (editor), Libya : A Country Study (Area Handbook Series)(4th ed), Government Printing Office (1987) -- available in many places for free online
"Divided We Stand: Libya’s Enduring Conflicts," International Crisis Group (14 Sep 2012) -- available for free online at ICG's website
Even on such limited terms, the book fails in a number of ways. First, Vandewalle has an odd habit of not defining terms that a reader of such a general history might find useful. For example, he refers often to the Sublime Porte -- a term that a general student of the Middle East and especially of the Ottoman Empire ought to know, certainly, but probably not familiar to the general reader. Another example is the Bab al-Aziziyya, which the author defines on page 150, but which he began using on page 121 (without any hint that a definition was forthcoming).
Second, and more importantly, the book lacks a surprising amount of detail. We are informed that a small group accomplished a coup against King Idris in September, 1969, but we are told almost nothing else: where did the coup happen? How did it happen? Perhaps a palace was stormed, or military installations seized? We are not even told of the fate of King Idris -- was he executed, banished, imprisoned, or left alone? These are all natural questions when dealing with something as momentous as the coup that changed Libya from a shaky kingdom to a radical, terrorist-sponsoring anti-state.
We are informed that two Libyan planes were shot down over the Gulf of Sirt after some kind of dispute. What was the nature of the dispute? Again, we are not told. And very frequently, as with the Gulf of Sirt incident and the Lockerbie bombing, Vandewalle makes allusion to the matter long before offering what scant detail he does provide, meaning the reader must already have some basic background or be left with no means of evaluating the validity of the author's interpretation.
As to that last point, another clear weakness of the book is that the footnotes are extremely sparse. Generalization is far more forgivable where the author directs the conscientious student to further information. That said, this book is a slim 206 pages of text -- the author easily could have added more helpful material without making the book unwieldly.
One final, important weakness is that the author frequently jumps around chronologically, resulting in a confused narrative. Again, the author assumes too much familiarity on the part of the reader, which familiarity makes little sense given the scope of the book.
EDIT: I recommend Libya: From Colony to Independence, by Ronald Bruce St. John, for readers interested in the subject.
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