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Levant: Splendour and Catastrophe on the Mediterranean Hardcover – 11 Nov 2010

4.4 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: John Murray (11 Nov. 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0719567076
  • ISBN-13: 978-0719567070
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 15.7 x 4.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 494,945 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


'Fascinating . . . the strengths of the book are colossal. Philip Mansel's knowledge of the history and culutre of these places is encyclopaedic; he has walked their streets, met the scions of their famous families and penetrated their private archives. His eye for detail is sharp; telling anecdotes are culled from memoirs of all kinds, and the sights and smells of each city are vividly conjured up. At the same time, major developments in political history are explained with clarity and precision.
To anyone who has read Mansel's Constantinople: City of the World's Desire, it will be sufficient to say: read this one too. To anyone who has not, I can only say: read both of them'

(Noel Malcolm, Sunday Telegraph)

'Excellent . . . thought-provoking . . . thoroughly researched . . . One of its strengths lies in the colourful quotations from letters, diaries and travel narratives' (Giles Milton, Literary Review)

'Philip Mansel's impressive return to the Middle East . . . Instead of composing an elegy on a once powerful civilisation, Mansel has given the Levantine world its chronicle, and restored its weight in history' (Jason Goodwin, Spectator)

'Elegiac' (Independent Christmas history round-up)

'With sober judgement but passionate feeling, Mansel has produced a work of formidable scholarship and subtlety, rich in colour, sights, personalities and horrifyingly abundant incident. Levant shows the destructivness of nationalism, offers precepts for the coexistence of Muslims, Christians and Jews and has wisdom and sensibility all of its own' (Richard Davenport-Hines, TLS)

'Philip Mansel's Levant . . . comes from the pen which, more sharply than any other, has delineated Istanbul. Here, with evocations of Smyrna, Alexandria and Beirut, all of which he knows well, Mansel gives us history, travel-writing and evocation of place with spare lack of sentimentality, but passionate intensity. The chapters on Beirut, in the light of what is continuing there to this sad hour, are especially poignant. Highly recommended' (A. N. Wilson, New Statesman)

'An engrossing, historical tapestry' (Philip Adair, Scotsman)

'I could scarcely put down this magnificent book, with its galloping narrative, its worldly analysis, sparkling anecdotes and its unforgettable cast of the decadent, the cosmopolitan and the cruel' (Simon Sebag-Montefiore, Financial Times)

'A highly enjoyable and intricately worked account of three great Mediterranean ports . . . [Mansel has] a sharp eye for detail and a deep understanding of the dynamics of traditional empires and societies' (The Economist)

'A masterly work . . . prodigious' (Independent)

'All three [ports, Beirut, Alexandria and Izmir] were remembered in vast amounts of memoirs and official documentation, which Mansel handles with his usual elegance and skill' (Guardian)

Book Description

The first English-language history of Beirut, Alexandria and Smyrna in the modern age

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
...to the existing small stock of books about the great Mediterranean port cities, a subject which I find fascinating (of relatively recent works, I have Mansel's own history of Constantinople from 1453 to 1924, Mark Mazower's 'Salonica: City Of Ghosts', Peter Ackroyd's idiosyncratic history of Venice, Jan Morris on Trieste and Robert Hughes on Barcelona.) Mansel has killed three birds with one stone by writing an interweaving modern history of Smyrna, Beirut and Alexandria and the result is splendid. The combination of straight factual history with anecdotes about the cities and their colourful characters, all against the backdrop of the declining Ottoman Empire, works very well and one's interest is sustained as Mansel switches from one to another as his narrative progresses. Moreover, the stories of Beirut and, above all, Alexandria, have topical interest given the political unrest in Lebanon and the recent uprising in Egypt. On the latter, the story of Mehmet Ali's dynasty, culminating in the military takeover of 1952 with its own resulting 'dynasty' lasting until only recently provides an excellent backstory to the current situation.

I cannot agree with the previous reviewer as this is by no means a specialist or excessively scholarly work (though it's clearly very well-researched and Mr. Mansel is evidently a scholar) and it can be read without any previous knowledge of the subject (one might want to check on the odd detail but that's easy enough these days with the aid of the Internet), though it certainly helps to have a prior interest in these once-magic Levantine cities. Actually, my only 'criticism' is a very mild one: the cover of the book bears a beautiful picture, but it is of none of the three cities in the book. It's Constantinople.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Being an avid traveller and a lover of historical books, this opus magna detailing in a compelling and engrossing way the history of three capital cities of the Mediterranean, was ideally suited for me, and definitely I was delighted by it.
Izmir, Alexandria and Beirut are important names in our minds of Mediterranean peoples and for some uncanny reasons all these three cities seem to be possessed by a similar genius loci, capable of instantly telling something even to the casual traveller. Their histories are masterfully narrated by the author, that often does not refrain from political comments and references to the contemporary age, that I found always to the point. A particular mention must be made of the author's style that, while quite dense, is always readable and logically organised. This is one of the rarest books that I found 100% in agreement with, as the events that shaped up often dramatically the lives of these three cities are always presented in a very convincing way, that leaves very little to different interpretations. I especially liked the easiness with which Mansel managed to describe a confused little war like the Balkans Wars of 1912-13. No mean feat at the light of the importance of this conflict as the catalyst of the Great War. A gorgeous book that must be recommended to everybody with an interest in the history of human endeav
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Format: Hardcover
I am not a professional historian, but rather someone interested in cultural history, cities, and travelling This was a book I could not put down - its narrative is strong, lively, full of fascinating human detail. I came to it via Philip Mansel's earlier study of Constantinople - and because of its wider reference to the whole Levant, found it even more absorbing. It certainly enhanced my understanding of the background to much of what is happening in the Eastern Mediterranean currently, and in that context, useful to read alongside Eugene Rogan's recent book, The Arabs.
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Format: Hardcover
And how beautiful it is. Not just the cover I might add but also the contents. Yes at times its a little hard going but I realised that I just had to know more about the Levant and also hoped to uncover just how and why so many racially and spiritually diverse people managed to live so long and so closely for their mutual benefit. This book delivers on so many levels.Philip Mansel has a massive depth of knowledge and unfolds his facts at all times with beautiful command of English and a self assurance that keeps one reading. Hundreds of useful items pop up along the way with famous people and their families mentioned as he moves through. His use of quotations is especially effective and at times he has a compelling almost tabloid gossip side which also works very effectively - describing Philby's reputation for instance as a "drunk and a bottom pincher". Even more than this he is not frightened to lay blame where he sees it and describes Gladstone's shelling of Alexandia as "authorising his own Egyptian atrocity" and Eden's foray in Suez as "Britain was doing in Egypt what it had waged two world wars to stop Germany doing in Europe" Interestingly nearly all of the politicians who entered into such follies paid the price electorally and I would be interested in his views of Blair's foray into Iraq. Ultimately of course he answers my question that such people did not live side by side forever. Yes, clever, enigmatic, powerful men built and allowed growth and tolerance - but only for a time and one by one even more powerful forces in all the cities he describes ensured their separation along religious, national, political or any other suitable divisor! Though the answer I sought was a disappointment this is the last word that could be used to describe this excellent work.
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