on 2 May 2005
The beauty and importance of this book lies in its timeliness. Planned before the events of 2001, it appears now, when the question of the Middle East demands a wider understanding of a situation with all the complexity of the forces in place at the beginning of the Thirty Years War. It fulfils the need for an authoritative source available to all.
Coming within a few months of Robert Fisk's eagerly awaited book on The Great War for Civilisation and accompanied by a companion volume on 100 Myths about the Middle East, this book provides a framework for examining the problem in all its dimensions.
The book is logically structured to cover the history of the region and the varied and often contradictory dimensions that the region can be studied in. It starts by proposing that a study of the languages of the area is a necessary but not sufficient condition for understanding of the region. It goes on to analyse the ideological, political, economic, sociological and military aspects of the problem along with the legacy of colonialism and the proxy conflicts of the cold war period.
Over and over again the reader is struck by the sheer erudition of the author where, in a couple of well chosen finely honed words, he lets us know that he has read about assessed and understood some economic, sociological or political theory that might have relevance and applied it to his analysis. The range of these illustrates the breadth of the subject. The personal insights ranging from the coincidence of his finishing his undergraduate examinations in 1967 on the day of the classic strike from the sea to his confession of the identity of his hero add a leavening humanity to the intricacies of the region.
Surprisingly, the author does not expect water to be a major cause of conflict in the area.
His footnotes add to the wonderful feeling of confidence that the author, unsurprisingly, knows what he is talking about. Anecdotes about spending a night on a hillside in Dhofar with a bodyguard of insurgents while the SAS were raiding across the frontier or a reference to a book on the subject of Arab Political Humour add enormous credibility to the content.
The book condenses forty years of knowledge, study, hard won experience and astonishing amounts of reading into three hundred readable and understandable pages that lead the reader to go around and start again to assimilate more on the second reading. For those interested in educating themselves about the subject the bibliography is a cornucopia.
To quote from the final paragraph of the book:
"To face the forthcoming struggles, one must be armed. One must learn to distance oneself from the myths, to assimilate the lessons of human experience, to reject complacency and self-satisfaction, which are causes of stagnation; one must always seek to surpass oneself and the existing situation in the effort to accomplish the great human tasks."
Professor Halliday's book provides a means to achieve this admirable end for anyone with more than a cursory interest in the subject.
on 29 August 2011
Even though there are some missing points in the book, this must be one of the best resources to understand the IR in the Middle East.
The book was separated into different chapters to make the reader find what he is searching for easily. Mr.Halliday's smooth explanation and simple construction makes you feel more willing to read the book.
Just like the previous review, I also wonder why he has not mentioned about water which is the essential part of the Middle East. I also found some parts quite repetitive.