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on 2 September 2012
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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on 12 October 2011
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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VINE VOICEon 12 April 2011
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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on 16 February 2011
...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.

The mingling of different races and religious groups and their periodic descent into communal violence might give pause for thought on the topical question of multiculturalism in our societies, but that tangential aspect is not essential for an appreciation of the book as straightforward history. (My own view, for what it's worth, however, is that it bears out the view that multiculturalism doesn't work and the cracks never take long to show.)

Now, we only need a decent history of the historic Italian port of Genoa, as there doesn't seem to be one - at least a modern one - as far as I can see. Perhaps Mr. Mansel might consider the task now...
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on 10 July 2013
Well written and interesting to read, I found this quite useful in giving me an understanding of how the Eastern Med developed up to the war period. The region had a surprising impact on the West and this is a good historical background. It's not dull in any way.
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on 1 June 2013
Interesting book about the unique mixed culture in Smyrna, Beirut, Alexandria and Saloniki before World War 2. Paradise lost to some.
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on 6 June 2013
Evocative, full of detail - but not heavy handed, and a magical way to tour the cities, the history and the people of the Eastern Mediterranean. Wanted to read this for quite a while and was not disappointed.
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on 24 January 2017
I had read the author's book on Constantinople and enjoyed it very much. This prompted me to buy this one on the Levant and I was not disappointed. As the FT's reviewer says (quoted on the front cover), it is "magnificent".

However, as another reviewer, @A Kid's Review, says, Mansel assumes that the reader already has considerable knowledge of the history of the Levant, and especially of Greece and of the Ottoman Empire and I agree with that statement.

On the other hand, I do not agree at all with @Tharsein Hri, who says that Mansel is totally biased towards the Turks as I feel that Mansel constantly strives to be objective.
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on 29 March 2013
Philip Mansel recreates the history of Smyrna, Beirut and Alexandria which due to the Arab Spring shows us that history repeats itself over and over again.
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on 27 August 2015
Fascinating. Every bit as interesting as his Constantinople. They now are side by side in my bookcase. I have many friends who either grew up in the cities he described or whose parents did. It has helped me enormously in understanding them and their world.
A wonderful writer , clear concise, A master of detail, I could not put this book down.
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