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on 18 January 2011
I came to this book from both the UK and US reviews and have not been disappointed. The book is anglocentric (not a criticism) but it covers a huge amount of ground on complex issues in a rounded way.

The information on the interplay of forces both military and political, particulalry between Britain, Russia and Turkey was was well brought and fascinating. The role of Clemenceau in trying to limit French exposure in the region is of interest. A pity his counterparts in Britain could not have had as much foresight instead riding so many horses in Arabia, Palestine and Syria that they were bound to please virtually nobody. The use of the jewish desire for a homeland, the arab desire for autonomy used as a balance to offset the war aims of Germany and Turkey is well described. As is Kitchener and the Arab Bureau's both misreading of the region and their misleading representations that affected policy during the war.

I actually came away from reading this with a new respect for the Turks. Whatever the shambolic failings of the Ottoman Empire of the period, the gutsy determination of their oft maligned military was surprising. Apart from quality of the defending at Gallipoli (admittedly bolstered by competent german support), the ineptitude of the British command when they could have walked into Constantinople virtually unchallenged, because the Turks had run out of ammunition, an action that could have brought WW1 to a much swifter conclusion, highlights that quality of operational command, planning and their obverse blind luck are never far away from any complex military operation.

The roles of Churchill and Lloyd George are well brought out. It is hard to credit given the level of political discourse in this country now that such politial giants, for all their sometimes major faults once ran this country. The roles of the adminstrators and their own political prejudices and ambitions is well desribed. Mark Sykes influence and naivety are brought out in some detail. The machinations of the Arab Bureau in Egypt would have led to mass dismissals, had anybody in the British cabinet had a grip on what was actually happening there.

This really was the high water mark of British imperial ambitions and pretensions. An almost anachronistic hangover from late victorian imperial and cultural pride and self-belief, to post war self doubt, near bankruptcy and social implosion. The transition of the Northcliffe press from pro war 1914 to anti middle east involvment in 1921-22 is illustrative of that change of worldview, although the pull of empire continued for many decades.

It is also interesting to note how Lloyd George tried to push the mandate for Palestine on to the Americans, and may well have succeeded in doing so had Woodrow Wilson lived. What would the region have looked like then I wonder.

I would read this book in conjunction Corelli Barnett's 'The Collapse of British Power' to get a fuller picture of the relationship between Britain and the Dominions. and how attitudes changed both because of the war and because of the liberal elites attachment to the benfits of empire at the neglect of Britain itself.

All together a superb book that his significantly broadened my historical perspective and understanding of the middle east. Highly recommended.
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VINE VOICEon 2 September 2008
At times this reads more like a Cold War thriller than a political history. There are enough secret societies, conspiracy theories and shady diplomatic deals here to keep John le Carré in plots for a month of Sundays.

"The Middle East" is a European invention. In 1914, when the story begins, the "Middle Eastern Question", as far as the Allies were concerned, was about how to divide up the lands that lay between French North Africa, Russian Asia and British India, once the decaying Ottoman Empire had breathed its last.

By 1922, when the story ends, only the new Soviet Union still had a taste for empire-building. The former territories of the Sultan had become a series of notionally independent nation states designed to be run by European "advisors". "The Middle Eastern Question" had not been solved: it had just been changed.

David Fromkin suggests that Europe's approach to the Middle East in 1914 should be seen as part of "Great Game" that had dominated foreign policy in the East in the preceding century. It was this view, combined with astonishing official incompetence, that lead Allied politicians to make disastrous misjudgements about the Arab-speaking peoples and the role of Islam in the political life of the region.

I read this book to learn about the background to the current situation in the Middle East. I was not disappointed. It's a complex story and the author does a first rate job of disentangling it, drawing on previously closed official sources.

Written in 1989, this predates the First Gulf War. An unintended, but poignant, consequence is that Fromkin sometimes describes events of 90 years ago in phrases that could easily appear in today's news bulletins.

"A Peace to End All Peace" is an excellent and accessible work of political history.
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on 25 July 2008
If you want to put the Middle East into a historical perspective and understand its present day difficulties there is no better book than this, and despite being 20 years old, it still stands completely unrivaled. It is insightful, well balanced, eloquently written and at times almost reads like an adventure story.

The book covers the region from the outbreak of war in 1914 and through to the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in 1922. Fromkin gets away with covering this enormous canvas on which many books could be written on single topics (and indeed have). He does this by following a clear story line, not over emphasizing certain periods and by not peddling a political agenda.

The book is essentially built around Winston Churchill large sections are also devoted to other contemporary grandees such as Asquith, Lloyd George, Balfour, Lord Kitchener, General Allenby, Sir Mark Sykes, Francois Picot, Emir Hussein, King Faisal, Enver Pasha, Attaturk, TE Lawrence, Gertrude Bell and many other splendid characters. These people are richly described and make the book come alive in a way, where most other popular history books fail miserably.

The book also elegantly incorporates the imperial political thinking of the time and provides excellent coverage of the drivers and motivations of specially the British in their involvement in the conflict. It covers the intrigues, manipulations and conspirations that took place both within the British government and between the allies, whose main goal it was to dismantle the Ottoman Empire, weakened by gradual disintegration, carve up its constituent parts between them. The Sykes-Picot Agreement and the Balfour Declaration being excellent examples hereof. One is left with the impression that this was a game of "Risk" on a massive scale. In fact on such a large scale that it stretched the British Empire beyond its political and military means, which again resulted in appalling execution with extraordinary and needless loss of life.

The price of these ambitions proved high for all parties. The Ottoman Empire collapsed in 1922 and Enver Pasha died on a battlefield near Dushanbe in Tajikstan fighting the Red Army in 1924. But also for the British Empire, this was the "beginning of the end". Australia began to lose confidence in Britain following the Gallipoli disaster, after years of fighting hopeless battles in Europe, Iraq and Turkey, British soldiers increasingly became mutinous and were turning against the establishment. In his description of this period, Fromkin really picks up on the political current of the time and describes how Churchill understood this and probably avoided severe social unrest in the UK.

The book effectively finishes with the 1923 Lausanne peace treaty. Britain had been replaced by the United States as the world's number one superpower. The US did not favour colonialism and hence the Sykes-Picot Agreement was confined to the historical archives. Instead Churchill and Gertrude Bell drew up a map of a new Middle East, created Palestine (under British mandate) and Syria / Lebanon under French. Feisal needed a kingdom, so they created Iraq. If Feisal was getting a kingdom, Abdullah wanted one too. So they drew Jordan. It was random, sure to create problems for the future and by no stretch of anyones imagination "their finest hour".

The book draws on a superb range of sources, is extremely well researched and has a bibliography large enough to populate a small library.
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on 4 May 2017
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HALL OF FAMEon 8 February 2006
Who will become the Edward Gibbon of the British Empire? How many volumes will be required to chronicle the expansion and decline of the Anglo-Norman people in their globe-girdling endeavour? How many different nations and cultures came under their domination or control? Will that historian see the first signs of the Empire's decline in its dismemberment of a rival empire - the Ottoman? Britain's last imperial thrusts occurred while it was embroiled in a global war - the "war to end all war". The irony of this title lies in that Britain's expansion into the Middle East resulted in turning an icon of stability into today's cockpit of conflicting interests.
Fromkin, while not the BE's "Gibbon", exquisitely details the last expansionary gasp of Britain's global realm. Opening with the early years of the Twentieth Century, he explains how the outbreak of war in 1914 triggered vast changes in the Middle East. The events on the "Western Front" fade almost into obscurity behind the intrigues to partition the Ottoman Empire. He carefully examines the international competition over what appeared to be useless desert. Nearly every European power sought control of the trade routes into the Far East. Russia, long in quest of the Dardanelles as a route to the Mediterranean and beyond, naturally clashed with the British Empire. France, although Britain's ally, remained a trade competitor.
Although the phrase "Balance of Power" was often used to typify the international situation prior to WWI, the reality was that Britain dominated the seas. Retaining that situation was fundamental to British policy-making. There had already been clashes in Afghanistan, gateway to India from the north. Russia as an ally in the European conflict was an uneasy liaison since her aim to control the Near East remained clear. In Fromkin's view, the clash between the British Empire and her challengers is "the Great Game". The "Great War" was little more than an incident by contrast. None of the Powers foresaw the immense bloodletting World War I would become, nor was the overthrow of the Czarist government by the Bolsheviks a factor in imperial planning.
The Ottoman Empire, weakened by internal dissent and breakaway "provinces" like Greece and Bulgaria, sought protective alliances. Given the enormity of the task and the reshuffling of power such an enterprise entailed, no European nation sought the responsibility. Yet, the breakup of the Ottaman structure remained an undercurrent in many foreign policies. Only Germany, seeking a fresh route to intrude on British global hegemony, found the prospect useful. Bogged down on the Western Front, the use of Turkish troops to embroil the British in another region had strong appeal. Fromkin traces the tangled diplomacy and military adventures resulting from the new alignments. The parade of personalities, their histories and outlooks, is almost staggering in its completeness and complexities. Among the British figures of major importance, Fromkin depicts Sir Mark Sykes as one of the most influential. Sykes, well versed in affairs of the region, noted that there were "no Ottomans", nor an Ottoman nation providing a core for their "Empire". Fromkin refers to it as the "incoherent Empire" - a view Sykes continually kept before the Foreign Office mandarins.
When a Turkish faction, known as the Young Turks, formed the Committee of Union and Progress [C.U.P.], it was the herald of a possible new arrangement. Founded on the notion of Turkish nationalism, it struggled to produce a new nation, while dissolving the old Empire. Sykes, knowing that dissolution of the Ottoman Empire threatened the British one, maneuvered policy to strengthen British influence in the Near East. Although the present scramble of nations in the Middle East has many fathers, Sykes may be viewed as among the most influential. In the course of the war and later, he's to be in found such diverse places as St Petersburg and Cairo. He's involved in the formation of various Middle East nations that now command the headlines and news broadcasts. Although there were many compromises and adjustments, it was, according to Fromkin, Sykes' views that were finally implemented in the creation of Iraq, Iran, Syria and the other nations we're now familiar with. They are the offspring of two empires. It is Sykes who is credited with creating the term "Middle East" in reference to a segment of the British Empire. Yet, for all his influence and maneuvering, he was beset by strange prejudices - not least of which was the notion that the Ottoman government was dominated by Jews.
Fromkin's choice of subject is too complex and intense to allow a prose style that is anything more than straightforward and informative. Even so, the behaviour of his cast renders embellishment unnecessary. Each attempt by people such as Churchill, Balfour, Lloyd George, and the multitude of Turkish and Arab plotters, schemers and manipulators to guide events, seems to prove elusive. Fromkin follows their maneuverings and attempts to resolve differences with superiour skill. The book reads almost as a shining example of adventure or spy fiction. Nothing may be skipped, and he keeps the various threads of intrigue and manipulation under tight control. It takes a special talent to make an historical account a "page-turner", and Fromkin achieves that in this book with deceptive ease. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
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on 12 August 2003
A Peace to end all Peace is a comprehensive overview of the firth world war in the Middle East. A war has rarely transformed a region so decisivley as was here the case and to follow the meanders of British Middle East policy up to, during and in the aftermath of the 20th century's first Great War, realizing the effects that haphazard or contradictory decisions have had on a whole region and its inhabitants for the century since is a truly fascinating and higly svary read. David Fromkin choses to focus his study on the person of Winston Churchill but also features characters known to us from polular culture, such as "Lawrence of Arabia" and those famous for behind the scenes-work as Sir Mark Sykes (even though I had yet to realize before reading this book just quite how "behind-the-scenes" it was...).
A recommended read for anyone with a genuine interest in the modern history of the Middle East, of the developments of the First World War or of aspects of foreign policy decision-making.
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I read this book straight after Goldschmidt's 'Concise History of the Middle East', which is a history which begins with Mohammed. I recommend that book, beautifully written and easy to read. Fromkin's book, probably at least as important, is written rather more in a journalistic style. Fromkin has researched a vast literature, and gives us a step by step account of ten years of war and conferencing which ended up more or less with the Middle East we have today.

This book was published in 1989, before the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but Fronkin suggests that the 1922 patchwork quilt of the Middle East was never going to last and might even take hundreds of years to find a new shape after the demise of the Ottoman Empire. Ultimately a Western way of thinking, he believes, was trying to impose itself on a fundamentally alternative view of the world which it never really grasped.

My reading of this book tells me that Churchill and Lawrence probably had the best grasp of the Brits, but they were journeymen. The bosses here were Kitchener and Lloyd George.

The other thing that occurs to me is the incredible randomness of decision making which occurred in the First World War. No wonder it was a military disaster. It was normal for cabinet ministers to go off on one without even consulting colleagues, and this was a culture that the Prime Minister Lloyd George doesn't seem to have done much to discourage, indeed it appears to have reflected his own style. British government in Cairo and India often had their own agendas, and no-one seemed to find it necessary to co-ordinate globally

No wonder Churchill insisted on being a one man band when asked to be PM in 1940.

Terrific piece of work.
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on 25 November 2000
This is undoubtedly the best book that I ever read concerning present day Near and Middle East. Written from a British perspective, it covers the crucial years of the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, to include Lawrence of Arabia, the Balfour Declaration and the birth of modern Turkey. Supported by thorough and flawless historical research, including extensive access to previously overlooked archive material, this book has none of the too often simplistic and ideologically prejudged approach of many other texts on the same issues. A must read for all those who have a real interest in the birth of the Arab-Jewish conflict and, more in general, the various Middle East conflicts
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I am an enthusiastic amateur family historian and I have puzzled a while over an important (to my wife and I) family question: how come my wife's great uncle, Captain Thomas John Catchpole (1888 - 1917), of Lidgate, Suffolk, and of the 5th Battalion, the Suffolk Regiment, was killed by the Turks at Gaza?

Subsidiary questions have also been in my mind: why were the Turks/Ottomans our enemies in the so-called 'Great War'?; what determined the demise of the Turkish/Ottoman Empire, under which many races, including Jews, Arabs and Turks, had lived relatively peaceably?; and how did the present-day 'Middle East' become such a problem area?

I am also a member of the 'what if' school of history: this book is one of those that inspire endless speculation. If decisions had been made differently and events had taken a different course, maybe my wife's great uncle's descendants could still be living at Lidgate.

For example, what if the British Cabinet had acted on Winston Churchill's urging in 1911 to make an alliance with the Turks/Ottomans?

And if the 'Great War' had gone on for two years only (the German General Ludendorff believed the entry of the Turks/Ottomans into the war allowed the outnumbered Central powers to fight on for two years longer than they would have been able on their own), my wife's great uncle would not have been killed at Gaza in 1917.

And if Winston Churchill's Dardanelles plans had prevailed over those of Lord Kitchener in March, 1915, Constantinople would have fallen, and my wife's great uncle would not have been killed at Gaza in 1917.

As it was, it appears that numerous attempts were made to subvert, to attack, and to conquer the Turks/Ottomans, the defeat of whom could - and, maybe, should - have been accomplished in 1915, and my wife's great uncle would not have been killed at Gaza in 1917.

This brilliant book - an historical thriller through and through - has provided me with much information and most of the answers and I am so grateful to David Fromkin for researching and writing it and to Amazon for selling it to me.

It is quite clear to me now that the alliance between Germany and the Turks/Ottomans was at best an unintended mistake and at worst the secret design of a very few of the Turkish leaders. It could have been done very differently, with Turkey and the Ottoman Empire continuing to maintain their neutrality, to the benefit of the British and of the world.

And it also appears from Fromkin's account that the successive collapses of the British, French and Russian Governments were directly attributable to the Dardanelles disaster. In the case of Russia, of course, this meant a fatal finale for the Czar and his family and the rise of Lenin and Bolshevism.

There came on the scene in 1917 one Woodrow Wilson, as ignorant regarding Britain, France, Russia and the Turkish/Ottoman Empire as many Americans, but as determined, nevertheless, to do down the British as his later successor, Franklin Roosevelt. Despite having some high-flown thoughts, Mr Wilson helped little.

All in all, it is once again amazing to me that two great British statesmen, Winston Churchill and David Lloyd George, should have been so full of foresight and wisdom. It's all too obvious that the others, including Wilson, were political pygmies.

I suppose now and with hindsight that I would probably have preferred for the Ottoman Empire to have been maintained, as Churchill often wanted, or, failing that, for the British Empire to have been vastly extended - for good!

I spotted one error (on page 299, in a section on the role of Louis D. Brandeis, later the first Jewish member of the United States Supreme Court): 'Only one Jew [Oscar Strauss] had ever been a member of the president's cabinet.' Not true: Judah Philip Benjamin played prominent roles in the cabinet of President Jefferson Davis.

(An extremely interesting piece of information gleaned from the book is that Baghdad and Jerusalem, before the War, were home to the largest populations of Jews in the Middle East. 'Jews in large numbers had lived in the Mesopotamian provinces since the time of the Babylonian captivity - about 600 BC - and thus were settled in the country a thousand years before the coming of the Arabs in AD 634.').

There has been some criticism that this book is too much about Great Britain and its leaders and people. To answer the criticism I quote the following (from page 385): 'The Prime Minister (Lloyd George) claimed that Britain was entitled to play the dominant role in the Middle East, recalling that at one time or another two and a half million British troops had been sent there, and that a quarter of a million had been killed or wounded; while the French, Gallipoli apart, had suffered practically no casualties in the Middle East, and the Americans had not been there at all.'

Thoroughly recommended: I couldn't put it down!

A personal post-script:

In the Autumn of 1917, following two earlier failed attempts by General Murray in the first half of that year, General Allenby invaded (from Egypt, which was under British protection) Palestine, and my wife's great uncle, Captain Thomas John Catchpole, was killed, during the third battle of Gaza, on the 3rd of November (reportedly fatally injured by a Turk soldier and then shot by a fellow British officer, in the presence of his own younger brother, to put him out of his misery, there being no chance that he would live), and lies buried at the Deir El Belah War Cemetery. And the Middle East is still a problem.
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Fromkin's seminal work is now almost 20 years old, and it is still the essential history book on the bungled making of the modern Middle East. Like another reviewer, I would gladly have given this a 6-star rating if it were possible. So much today remains the very same, save for the change from one imperial power to another. Consider from the Introduction: "The European powers at that time believed they could change Moslem Asia in the very fundamentals of its political existence, and in their attempt to do so introduced an artificial state system into the Middle East that has made it into a region of countries that have not become nations even today." On page 451 Fromkin quotes the caution of an American missionary to the woman who, by in large, created Iraq, Gertrude Bell: "You are flying in the face of four millenniums of history if you try to draw a line around Iraq and call it a political entity..... they have no conception of nationhood yet."

From the perspective of a century, in some ways it is difficult to believe that all this was a sideshow, to use William Shawcross's phrase for Cambodia. The "real drama" was the Western Front, a subsidiary drama the Eastern Front, and the rise of Communism, and this very distant front was much like Burma during the Second War World, few players with meager resources.

Fromkin lays much of the blame for the misunderstandings between the West and the Middle East on Kitchener. In a description true of individuals today, he said of Kitchener: "The peculiarities of his character, the deficiencies of his understanding of the Moslem world, the misinformation regularly supplied to him by his lieutenants...... and his choice of Arab politicians...."

His chapter on the Balfour Declaration is strong; balancing the forces and players at work, and making the oft-forgotten point that the vast majority of the world's Jew's were not Zionists. The book is replete with other ironies, such as a footnoted exchange:"... on the Arab question, shows Lord Kitchener asking, "Wahabism, does that still exist?" and Sykes answering, "I think it is a dying fire." So much of the West's impression of Saudi Arabia was initially formed by TE Lawrence, in his half-fictional work "Seven Pillars of Wisdom" so Fromkin's confirmation that Lawrence himself cautioned his biographer, Graves, that his work is "...full of half-truth here." is a valuable reminder to examine the prism and motives of individuals who write about the Middle East.

On page 468, again with an easy substitution, plus ca change.... "In fact there was an outside force linked to every one of the outbreaks of violence in the Middle East, but it was the one force whose presence remained invisible to British officialdom. It was Britain herself. In a region of the globe whose inhabitants were known especially to dislike foreigners, and in a predominantly Moslem world which could abide being ruled by almost anybody except non-Moslems, a foreign Christian country ought to have expected to encounter hostility when it attempted to impose its own rule."

I agree with some of the criticism of this book: that it is a "big man's" version of history, and neglects describing broader social forces that motivate the "little man" and that it is weak on describing the thinking and motivation of the non-European regional players.

We can only hope that additional parallels with the present situation will occur, from page 561: "By the time that the war came to an end (WW I), British society was generally inclined to reject the idealistic case for imperialism (that it would extend the benefits of advanced civilization to a backward region) as quixotic, and the practical case for it (that it would be a benefit to Britain to expand her empire) as untrue. Viewing imperialism as a costly drain on a society that needed to invest all of its remaining resources in rebuilding itself...."

This book should be mandatory reading for the next American administration.

(Note: Review first published at Amazon, USA, on May 12, 2008)
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