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[This is my first Amazon review but I hope that it won’t be immediately discounted for that reason. Even the most respected reviewers had to write their first!]
First off, I am by no means a Middle Eastern scholar (hence my reading this book), and so I can’t really comment on the historical accuracy of most of the events described. But there are elements other than historical accuracy that I can more readily comment on, and so here they are.
The organization of the book can make it difficult to keep track of where you are in time and space at any particular moment. I found myself having to frequently reread sentences and paragraphs, particularly at the beginning of new sections, in order to orient myself. The chapters are generally chronologically ordered, but the information within is not typically presented in a strictly chronological way. For example, the chapter titled “The Years of Turbulence” (which covers from about 1970-1991) is broken down into sections titled “The Rise of the Oil States,” “Egyptian Initiatives,” “Israel/Palestine and the Lebanese Victim,” “Islamic Reassertion, Revolution and War,” and “Iraq’s World Challenge.” In the “Egyptian Initiatives” section, you may read about Egypt’s role in Israel, Palestine, and Lebanon before moving on to other topics related to Egypt in that time period. It can therefore be a bit disorienting when you’ve moved on to read the Israel, Palestine, and Lebanon section and have to revisit Egypt’s role within that new context. This breakdown into sections focusing on one region or concept at a time is common throughout the book.
That said, I imagine it’s incredibly difficult to structure a book of this nature. In attempting to cover a topic that is so historically, geographically, culturally, politically, and religiously broad and with so many overlapping and intersecting people and events, any attempt at logical organization will have its drawbacks. Overall, the organizational idiosyncrasies were not so difficult to overcome as to make me put the book down. But if you’re looking for a quick and easily digested overview, this may not be your best option.
What did threaten my attempt to finish reading was the abundance of basic typos, especially in the later chapters. These typos range from missing words to repetitive words/phrases (for example, on pg. 426, “Though they grabbed most of the most headlines…”) to more obvious mistakes like the misspelling of Afghanistan as “Arghanistan” (pg. 428). I know many people can overlook these small errors, but I had a history professor who always said that spelling and grammar mistakes are a sign of poor editing, and poor editing almost always means other mistakes and inaccuracies have been overlooked as well. I did find at least one glaring factual inaccuracy: on the bottom of pg. 152, it says that August 2, 1914 was 5 days after Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, but Ferdinand was assassinated on June 28, not July 28. Although it ultimately has no bearing on the specific topic being discussed, it did put me on my guard and make me wonder about other potentially erroneous statements in areas I’m not as familiar with and therefore wouldn’t know were errors.
Perhaps more notable, my recognition of the increasing number of typos coincided with a feeling that the previously balanced viewpoint was shifting to one side, specifically that the tone was becoming noticeably harsher toward Israel’s role in events. I started to notice the trend in the chapters dealing with the more recent events, i.e. post-Gulf War. I’m neither pro- nor anti-Israel, but the tonal shift was noticeable enough to make me curious. I wondered if the shift could be explained by the fact that the book has been revised and updated by a second author, so I flipped back to the title page and the introduction page.
The book was originally published in 1991, with a second publication in 1992. The next publication was not until 2003. The original author, Peter Mansfield, passed away in 1996, so it seems logical to assume that Nicolas Pelham, credited with updating and revising, was responsible for the bulk of the post-1992 information that’s presented (although Mansfield could conceivably have contributed to some of the 1992-1996 updates). Whether it was conscious or not, Pelham displays a subtle but clear favoring of the Palestinian side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and at times it was difficult for me to fully trust his depiction of events, or at least to trust that he was conveying the full story. I don’t think it should completely turn you away from the book, since dealing with an author’s potential biases are an inevitable part of reading any non-fiction work, but I wouldn’t rely on this particular breakdown of the events as the sole basis of your knowledge on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.