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This is a review of the 2011 edition, with new foreward and afterward. Do keep in mind that there are also the original 1991 and later 2003 editions. The 2003 and 2010 editions have an additional chapter, Suez 1991-2001, as well as the modified Epilogue. Unfortunately, Kyle placed new information gleaned from files released after the 1st edition in their own chapter, rather than intergrating them into the book. So the new chapter comes across more as an information dump, that is a bit hard for the reader to fully integrate after they've already read the initial material. Thus, for example, we get an additional page related to the Soviets, yet this information would've been much more useful if put into the proper place in the book.
Any reader absolutely must keep in mind that Kyle is attempting to write a detailed, essentially reasonably exhaustive magisterial work on this crisis. As seen from the key political leaders on all sides. His extensive sourcing favors the UK material, but he tries his best to cover the American, French, Israeli, Soviet, and UN angles as well. And because this crisis developed rather slowly after Nasser's sudden nationalization announcement, with so many players getting involved at various times (e.g., leaders from Australia, Canada, & India), some readers may feel it a bit plodding at times. But that is the nature of this unique crisis. It developed in front of the world's eyes not in a flash but over nearly 3 1/2 months (end of July through the middle of November), with an additional 6 weeks for the withdrawal and a couple more months of haggling over canal-, oil-, and financial-related details.
Kyle is at his absolute best setting up the pre-history to the crisis. So this means discussing the UK's relations with Egypt and Israel in the 1940s and 1950s. As well as France's war in Algeria and her relations in the Middle East. And the bigger picture, including the Baghdad Pact, Jordan, Iraq, Syria, and Saudi Arabia. The reader will have a very good idea why the canal was so important to England as well as why the UK, France and Israel wanted Nasser removed from power.
The reader does well to consult the extensive notes. There is a plethora of useful and additional information buried here! The Bibliography is outstanding as is the Index.
I suspect those who won't like this work are readers more interested in the military aspects of the crisis. Kyle does cover the key events, including the build-up and withdrawal, but one never gets a good feel for what it meant to the average sailor, airman, soldier, or commando in combat. Kyle covers the military action but somewhat perfunctorily, and with limited information from the Egyptian perspective. Anyone interested in the miilitary aspects of the crisis (esp. air and naval) should read a book focused on that; this isn't a book for those wanting in depth military history of the crisis.
I heartily recommend this work to anyone interested in the politics of this amazing misadventure, one that covers all the players and attempts to give them all their due. While with hindsight Kyle obviously believes the military action and cover up were wrong or unnecessary, he is surprisingly fair to the key players (A. Eden, G. Mollet, D. Ben-Gurion, & JF Dulles). His treatment of British Prime Minister Eden, esp. his "fall" afterwards, is most kind but in an honest manner, the fall of a mighty figure who was blinded by his own obsessions and past. Too bad there isn't nearly the detail about French Prime Minister Mollet.
Thankfully there are three full-page maps at the front of the work that are sufficiently large to be readable and which do a good job showing the areas mentioned in the book. There is also a good selection of photographs on eight pages in the middle of the book.
Part of what makes this work so fascinating and so useful is that Kyle was writing for The Economist (London) at the time, stationed in Washington, DC. So he both fully lived through and experienced the Suez Crisis, in its political form, as it unfolded slowly in real time. But this is its own unique event. I don't think it does the average reader much good to attempt to compare this crisis to events in the Middle East in the 1980s-2000s. Enjoy it for the history it provides!
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David S. Clark
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At 600+ pages this is the definitive and highly detailed history of the Suez Crisis of 1956. Very interesting and relevant to neo-conservatives and Bush Era US Middle East adventures. In summer of 1956 Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal. Ike and John Foster Dulles were blinded by the Cold War dichotomy and their US Panama Canal concerns and failed to properly monitor allies France, Israel and especially Anthony Eden's British government as they marched to war with Egypt, as the three cavalierly hoped for US, UN and international mediation to fail. The Franco-Anglo-Israeli effort was complicated by the Soviet and Yugoslavian presence in the Canal and a 1950s Hashemite / Anglo regimes in Jordan, Syria and Iraq. I wish I could say that Kyle wrote it well ( he was at the Economist at the time ) but I cannot. I don't question the DETAIL per se, the memos, letters, minutes, briefs are all important--but his writing style was way too wordy. Any history professor today could easily scratch out 20% of the words, asides, modifiers, subjunctives, repetition etc., it is needlessly complicated and unnecessarily roundabout and Victorian in style-- (& The St. Martin Press evidently failed to use the red pen). But Kyle's SUEZ is worth wading through for a final and definitive view of the Athony Eden debacle and as a basic 1950's Cold War Middle East history. Ba'athists, Moshe Dayan, Anwar Sadat, Dag Hammerskjold, Golda Meir, Harold McMillan, Louis Mountbatten, David Ben-Gurion and the French commandos from Algeria all play a role in this massive cock up of all cock ups ........
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Keith Kyle, the author of this long book (656 pages, index included), manages to turn an interesting topic into a boring review of details within details that, ultimately, tells us he has done his homework searching for the last document in the darkest corner of some British archive, but has failed at keeping the reader's inrterest or his objectivity as a writer intact. The Arab-Israeli conflict is one where objectivity is wished for, although never attained. Kyle pretends to attempt objectivity and then slides into partisanship without even noticing or, at least, not wanting the reader to notice. His stance is very much against the joint Anglo-French-Israeli invasion of Egypt in 1956, and he can't be faulted for that. A colossal blunder on the part of two former important powers, it served Israel in its limited security concerns and, ironically, it also helped the Egyptians and Colonel Nasser. That strange war humiliated the British and caused the downfall of the English Prime Minister, Anthony Eden. However, Kyle strays from here on, and provides the reader with hundreds of pages of obscure documents and his own "insight" and opinions, which can be summarized thus: Israel, dominated by Zionists (this is supposed to be an insult) suckered the British Empire and the French Republic into a fight where they could not be winners, only to help its ailing economy and tell Nasser, in the starkest terms, that war with the Jewish State was extremely serious. Kyle wants me, and the rest of the reading public, to be as outraged as he is about this, and I can't help but smile. Whether Israel suckered the two Europeans, or whether it got on the bandwagon when the decision to wallop Egypt had been taken in London and Paris, the English and French got what they deserved. Most of Kyle's acid comments are directed toward the British government and a good portion of that country's press. However, there is a badly supressed anti-Israel feeling throughout the book, which is not surprising, given the author's connection with "The Economist," one of the most respected magazines in the world, one that can truly be called "international" due to the coverage the entire planet receives in its pages, but one that has a documented history of antagonism towards Israel and some other countries (most of Latin America, Turkey, South Korea, for example), while tending to see with very benevolent eyes the doings of other countries, like Ireland. By antagonism I refer to the insistence, article after article, in portraying only the bad, rarely the good, and when the good is discussed, it is peppered with enough negatives as to render the praise, faint as it was, null. Both the magazine and the writer suffer from a very British maladie: incredulity at how low England has fallen in the world rank. Kyle sees the Suez affair as the proverbial last push that sent the United Kingdom tumbling down the steps, and showed it as militarily incapable of credible dissuasion outside the British Isles. Britain was eventually told by Eisenhower to cease and desist in Suez and the British complied with their patron's wishes. There is the parallel that Kyle seems to hate the most: Israel also does -mostly- what the US says. But Israel appears to be quite comfortable with this situation and is, after all, a country that only 20 years ago became developed ("The Economist" doesn't recognize this and still lists Israel as a "developing" nation). Israel has been able to take care of its wars quite capably. By contrast, England is part of the G-7, one of the richest countries in the world, and, still, needed all the help it could get from the United States in 1982 to defeat a third world country such as Argentina, in a fourth-class war against a fifth-class army. It could have gone alone against Egypt in 1956, but it needed a ready excuse -separating the fighting sides, Egypt and Israel- and a willing partner in the deed, and that was France. Perhaps given what Jewish terrorists did to British soldiers -and sometimes civilians, as in the bombing of the King David Hotel- in the last years of the Palestinian Mandate, right before the Israeli War of Independence and the foundation of the State of Israel, it is understandable that the author has very cold feelings toward Israelis, especially the Israeli military, so efficient, so ruthless, so identified with the Israeli people. But he pretends to be objective. That is just not true. As I said, nobody is really objective in this particular conflict. I am biased toward Israel. Kyle's pretension of objectivity and the minutiae of documentation that nothing adds to the overall picture, although it does inflate his book, are the main reasons "Suez" gets, barely, one star with me. But, then again, I, at least, admit that I am biased.