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Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East 1776 to the Present

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This best-selling history is the first fully comprehensive history of America’s involvement in the Middle East from George Washington to George W. Bush. As Niall Ferguson writes, “If you think America’s entanglement in the Middle East began with Roosevelt and Truman, Michael Oren’s deeply researched and brilliantly written history will be a revelation to you, as it was to This best-selling history is the first fully comprehensive history of America’s involvement in the Middle East from George Washington to George W. Bush. As Niall Ferguson writes, “If you think America’s entanglement in the Middle East began with Roosevelt and Truman, Michael Oren’s deeply researched and brilliantly written history will be a revelation to you, as it was to me. With its cast of fascinating characters—earnest missionaries, maverick converts, wide-eyed tourists, and even a nineteenth-century George Bush—Power, Faith, and Fantasy is not only a terrific read, it is also proof that you don’t really understand an issue until you know its history.”


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This best-selling history is the first fully comprehensive history of America’s involvement in the Middle East from George Washington to George W. Bush. As Niall Ferguson writes, “If you think America’s entanglement in the Middle East began with Roosevelt and Truman, Michael Oren’s deeply researched and brilliantly written history will be a revelation to you, as it was to This best-selling history is the first fully comprehensive history of America’s involvement in the Middle East from George Washington to George W. Bush. As Niall Ferguson writes, “If you think America’s entanglement in the Middle East began with Roosevelt and Truman, Michael Oren’s deeply researched and brilliantly written history will be a revelation to you, as it was to me. With its cast of fascinating characters—earnest missionaries, maverick converts, wide-eyed tourists, and even a nineteenth-century George Bush—Power, Faith, and Fantasy is not only a terrific read, it is also proof that you don’t really understand an issue until you know its history.”

30 review for Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East 1776 to the Present

  1. 4 out of 5

    K

    Once again I find myself giving Michael Oren five stars and warning people away from his book. Five stars for a thoroughly researched and highly informative read, to be sure. But expect a pretty long slog. This ambitious tome describes the interactions between the United States and the Middle East from the point of the United States' inception, starting with the Barbary Wars. Oren uses the themes of power (the U.S. wanted control, initially in terms of wanting to pass through the region safe from Once again I find myself giving Michael Oren five stars and warning people away from his book. Five stars for a thoroughly researched and highly informative read, to be sure. But expect a pretty long slog. This ambitious tome describes the interactions between the United States and the Middle East from the point of the United States' inception, starting with the Barbary Wars. Oren uses the themes of power (the U.S. wanted control, initially in terms of wanting to pass through the region safe from pirates but gradually in other areas as well), faith (the desire on the part of the U.S. to missionize in the Middle East and to restore the Jews to their homeland in Palestine for religious reasons), and fantasy (the often unrealistic image Americans have had of the Middle East as depicted in the Arabian Nights) to categorize the various interactions between the U.S. and the Middle East. He notes that, although much has changed, all three themes remain relevant to U.S.-Middle East relations. One of the problems with reading a long and detailed book like this is that it's hard to know how much of the information you've retained, and will retain over time. In the meantime, though, I feel accomplished for having finished it and have a temporary illusion of being a well-informed person on this topic. That's worth something, I suppose. I also think that Obama and other government officials who want insight into the craziness that is the Middle East and some of America's missteps in the region would benefit from reading this book carefully.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Saadiq Wolford

    Michael Oren must be a horrible lay. I say this because only a horrible lay could take a subject as rife with passion and controversy as America's involvement in the Middle East and make it a mind-numbingly dull read. Furthermore, while the book's subtitle is "America in the Middle East from 1776 to the Present", Oren only spends the last 20% of the book discussing the last 70 years of history (the period in which I was most interested), stating outright that he did so because there are many othe Michael Oren must be a horrible lay. I say this because only a horrible lay could take a subject as rife with passion and controversy as America's involvement in the Middle East and make it a mind-numbingly dull read. Furthermore, while the book's subtitle is "America in the Middle East from 1776 to the Present", Oren only spends the last 20% of the book discussing the last 70 years of history (the period in which I was most interested), stating outright that he did so because there are many other books that cover the subject in detail. A bit more truth in advertising would have helped me adjust my expectations accordingly. Despite this disappointment and the fact that I gave up on the book twice before finishing it, Oren does cover a lot of new historical ground here, and it substantially increased the context in which I form my own thoughts about the Middle East and America's actions there.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Khader

    A very superficial, one-sided and biased "analysis" of the United States involvement in the middle-east. The motivation of the middle-eastern people's resistance to the U.S.'s attempts to exploit the region are never explored. Instead, the native people of the middle east are presented as savages that are intent on conflicting with the United-States for no particular reason, with the United-States motives being portrayed as an altruistic superpower intent on enlightening the world, which is extr A very superficial, one-sided and biased "analysis" of the United States involvement in the middle-east. The motivation of the middle-eastern people's resistance to the U.S.'s attempts to exploit the region are never explored. Instead, the native people of the middle east are presented as savages that are intent on conflicting with the United-States for no particular reason, with the United-States motives being portrayed as an altruistic superpower intent on enlightening the world, which is extremely naive. For a better understanding of the middle-east, I would recommend the less widely available "Sowing the Wind", by John Keay.

  4. 4 out of 5

    jordan

    Few fields have been as well plowed as that of Middle East studies. Indeed, the ever expanding shelf in the bookstore on the topic groans under the weight of a torrent of new works, many which might be charitably described as derivative of already existing work. What a thrill then when a new book appears covering otherwise undisturbed ground! Michael Oren's excellent "Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East: 1776 to the Present" is such a book. Instead of covering familiar subjects Few fields have been as well plowed as that of Middle East studies. Indeed, the ever expanding shelf in the bookstore on the topic groans under the weight of a torrent of new works, many which might be charitably described as derivative of already existing work. What a thrill then when a new book appears covering otherwise undisturbed ground! Michael Oren's excellent "Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East: 1776 to the Present" is such a book. Instead of covering familiar subjects, Mr. Oren offers an insightful study of an area few consider, America's relationship to the Middle East in the 19th Century. Many will surely wonder at how any author can squeeze more than 600 pages - not including footnotes and bibliography -- over a topic that you might suspect could be covered in scant pages. Such is the wonderful surprise that Oren offers. In gripping prose that will be familiar with those who have already read his definitive history of the Six Day War, Oren traces America's involvement in the Middle East and North Africa all the way back to the Revolutionary War period. Philosophically and temperamentally committed to avoiding "old world entanglements" Thomas Jefferson, first as Washington's Secretary of State and then as President, confronts the question of what to do about American shipping seized by the petty north African Berber and Arab kingdoms. The Middle East a lucrative market, European states pay tribute to these states in exchange for "protection" a notion offensive to many early American statesman. Thus, having first resisted the creation of a standing navy, Jefferson reverses course in order to protect American shipping interests. Thus begins US involvement in the region. The study of this period provides much data of interest. To take one example, Oren cites an early treaty with a north African Muslim state, signed when many of the Framers still lived, stating categorically that the United States was "not a Christian nation." Likewise interesting, the American legation in Tangiers stands as the countries oldest. Oren follows the story through the 19th Century and the US involvement with the Ottoman Empire. Through it all, he likewise discusses the concept of "Restorationism," that a Jewish State should be created in the area between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, an idea with deep roots in American Protestantism. Indeed, readers who think themselves knowledgeable about diplomatic history, Zionism, and the Middle East, will likely find great surprise in learning about American missionary stations built for the very purpose of teaching Jews agricultural skills, well before Theodore Herzl's efforts. Marshalling considerable evidence, Oren argues that the US commitment to the notion of a Jewish state indeed far proceeds Israel's birth in 1948. Time and again one hears that America's relationship with Israel arises out of some nefarious political cabal warping national interest, in contrast Oren shows how such the heart of the relationship lies deep in America culture and character. Further to his credit, Oren flies through the modern period, ground well covered in other books. Many of the issues covered will have a familiar ring to 21st century ears, such as presidents torn between cleaving to stabilizing power or siding with American ideals. Indeed, one often finds themselves wishing that Oren wrote prior to the invasion of Iraq, thus giving decision makers some much needed perspective. Nonetheless, readers will find themselves thrilled at all they can learn in this important work.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Rahadyan

    Since my conversion to Islam more than a decade ago, I am wont to approach any book of this subject matter and scope with skepticism. While the author Michael B. Oren certainly has the credentials for this, he is also Israel's current ambassador to the United States. The section of the book that deals with the nascent United States of the 18th century up to the influences of the then-major world powers in the first half of the 20th century seem unassailably objective. I honestly expected Mr. Oren Since my conversion to Islam more than a decade ago, I am wont to approach any book of this subject matter and scope with skepticism. While the author Michael B. Oren certainly has the credentials for this, he is also Israel's current ambassador to the United States. The section of the book that deals with the nascent United States of the 18th century up to the influences of the then-major world powers in the first half of the 20th century seem unassailably objective. I honestly expected Mr. Oren to try to justify some of the events connected to the creation of the state of Israel, but he simply reports them. I was prepared to react with outrage to how the era from World War II to the dawning years of the 21st century was portrayed, but I found it balanced. Given the ongoing strife in the region, its history is still being written. I highly recommend this book for its readability and its scholarship. I plan to read Mr. Oren's The Six Day War and any future works of his.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Brian Griffith

    The book starts out slow and gradually gains velocity. Its heavy focus on the first century and a half of US history allows for story telling about many individual soldiers, missionaries, or adventurers who went to the Middle East. Then the entanglements grow more complicated, and the momentum of events builds. By the 1980s, the writing is a fairly breathless rush of momentous events. It's good to have it all flash before your eyes like this, but it's little more than a stream of headlines. Thro The book starts out slow and gradually gains velocity. Its heavy focus on the first century and a half of US history allows for story telling about many individual soldiers, missionaries, or adventurers who went to the Middle East. Then the entanglements grow more complicated, and the momentum of events builds. By the 1980s, the writing is a fairly breathless rush of momentous events. It's good to have it all flash before your eyes like this, but it's little more than a stream of headlines. Through the whole big story, Oren highlights what has been noble in America's efforts, while always including critical views. He does an excellent job of capturing America's part in the rise of Israel, and the difficult choices Americans made in response to a rising tragedy, as Jewish refugees fled from the bonfire of anti-Semitic Europe into the frying pan of an anti-colonial Middle East. As for recent conflicts, Oren seems cautious in judging his contemporaries. He seems to feel that presenting the big picture of the past will provide balance, and the present will be judged by future works of history. I would have liked to see more on America's relations with Saudi Arabia, and a greater discussion of the issues in political or military control of religious movements.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jerome

    Well-written and well-researched. However, the book's main weakness is that it doesn't cover the era of the 20th century to today very well. Oren excuses himself by saying that plenty of works already exist on the subject, and only writes as much as is needed. Arguably, this is the section most readers will be interested in the most, and it, while decent, fails to deliver. And besides, the stories of American romantics and adventurers got repetitive and boring after a while, and you start to ask Well-written and well-researched. However, the book's main weakness is that it doesn't cover the era of the 20th century to today very well. Oren excuses himself by saying that plenty of works already exist on the subject, and only writes as much as is needed. Arguably, this is the section most readers will be interested in the most, and it, while decent, fails to deliver. And besides, the stories of American romantics and adventurers got repetitive and boring after a while, and you start to ask "who cares?" and "of what possible significance are they?" As the book plunges into the 20th century it becomes less adequate. Oren explains that he does not feel obligated to give more than a brief survey of events in the Cold War and after simply because plenty of works are already availble on the subject. Maybe I'm being unfair, but this just seems like academic laziness to me. But even before the post-1948 survey, the desire to chronicle what happened seems to overwhelm any incisive interpretation. The significance of oil in shaping relations and policy is definitely described, but it seems like it deserves a more prominent place. Also, Oren makes this grand claim in the final pages of the book: "On balance, Americans historically brought far more beneficence than avarice to the Middle East and caused significantly less harm than good." Does the history of US relations with Middle Eastern states really support that analysis? How would one factor in US bolstering of dictatorial regimes in places like Saudi Arabia? Or the overturning of a nationalist Iranian government by the CIA? Oren's own history shows how little Americans actually understood about the region and its people, even as they attempted to shape its future. It seems unlikely that a basically imperial perspective could also coincidentally be the basis for a good policy that put the people of the Middle East first. Oren seems to be falling into the trap that he describes in his book. His final judgment oddly seems to reinforce the myths about the American role in the region as a champion of enlightenment. It understates how much US policy was driven fundamentally by what all states are driven by: strategic interests and demand for economic resources. In chapter 5 Oren discusses the Greek revolution of 1821. Oren states that the Greeks were fighting for democracy and the US was in a dilemma between supporting a fledging democracy and its financial interest that depended on good relations with the Ottoman Empire. The truth is that the US had very little influence in the region at the time. Instead England, France, and Russia were fighting for influence in the new country (England won eventually). Also the Greek revolution was not for democracy but it had religious and ethnic motives. It was a revolt of (mostly Greek speaking) Orthodox Christians against a Muslim government. Early on the Greeks slaughtered all Muslims and Jews in Peloponese. Apparently, the slaughter was so extensive that our schoolbooks could not ignore it but described it as a "justified" over-reaction to long centuries of Ottoman suppression. In addition, the first governments of Greece were quite autocratic and even constitutional monarchy did not become stable until after 1860. So you may say, does it matter that Oren botched one event. Yes, it does. There are a couple of significant weaknesses though, not the least of which is a problem with historical accuracy. In covering the early history between the U.S. and the Barbary States, Mr. Oren is correct to categorize Jefferson's conflict as a "de facto" war, but when looking at the 2nd War he specifically states that "Nearly three months passed before he [President Madison] went to Congress and asked for - and promptly received - a formal declaration of war." The problem is, that there was no formal declaration of war, but rather an authorization to use force. This is a rather key difference, and one which makes the reader question just how precise the author is actually being. Another example, albeit less important, is when Mr. Oren discusses the national anthem and declares "Only after the Battle of Fort McHenry in the War of 1812 were the lyrics revised by their author Francis Scott Key." In fact, the "Star Spangled Banner" and "When the Warrior Returns" are two different poems, or sets of lyrics, which Francis Scott Key wrote to the tune of "The Anacreon Song" (a.k.a. "To Anacreon in Heaven"), an old English drinking tune. Mr. Oren also indicates that the song was written in honor of Stephen Decatur and William Bainbridge, but other sources indicate that it was in honor of Charles Stewart and not William Bainbridge.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    I am giving this 3 stars solely based on the amount of information included. Here is why it doesn't get a better rating. The book starts with the very interesting Barbary Wars when the United States was brand new. It discusses the impacts that the pirates from Northern Africa had on the formation of our Navy and foreign policy. After that there is 200 pages of discussion on missionaries and the schools and hospitals they built. This is also somewhat interesting, but I don't think so many of the di I am giving this 3 stars solely based on the amount of information included. Here is why it doesn't get a better rating. The book starts with the very interesting Barbary Wars when the United States was brand new. It discusses the impacts that the pirates from Northern Africa had on the formation of our Navy and foreign policy. After that there is 200 pages of discussion on missionaries and the schools and hospitals they built. This is also somewhat interesting, but I don't think so many of the different missionaries needed to be covered and quoted. There was some discussion of how the natives felt about the missionaries, but I would have preferred more of that than the elicit descriptions of the actual people and their quotes. This problem persists throughout the book. When we arrive at WWI there is a discussion on the discovery of oil and the Americans involved. Only one paragraph discusses the small communities that these oil companies created and almost nothing about the Saudi populations reaction. Maybe that information doesn't exist, but I am pretty sure it does because I have read about it in other books. The author then covers the last 30 years in about 100 pages, which he explains that there is so much information already available. He should have stopped there. At times he clearly states where Israel and America have gone against previously stated policies or actions, but then at the end of each chapter he actual makes it seem as though the policy is successful. His section on Reagan is the most blatant, Reagan stumbled through the Middle East during his presidency, but at the end he gives Reagan credit. I just think there should have been more direct discussion of the impact of the oil companies and more criticism of Israel for some of their responses and our failure to pressure them. I am not saying that Michael Oren doesn't try to be unbiased, but I felt in many cases, regardless of the politics more details are needed. For a 600 page book I shouldn't need to refer to other books. But the thing that bothered me the most was his defense of Israel's assertation after occupying the West Bank and Gaza as just following the Post WWII guidelines. The part that is missed is that so much of the problems we face today is because of the restorationist movements existence at all. For a book that covers this much history, to act like the first 150 years was just meant to be misses the point of his own book. Also, Michael Oren is currently the Israeli ambassador to the US. Take that how you want.

  9. 4 out of 5

    xhxhx

    A rather old-fashioned book. A series of picaresque narratives of Americans doing American things in strange foreign lands. The natives don't get a serious treatment. Not worth reading on anything after 1948 -- the last hundred 0r so pages of the book -- but amusing and readable on everything before that.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Charissa

    Everything we all need to know about our relationship with the Middle East (if you happen to be American). Crucial reading in these times.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Robert Morris

    Well that went off the rails quickly. I very much enjoyed the majority of this book. The last 100 pages or so were a complete waste of time. I realized after I had bought the book that the author, Michael Oren, was the Israeli Ambassador to the US between 2009 and 2013. Going to an actual political actor for historical perspective is generally not such a great idea. Best to stick to their memoirs, a set of which I believe Oren has recently published. But for the majority of the book, I think Ore Well that went off the rails quickly. I very much enjoyed the majority of this book. The last 100 pages or so were a complete waste of time. I realized after I had bought the book that the author, Michael Oren, was the Israeli Ambassador to the US between 2009 and 2013. Going to an actual political actor for historical perspective is generally not such a great idea. Best to stick to their memoirs, a set of which I believe Oren has recently published. But for the majority of the book, I think Oren manages to see beyond the perspective of his country. His objectivity was occasionally quite impressive. For example, his telling of the events of 1948 doesn't look at Israel's founders through rose tinted glasses, he mentions the terrorism, and he suggests that they were responsible for much of the escalation of the crisis. Oren is right that the subject, US relations with the Middle East, deserves a broader survey. For most of the book he ably serves up fascinating characters, delightful anecdotes and interesting theories. I was impressed by the extent of US influence on the formation of the Egyptian military in the 19th century. He doesn't adequately support some of his most interesting suggestions, such as the link between Arab nationalism and US missionary universities, and the threat of Barbary Piracy and the success of the campaign for the US Constitution, but they are interesting things to think about. All in all I enjoyed the book, all the way from the Revolution to the end of World War II. Beyond that point, pretty much from Israel's founding, the book is basically useless. It's an extended apologia/ endorsement of Israeli policy, and the aspects of US policy that Israel likes. There are some interpretations here that were completely new to me. Apparently Carter and Clinton weren't all that useful for the big steps forward in the peace process during their administrations, the Israelis already had it handled. All those billions of dollars we've transferred to the Egyptians over the years to keep Camp David alive are apparently an afterthought. It's all a bit ridiculous. I haven't read an account of the George W. Bush's Iraq war this uncritical and glowing since 2005. This book dates from 2007. In Oren's defense, before he embarks on the post-1948 survey, he does mention that it's less useful than the rest of the book. His explanation is that the archives aren't open yet, but I think it's also an inability, conscious or unconscious, to see beyond the attitudes and goals he spent his career shaping and pushing. I would have given this book a four or five star review if it had ended with World War II. There was one other thing I wanted to mention. This book shares an emphasis with Simon Sebag Montefiore's Jerusalem book, which I also mostly enjoyed. A lot of time is spent covering how undeveloped Palestine was before the Jewish settlers got there. Much of the book is made up of the accounts of US travelers to the Holy Land and other areas in the Middle East. These are sometimes presented in their own words, sometimes by the author. With what feels like every single figure, Oren makes sure to emphasize how crappy they found everything. It's carefully couched in tut-tuting about those nasty 19th century racists, but I find Oren's protests half-hearted. He's chosen to present these aspects of these accounts, over and over again, and in preference to other aspects. This is a classy way of doing it, but it's also kind of a sneaky way of advancing a troubling claim I often see in pro-Israel literature: "Before Israel, there wasn't really anything there..." If I recall correctly, Montefiore actually claims in his book that the only reason there are as many Palestinians as there are is because of late 19th and early 20th century development in the area brought about by Jewish settlers. This may very well be true. And I also buy that Israel has been a better steward of its lands than the Ottomans and the British were before them. But I don't like the implications of advancing this claim. Palestine was a mess before Jewish settlement, not because of Jewish virtue but because it was in a pre-modern state. Centuries of neglect alternating with oppression from the Turks were not going to yield Switzerland. If you're going to argue, or just subtly imply, as these historians have, that "our guys" have a better right to the land because their technology was more sophisticated, and they had Imperial might working for them rather than against them, then you've got to follow the thought through. Isn't this just a 21st century burden of the "white man's burden"? Isn't this a sneaky endorsement of 19th century imperialism at it's worst? If Palestine should be subjugated for failing to win the game of development, shouldn't all of Africa as well? It's thinking like that that brought us to the two largest catastrophes described in this book, World Wars I and II. I can forgive Oren for the professionally mandated waste of time that the last part of this book is. I'm not so sure I can forgive him for seeming to endorse that old timey "white man's burden" kind of thinking.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Greg Holman

    I actually learned several things I didn't know that went on behind the scenes in the Middle East. It's fascinating how integral Israel is in the region, and also how the U.S. actually became allies with it. I will always love 43 as my president, but I wish he had fired Rumsfeld!

  13. 4 out of 5

    Dolly

    I have had this book on my to-read list for a long, long, long time (almost 7 years). But due to the length of the book and the density of the subject matter (not to mention my aversion to history books that have bored me to tears in the past), I just never seemed to want to read it. I even checked out the book once or twice, but ended up returning it before I got around to it. But I've really taken to listening to audiobooks in the car during my daily commute. Some drives are longer than others I have had this book on my to-read list for a long, long, long time (almost 7 years). But due to the length of the book and the density of the subject matter (not to mention my aversion to history books that have bored me to tears in the past), I just never seemed to want to read it. I even checked out the book once or twice, but ended up returning it before I got around to it. But I've really taken to listening to audiobooks in the car during my daily commute. Some drives are longer than others, but I still get a good half-hour or so of listening each day. So when I discovered that our local library had an audio CD version of this book, I jumped at the chance. It's 22 (that's right, twenty-two!) discs long, so it still took over a month to get through the whole thing, but on the whole, I was glad I took the plunge. The narrative is certainly dry in parts, but for the most part, I was enthralled by the story. The descriptions of violence were quite graphic at times, but on the whole, I could listen to the book even with our girls in the car with me. Ususally they just ignored it and read their own books, but sometimes we'd talk about the historical period being discussed. Both of our girls are studying Colonial times in school, so the earlier sections were quite relevant to their studies. We were all surprised at how much America was involved in the Middle East from its very inception. new words: inchoate, internecine

  14. 5 out of 5

    Christopher

    This is an immensely fascinating study of U.S.-Middle Eastern relations starting in 1776 and roughly ending in 2006-2007. Oren not only writes passionately and convincingly about U.S. military and diplomatic interactions with the region, but also about the humanitarian and missionary work that private citizens did in the region, which had a far greater impact upon U.S. relations in the Middle East pre-1914 than one might think. I especially find it ironic that the Zionist movement and Arabian Na This is an immensely fascinating study of U.S.-Middle Eastern relations starting in 1776 and roughly ending in 2006-2007. Oren not only writes passionately and convincingly about U.S. military and diplomatic interactions with the region, but also about the humanitarian and missionary work that private citizens did in the region, which had a far greater impact upon U.S. relations in the Middle East pre-1914 than one might think. I especially find it ironic that the Zionist movement and Arabian Nationalist movement, as documented by Oren, had roots either in America or in the American-styled universities set up throughout the Middle East. I was very tempted to give this book five stars, but I didn't because it seems that, at times, Oren moves too quickly through certain passages without really identifying their importance until much later. This is especially true in regards to chapters and sections dealing with world fairs and the like that featured Middle Eastern exhibits. Oren claims that these exhibits had an impact on American's perceptions of the region, but doesn't give any good examples of that impact. But, that is only a minor inconvenience compared to the quality of the rest of the book. In short, this is a great book for anyone interested in a general history of U.S.-Middle Eastern relations.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Paula Obermeier McCarty

    This was a fascinating book! Here are just a few thoughts I had about this incredible book: 1. I was appalled by the Armenian massacres. It was disturbing that the Turks were focused on genocide and their killing methods seemed to be a chilling precursor to the Jewish Holocaust. (such as Armenians packed into railroad boxcars and deported to execution sites). As an ally of Turkey during the First World War, Germany would have known of these things. They also would have witnessed the rest of the w This was a fascinating book! Here are just a few thoughts I had about this incredible book: 1. I was appalled by the Armenian massacres. It was disturbing that the Turks were focused on genocide and their killing methods seemed to be a chilling precursor to the Jewish Holocaust. (such as Armenians packed into railroad boxcars and deported to execution sites). As an ally of Turkey during the First World War, Germany would have known of these things. They also would have witnessed the rest of the western world, while horrified by the brutality of the massacres, refusing to get involved in stopping the killings. 2. I was surprised at the huge amount of interest that Christian missionary thought had over American policies in the Middle East, especially in the State Department. It was also surprising to see how many important people were influenced more by One Thousand and One Arabian Nights than with reality when dealing with the Middle East. It's no wonder our government had so many difficulties in that region!

  16. 5 out of 5

    Phoenix

    Innocence Abroad A superb overview of American involvement in the Middle East from the start of the Republic up to the year of publication (2007). In severing its ties with Great Britain, revolutionary America lost British protection in the Mediterranean from Barbary pirate states situated on the North African coast who preyed on ships, confiscated their cargo and enslaved and ransomed their crews. Failing to obtain the protection of France and other European partners, America acquiesced to the E Innocence Abroad A superb overview of American involvement in the Middle East from the start of the Republic up to the year of publication (2007). In severing its ties with Great Britain, revolutionary America lost British protection in the Mediterranean from Barbary pirate states situated on the North African coast who preyed on ships, confiscated their cargo and enslaved and ransomed their crews. Failing to obtain the protection of France and other European partners, America acquiesced to the European mode of paying tribute, which rankled Thomas Jefferson sufficiently to create a US Navy strong enough to counter the threat, albeit the trade being protected consisted largely of opium, rum and slaves. By the 1830s the French had occupied Algeria and the threat of piracy had largely subsided. While Philo Hellenic Americans recalling an ancient golden age supported Greek secession from the Ottoman union, the US itself focused on expanding trade, selling 12 battleships to the Porte in exchange for diplomatic standing (pp116). While odd by today's outlook, quite a number of America's diplomatic envoys to the Muslim world were Jews, the perception that Jews, being from the middle east originally, made a natural bridge between the Christian and Muslim world, even though Jews in Middle Eastern societies, as multiple sources cited relate, were poorly treated . Nevertheless they were seen as Americans, and were generally successful in defending and promoting America's interests abroad. Pertaining to Oren's theme of "Faith", the book describes early American fervor for Zionism based on Restorationist interpretations of the Bible, even before it was popular amongst Jews. Drawing on Jefferson's belief that all nations required an agrarian base (pp145) several ill prepared Christian Restorationist groups tried to establish farming communes in Palestine with the hope of attracting Jews to the land, foreshadowing the principles of the kibbutz movement. A more prevalent pattern in the Levant was that of American missionaries to proselytize locals to accept conversion to Protestantism. Governing officials made it clear that Muslims were off limits, and the success rate amongst Christians and Jews was exceedingly low. As the Coptic Patriarch remarked (pp214) "We had the Gospel before America was born. We don't need you to teach us." Instead American missionaries in competition with similar outreach from French Jesuits and the Russian Orthodox Church, tried building schools to teach literacy and westernized culture. While not successful in exporting their religion they were able to instill in their students many of the "secular notions of patriotism, republicanism and the preservation of individual liberties" (pp217), setting a latter tone for the rise of modern nationalism throughout the region. A surprising subject was the effect of the US Civil War on the Middle East, particularly Egypt. Prior to 1860 Egyptian cotton production could not compete in Europe against the higher yields and lower costs of slave labour employed by American farmers. However the Northern blockade of Confederate shipping proved to be a boom for Egypt which saw sales and prices skyrocket. The major benefactor was Egypt's Khedive Isma'il who had become the largest private landowner in Egypt. Much of the income was targeted at building long term public projects such as irrigation systems, palace, a westernized parliamentary assembly, thoroughfares and equipping the army. One such project was the commissioning of a large statue of an Egyptian peasant woman holding aloft a torch symbolizing freedom. However when US production came online again in 1865 the prices for cotton crashed and with it the economic basis for modernization. (The French designer and architect of the statue repurposed it as the New York Statue of Liberty - pp269). A second side effect of the war ending was that the international market was flooded with surplus war materiel, which not only found eager buyers throughout the Middle East but complemented American reputation for technical innovation. The middle east also found use for another surplus of the war, former soldiers. Two highpoints of the latter part of the book were the American response to the Armenian Genocide (Ch17-18) and the advice offered to Woodrow Wilson (Ch 19) and Harry S Truman leading up to the decision to recognize the Jewish State of Israel in 1948 (Ch 21). With respect to the emerging Oren manages to show that the US was largely seen anti-colonial power and a counterbalance to European imperialism. Washington was rarely of one mind as to how this could be accomplished, and while rejecting both French and English imperial designs, in the post WW I era she needed their alliance to oppose first Nazi and then Soviet expansion. One example of this was 1942's Operation Torch in Algeria where the Americans, after taking the country, made a deal keeping the Vichy leadership in charge, their Nuremberg style intact. Another was how to respond to Arab threats as a reaction to Israel. In truth there was little to fear as the Arabs were more in need of America's superior technical skills and financial markets than the reverse and US assistance had arguably far fewer strings attached than the alternatives. The book's narrative succeeds marvelously in bringing history to life with many nice touches such as relevant references to popular American culture in each era, and heartwarming biographical sketches. There's also a comprehensive set of notes and full bibliography at the back. It's a delightful read that successfully unfolds America's emergence onto the international arena. Recommended!

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jackie

    Overall, this is a book worth reading. A bit of a slog at times, finishing it became a matter of perseverance rather than interest. Given the overwhelming amount of detail, as well as a contrived personality sketch of seemingly every possible character that has been involved in U.S.-Middle East relations, I doubt how much information I’ll actually retain. However, I did leave the book with a much broader perspective of the historical connections between the regions, and there are definitely some Overall, this is a book worth reading. A bit of a slog at times, finishing it became a matter of perseverance rather than interest. Given the overwhelming amount of detail, as well as a contrived personality sketch of seemingly every possible character that has been involved in U.S.-Middle East relations, I doubt how much information I’ll actually retain. However, I did leave the book with a much broader perspective of the historical connections between the regions, and there are definitely some juicy lesser-known facts—such as where the Statue of Liberty came from—that make the book worthwhile.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Brian Eshleman

    Saw it on Book TV. Sounds like a readable overview of American involvement and makes motivations in the Middle East.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Nathalie

    This book could have included more analysis.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Ryan

    This well-researched, well-organized, well-written book by Michael Oren is essential reading for any American who wants to more fully understand the history of U. S. interactions in the Middle East. American involvement in that region of the world, as with most regions, has been complicated throughout our history as a nation, to put it mildly. We have always had a hard time "choosing sides," as it were, because it has been genuinely difficult to tell what the sides are. This is especially true t This well-researched, well-organized, well-written book by Michael Oren is essential reading for any American who wants to more fully understand the history of U. S. interactions in the Middle East. American involvement in that region of the world, as with most regions, has been complicated throughout our history as a nation, to put it mildly. We have always had a hard time "choosing sides," as it were, because it has been genuinely difficult to tell what the sides are. This is especially true today and makes U.S. policies and interventions extremely convoluted and inconsistent. Oren's explorations of the intersections of power, faith, and fantasy in regards to the Middle East generally fall into the category of description rather than pure explanation, which is probably more historically modest and academically honest. While he certainly implicates American energy interests as a primary factor, he also asserts that Americans have generally brought more beneficence than avarice, and more advancement than detriment to the area. If you disagree or are intrigued by that claim, you may want to read the book and let Oren make his case. The only reason I don't give thus book five stars is that I save that distinction for books that are truly transformative for me personally. While this book is incredibly informative and his invitation at the end is inspiring, it didn't move me to action the way some other books do.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Mlhoganjr

    In the preface to the final section, Oren notes that the purpose of this book is both simple and complex: to identify recurring patterns in U.S./Mid-East relations throughout the years. What the reader can take away with them is a rich tapestry of context in which to view not only the remaining chapters of the book, but ultimately any new developments in the region. In Oren's words, "The objective is to enable Americans to read about the fighting in Iraq and hear the echoes of the Barbary Wars a In the preface to the final section, Oren notes that the purpose of this book is both simple and complex: to identify recurring patterns in U.S./Mid-East relations throughout the years. What the reader can take away with them is a rich tapestry of context in which to view not only the remaining chapters of the book, but ultimately any new developments in the region. In Oren's words, "The objective is to enable Americans to read about the fighting in Iraq and hear the echoes of the Barbary Wars and Operation Torch" (the codename for U.S. operations in North Africa and the mid-east in WWII). This book turned out to be a surprise for me. History and the written word can trudge through decades of bland non-events. Middle east history itself-- perhaps due to the sheer amount written on the subject-- can often feel like a barrage of meaningless dates and names. Yet, Oren's lucid writing style makes even centuries of Christian missionary work (not the most thrilling topic in the world) seem crucial and engaging when viewed within a larger picture. As any good historian, Oren acts as a tour guide for a nearly 250-year relationship. This book will only increase in intellectual value as time goes by and I fully intend to re-read it. As America and the middle-east become more and more inextricably linked (as much as neither party really wants to), our knowledge of each other can be the only way to see through to a mutually happy next 250 years.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Ben Denison

    Good book. Oren is a Jewish/Israeli leader (thus I would expect a bias), but I thought he was very fair and I could not detect any particular slant. Touched on a lot of topics in the middle east in which I was was interested and/or unaware. * The Barbary Wars * United States missionaries' role in education and cultural change in the Middle East as far back as while our west was being settled. * Partitioning of the middle east and the lack of US control (and reasons) * The catch 22 (that we still fin Good book. Oren is a Jewish/Israeli leader (thus I would expect a bias), but I thought he was very fair and I could not detect any particular slant. Touched on a lot of topics in the middle east in which I was was interested and/or unaware. * The Barbary Wars * United States missionaries' role in education and cultural change in the Middle East as far back as while our west was being settled. * Partitioning of the middle east and the lack of US control (and reasons) * The catch 22 (that we still find ourselves today) of failing to react on Arab actions, fearing that our reaction will only foment more and more arab outrage (goes back 200 years.) * Turkey's historical role in the region and it's own geonocide against the Armenians. * Understood more why President Carter seemed to favor the Arabs side. * Interesting tracking of the continued anti-semetic views of leaders throughout history. Jewish leaders criticized for being tough negotiators or obstinent, while pretty vile Arab leaders seemginly get a pass. * he also interestingly reviewed the history of Hollywood's movies that romanticized the middle east and/or the arab cutlure/male (i.e.-Lawrence of Arabia, etc) All good stuff and also showing even more the complexity of the US's role in the region and obsticles to peace,

  23. 4 out of 5

    Gordon Larsen

    I'm giving this three stars not because it's mediocre but because it was really hard to get through. Even though it's a huge book (28 hours of audio) it takes on a massive topic—America's involvement in the Middle East for the past 230 years (it was published in 2007). That means that by necessity it jumps very quickly from event to event and person to person, so I quickly lost track of who fit into which events. Still, the topic is an important one on which the author, Michael Oren, is a very c I'm giving this three stars not because it's mediocre but because it was really hard to get through. Even though it's a huge book (28 hours of audio) it takes on a massive topic—America's involvement in the Middle East for the past 230 years (it was published in 2007). That means that by necessity it jumps very quickly from event to event and person to person, so I quickly lost track of who fit into which events. Still, the topic is an important one on which the author, Michael Oren, is a very credible expert, a widely-respected historian who was the Ambassador of Israel to the United States. Despite having a tough time plowing through it, the title of Power, Faith, and Fantasy, is an apt description of the themes that underpin U.S. perceptions of and involvement in the Middle East. And I certainly have a better appreciation for the complicated history of U.S. involvement in the region.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jeanne Arp

    This one took me a long time to read. Many stops and starts later, I’ve finished and am very glad a i read it. I thought it would give me insight into what’s happening in the Middle East today and it definitely did that. Unsurprisingly, Middle Eastern issues are much more complicated than a first glance or the daily superficial news coverage can give us. The good news is that we have done many good things over the past 200 + years in the Middle East. The bad news is we’ve done some whoppingly ba This one took me a long time to read. Many stops and starts later, I’ve finished and am very glad a i read it. I thought it would give me insight into what’s happening in the Middle East today and it definitely did that. Unsurprisingly, Middle Eastern issues are much more complicated than a first glance or the daily superficial news coverage can give us. The good news is that we have done many good things over the past 200 + years in the Middle East. The bad news is we’ve done some whoppingly bad ones too. This book was published in 2007. The author was optimistic then because he felt that the good we had done still out weighed the bad. I wonder if he’s still optimistic today? If you, like me, wanted some context and background for our recent history with the Middle East, I recommend this book. I only gave it a four because I felt like the end of the book was a bit rushed and not as substantial as the rest.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Paul Wilner

    Amazingly well-researched, remarkably (to me) even-handed work from an author whose writings have sometimes stirred controversy. The section on the recent series of catastrophes was least successful, since they are overwhelming and (at the moment) seemingly irresoluble. The colonial history is well done, and there are great tidbits about John Steinbeck's missionary grandfather, Little Egypt at the Chicago World's Fair, Norman Schwarzkopf's father and John Foster Dulles, whom Churchill called "Du Amazingly well-researched, remarkably (to me) even-handed work from an author whose writings have sometimes stirred controversy. The section on the recent series of catastrophes was least successful, since they are overwhelming and (at the moment) seemingly irresoluble. The colonial history is well done, and there are great tidbits about John Steinbeck's missionary grandfather, Little Egypt at the Chicago World's Fair, Norman Schwarzkopf's father and John Foster Dulles, whom Churchill called "Dull. Duller. Dullest.'' The themes of Power, Faith and Fantasy are well explored, although the dips into images of pop culture are perhaps the least successfully developed. Oren explores the roots of the unresolved questions of Arab displacement and the clashing interests of the Great Powers. I learned much from this book.

  26. 4 out of 5

    David Eastman

    Michael B. Oren does a fantastic job of condensing what deserves several volumes of history into some six-hundred pages. His retelling of the history is compelling and well-researched, and most important of all, fair. Oren brings to life characters nearly forgotten from American memory and reshapes some of the recent news that we watched on television. This book will enlighten you to a region that may currently hide behind a dark cloud of animosity - whether that region for you is the Middle Eas Michael B. Oren does a fantastic job of condensing what deserves several volumes of history into some six-hundred pages. His retelling of the history is compelling and well-researched, and most important of all, fair. Oren brings to life characters nearly forgotten from American memory and reshapes some of the recent news that we watched on television. This book will enlighten you to a region that may currently hide behind a dark cloud of animosity - whether that region for you is the Middle East or the United States.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    This is an impressively accessible introduction to the clusterf*ck that is the US's relationship with the Middle East. It stops early into the 2000s, so I wish there was a later edition where I could learn more. But this is an excellent entry into what is undoubtedly the defining international relationship of our time. Not exactly pleasure reading (though not necessarily hard work, either) but I definitely felt better educated on this topic once I'd finished this book.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Collin Willis

    A striking discourse of not only the Middle East but America's ever-changing view of Foreign Policy. Oren goes to great lengths to retrace history through America's greatest strengths and most harrowing weaknesses within the region. I appreciate how balanced Oren is in his approach, taking great care to call out American naivety and outright failure, while still providing due credit to it's true victories.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Stephen Coates

    Following the War of Independence, US ships, without the protection previously provided by the Royal Navy, were frequently captured by the fiefdoms in North Africa with their crews held for ransom, ransoms which were consuming an increasing proportion of the fledgling country's federal budget. In 1788, then future US presidents Jefferson and Adams asked the Tripoli ambassador in London about the attacks, noting that the USA had (then) never had a quarrel with the Moslem world, the ambassador rep Following the War of Independence, US ships, without the protection previously provided by the Royal Navy, were frequently captured by the fiefdoms in North Africa with their crews held for ransom, ransoms which were consuming an increasing proportion of the fledgling country's federal budget. In 1788, then future US presidents Jefferson and Adams asked the Tripoli ambassador in London about the attacks, noting that the USA had (then) never had a quarrel with the Moslem world, the ambassador replied, "because the Koran gives us permission to do so". In response, the US established a navy which, in a series of missions recaptured its merchant ships and freed its enslaved sailors. Thus began American engagement with the middle east. This very thoroughly researched book chronicles American involvement with this part of the world from its independence until the present, at times benevolent and at other times less so. It covers that various competing objectives of supporting anti-colonial movements, colonising Christian communities that the American perceived as not following the true path, hence American universities in that part of the world, and of furthering American economic interests. For those seeking to understand the long history to American involvement in the Middle East, this is an essential read.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Rajat Narula

    A beautifully written book on America's role in the middle-east. From 1776 to Iraq war - the days of the missionaries spreading Christianity in the region, Barbry wars with Algeria to some unscrupulous things in Iran.

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