Review: A Peace to End All Peace, David Fromkin

Phew. Finally. I was reading this book for a good, ooh, three weeks I guess, before I finished it at last. Now I know a lot more things than I knew previously about the formation of the modern Middle East, but still not a lot. As with Three Empires on the Nile, much of the information contained in A Peace to End All Peace went in one eye and out the other. (That’s a gross image but “ear” doesn’t work with reading, so, er, sorry.)

A Peace to End All Peace is about the fall of the Ottoman Empire and how its collapse contributed to the development of the modern Middle East. When the Allies were ensconced in World War II, and Turkey allied itself, almost by accident, with Germany, the Allies began making deals amongst themselves, over who was going to get what bits of the Ottoman Empire when the war was over. A great deal of dishonest, behind-the-scenes negotiating went on about this, and a great deal of reneging on promises after the war was over.

I loved the parts of the book that dealt with the diplomacy: what the Turks thought and what the Germans thought and what the British thought. Like, the Germans sailed a ship into Turkish waters, before they were completely officially altogether allies, and Turkey let the German ships come into port. England and the Allies thought this meant Germany and Turkey were BFF. But in fact, Turkey was more or less blackmailing Germany, demanding Germany pay them handsomely for letting their ship come into port there. Germany had to do what Turkey wanted, since the alternative was sailing back out into waters where British warships were waiting. I wish I could read fifteen miles of books like these bits, about why diplomats thought the things they thought and did the things they did. Fromkin talks about the people who were making these decisions, their biases and their ignorance and their integrity (or lack thereof — oh, Lloyd George).

As with any book that provides a broad overview of something — in this case a fairly huge something, the division of the Middle East into its modern-day boundaries — this book threw a lot, lot, lot of characters, places, and situations. Fromkin individuated the people really well, I thought, and I kept track of them most of the time. I had a harder time remembering what countries were friends at any given moment, though, or who was double-crossing whom. And I was absolutely incapable of conceptualizing the space of the Middle East, which meant I never had a good picture of where things were happening.

Out of curiosity, how did y’all do on spatial relations in your aptitude tests? My uncle, who is an engineer, and my father, who is a jack-of-all-trades when he is not pursuing his One True Calling (social work), can look at the trunk of a car and stuff it with so many suitcases and bags it would blow your mind. This is not the case with me. I fail at all spatial relations. If things don’t come in a box that exactly fits them, I can conceive of no sensible way of storing them. You? And what did your aptitude tests say you should be? And are you that now?

A final note, while I’m on the subject of British imperialism (again): The scores and scores of trashy imperialist adventure novels out there in the world will soon be mine. Physical copies. One by one. I plan to collect them all! I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “But, Jenny! You are so broke! New York City is expensive! How can you afford to buy any rare books, let alone many of them, particularly rare books that you may not want to reread a thousand times?”

My darlings.

There is this independent bookstore in Soho, McNally Jackson, which is patronized by earnest, liberal, middle-class non-tourists in ironic hats and skinny jeans, and although I officially sneer at its trendy location and pretentious coffees, in reality I am rather fond of it. It hosts frequent book clubs and author events, in Spanish and English, and for its size it has a really good selection of books, particularly books in translation. And it has just installed a book espresso machine. What in the world is up?

Have you ever read any good books about diplomacy? Want to recommend them to me?

28 thoughts on “Review: A Peace to End All Peace, David Fromkin

  1. I loved this book. His book “Europe’s Last Summer” is also wonderful (and much shorter!) But possibly my favorite book on diplomacy is “Power, Faith and Fantasy” by Michael Oren. It is a totally fun read!

  2. I always suspected that the reason my aptitude test suggested “forester” as a career for the least “roughin’ it” teenager in the world was that, the day I took it, I was REALLY sick of being in high school and REALLY wanting a long vacation in Maine. Where they have many, many trees.

    The EBM is the coolest thing ever. When NYC overwhelms, think: But they don’t have EBMs in Lousiana.

    • They do actually. They have one in the New Orlean’s Public Library. The New Orleans Public Library got one ages and ages before McNally Jackson did. But I didn’t know about G.A. Henty, author of thousands of delicious adventure novels, when this happened.

  3. Hm, I don’t think I have ever taken an aptitude test of the sort you describe – just the SATs, and I did well enough on the math parts of those. But I am really terrible at spatial relations – my brain is so bad at anything requiring me to flip/rotate shapes. I was reminded of this recently while reading Chasing Vermeer – one of the characters is excellent at pentominoes (see and so of course I wanted to try, even though I knew I would be terrible at them. It took me numerous tries over the course of days to get the “medium” level on that page – meanwhile my boyfriend sat down and got it on his third try or something.

    • Rotating shapes, I can’t even. I’m shocked no one ever made you take an aptitude test, I did at least four of them at various times throughout grade school. I always failed miserably at spatial relations, and eventually I gave up trying on those sections. :p

  4. I’ve often wondered what a good print equivalent of “in one ear and out the other” was. 🙂 It does seem to be something that happens to me now and then with my reading (and generally a sign that I need to move on to another book).

    I do well with some spatial relations (like puzzles and fitting stuff together), but terribly when it comes to finding my way because I lack a good sense of direction. In other words I could pack the trunk with packages, but may get lost in the mall where I purchased them.

    • With me, it’s usually a sign I’m not paying good enough attention. I love reading nonfiction and learning new things, but if I don’t have a good network of associations in place for that topic, I lose most of it.

      I’m intrigued by that combination of skills. I always thought my awful sense of direction and my awful spatial relations skills were linked. (I too get lost in malls.)

  5. I do not know of books about diplomacy, but if you find them, let me know.

    I remember taking the ASVAB test in high school and having not a clue with sections on things like electricity currents and also if gear A turns clockwise, which direction does Gear F turn? I don’t remember tests on spatial relations though.

    • I will let you know. I may just go a-browsing in the mid-300s at my public library, and see what shakes loose. Surely a big public library will have tons of books about diplomacy.

      ASVAB, maybe that’s what I’m thinking of, or at least one of the things I’m thinking of. I remember being stumped by gears and currents too.

  6. These types of books always interest me, but I find out when it gets down to brass tacks, and I am in the middle of them, I just don’t successfully grasp what is actually going on. Either that, or I get involved with them, and then abruptly cease to find them interesting about halfway through. I so want to love these types of books, but I fear it’s not really in me. Kudos to you for sticking it out and understanding most of it. And also, The Book Espresso machine score is wonderful!! I am rubbing my hands together in glee for you!

    • I don’t know that I understood most of it. I understood BITS of it. I will be sure to report back to y’all about the book espresso machine and how it plays out. 🙂

  7. Whoa, that book espresso machine thing is so weird.

    I remember doing well in the spatial category on aptitude tests; I did well in every category except for “logic”, actually, in which I did terribly. My friends kindly teased me for it long after!

  8. Oooh I know nothing whatsoever about the Middle East, except perhaps that the Middle East does not read enough books itself about diplomacy. Interested to see what other readers come up with as suggestions. Books about lit crit, or French existentialists or literary theory and I am your woman, but alas my my field of knowledge is distinctly limited.

  9. Spatial relations–the thing I may be worst at in the world. I once entertained my friends by failing to get the old-fashioned pyramid-shaped kind of metronome back in its pyramid-shaped box. My husband packs trunks. My part of that partnership is pretty much like what David Sedaris describes in one of his essays, in which he revealed what he does while his partner does tax forms and other necessary stuff– I make suits of armor for dead bees out of tinfoil, he says.

    • Hahaha, that sounds like something my sister would say, except that in reality she can do zillions of things (though not necessarily tax forms). Whereas I can’t even make tinfoil suits of armor.

  10. I majored in diplomacy! hehe And I keep meaning to want to read this one: thanks for the reminder. 🙂

    Have you read Summits by David Reynolds? You might like that one! And I’ve been eyeing 1919: I’ve heard good things about it.

    • Actually in diplomacy? I thought you majored in Russian things! And Russian! Russia. No?

      I will put Summits on my list, though I have just rediscovered that thing, you know, fiction, and I feel like I’m about go on a fiction binge. :p

      My friend tim is a genius genius and can just look at an equation and draw a graph of it using only her brain. I can barely do a graph from an equation after plotting fifteen points.

  11. Spatial relations, maths I can do them all. Is it possible to achieve equilibrium in both right and left brain?

    This is great book on diplomacy Jenny. I haven’t read anything on Ottoman empire yet. This is fascinating.

    • Yay for you! When I do right brain/left brain tests, I always come out right in the middle, so I’m not sure it’s a brain-hemisphere issue. If it were I’d be way on the side of the side where you can’t pack trunks. :p

  12. If I’ve ever read a good book about diplomacy, I can no longer recall it; however, I’ve always wanted to go to McNally Jackson. They’re associated with McNally Robinson, my favouritest bookstore in the entire world. (I think one of the owner’s daughters runs McNally Jackson, presumably with someone named Jackson). I am all over anything and everything associated with McNally Robinson. McNally Robinson associates are like my Mecca. I must go to them before I die.

    • Well, shoot, I feel dumb now, I have never heard of McNally Robinson and didn’t even know that McNally Jackson was linked to any other store. But yeah, you should go there, it’s charming. They really do have a wonderful selection for their size.

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