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?