Power, Faith, and Fantasy is a strong 4, weak 5 star book. Oren does an excellent job going over the history and bringing events together in a natural way, but Oren really centers his efforts on the founding of Israel and the frustrations of American presidents after that...
Power, Faith, and Fantasy is a strong 4, weak 5 star book. Oren does an excellent job going over the history and bringing events together in a natural way, but Oren really centers his efforts on the founding of Israel and the frustrations of American presidents after that founding in balancing the, often contradictory, interests of oil, fighting the Commies, defense of Israel, and still promoting democracy and human rights in the region (usually in that order).
What I found most interesting was the extent of American travels in the region and our general prestige in the area to a certain extent. The history of educational institutions founded by Americans and the relatively good natured religious missionary presence goes much longer back, essentially to the late 1700s, than I would have thought.
The frequency of minor military excursions into the region I also found fascinating, and was a different aspect of seeing them all compiled in the same book as opposed to reading about them separately. Also interestingly, it is astonishing how quickly the animosity is shifted from the British/French/Imperialists is turned toward the US following the end of WWII and founding of Israel. This is common knowledge almost now, but actually remarkable given our ''footprint'' in the region compared to hundred years ago (imagine, a US army occupying Egypt now). While US has certainly had its adventures in the region, they are nothing compared to the European incursions as late as 50 years ago (except Iraq, as it turns out).
I did find the book to be frustrating on some topics though. For example, following the Holocaust there were floods of refugees trying to leave Germany. Oren discusses the challenges in finding homes for them all, but doesn''t discuss why the US, considered a favored spot for many Jewish refugees (second only to Palestine), was still under immigration quotas and only allowed in a trickle of all displaced persons needing a new home. This is a big point, and one must wonder what would become of the Zionist movement, and the founding of Israel in particular, if the US were more willing to welcome Jewish displaced persons.
Maps were oddly lacking for a book on the Middle East. There were only 2-3 in the first few pages as reference, and were quickly forgotten. For a region that sees considerable changes in territory and control, sometimes differing from year to year, it was frustrating to not be able to follow changes as closely as I would have liked.
The book largely focuses around Israel, and the founding of it is really seen as a changing point and climax for the book, or at least the event where everything pivots. While not necessarily a bad thing, to title the book "America in the Middle East," and then focus so much on the Zionist movement and Israel, I had to change my expectations for the book. On buying the book, I was hoping to learn more about American involvement in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, etc. There was some of this in there, but it seemed to be of secondary importance to Israel.
In the end, it really is a fantastic book, but left some minor questions that should have been explored by the author but for some reason weren''t. But to say it covers all the Middle East is not entirely accurate. There is some discussion, and the last chapters go president by president in interactions with the Mid East, but not in depth (which, come to think of it, even the author admits in the opening chapter).