From Publishers Weekly
In July 1798, Napoleon landed an expeditionary force at Alexandria in Egypt, the opening move in a scheme to acquire a new colony for France, administer a sharp rebuff to England and export the values of French republicanism to a remade Middle East. Cole, a historian of the Middle East at the University of Michigan, traces the first seven months of Napoleon's adventure in Egypt. Relying extensively on firsthand sources for this account of the invasion's early months, Cole focuses on the ideas and belief systems of the French invaders and the Muslims of Egypt. Cole portrays the French as deeply ignorant of cultural and religious Islam. Claiming an intent to transplant liberty to Egypt, the French rapidly descended to the same barbarism and repression of the Ottomans they sought to replace. Islamic Egypt, divided by class and ethnic rivalries, offered little resistance to the initial French incursion. Over time, however, the Egyptians produced an insurgency that, while it couldn't hope to win pitched battles, did erode French domination and French morale. Perplexingly, Cole ends his account in early February 1799, with Napoleon still in control of Egypt but facing increasingly effective opposition. Napoleon's attack on Syria is only mentioned, not detailed, and his return to Cairo and eventual flight to France are omitted altogether. In a brief epilogue, Cole makes an explicit comparison between Napoleon's adventure in Egypt and the current American occupation of Iraq. Though at times episodic and disorganized, this doesn't detract from the value of Cole's well-researched contribution to Middle Eastern history. Illus. (Aug.)
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At the end of the eighteenth century, the Middle East had remained beyond the orbit of European concerns since the end of the Crusades in the late thirteenth century. Egypt, in particular, was viewed as a backward Ottoman province. In 1798, Napoleon led a massive force across the Mediterranean to the Nile Delta, quickly overwhelming the Egyptian forces, but the French occupiers were expelled by British and Ottoman armies in 1801. Although the military effects of the French incursion were minimal, the long-term cultural and political results were immense. Historian Cole, effectively utilizing diaries and letters of contemporaries on both sides, illustrates the confusion, hostilities, and necessary accommodations as two distinct cultures collide. French scholars who accompanied the expedition make the now familiar claims of "liberating" a people from backward oppressors while respecting the traditions of a great people. Arab reactions range from outrage to indifference. At the center of events, of course, is the young emerging titan, Napoleon, who is revealed here as cynical, power hungry, but possessed of an enormous intellect and insatiable curiosity. Jay FreemanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved