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From Empire to Empire by Abigail Jacobson (thoughts)

July 7, 2011

I know: two Netgalley posts in one week! I planned to run this last week, but then I wanted to get my Dutch lit post up in June. So there you have it. ;) As I’ve mentioned before, my favourite aspect of Netgalley is the access to university presses; I get to read solid academic nonfiction on obscure topics that my public library has no need to acquire. This is a Syracuse Press offering, and I’ve already got their other two current galleys (A Band of Noble Women: Racial Politics in the Women’s Peace Movement and Islamist Opposition in Authoritarian Regimes: The Party of Justic and Development in Morocco) loaded up on Athie, which should give a clue as to how I enjoyed this one!

The two empires Jacobson (an Israeli professor) is referring to are the Ottoman and British; this book looks at Jerusalem during WWI, when it transitioned between rulers. As such, it’s an exploration of boundaries: identity, temporal, and otherwise. Jacobson does a marvelous job of showing that the ‘divisions’ academics employ tend to be far more rigid than the fluid realities of people on the ground. She also presents a good mix of big picture analysis with details about individuals’ lives, relying on a variety of primary sources. I particularly enjoyed her microanalysis of one Jerusalem resident’s diary. The descriptions of the various ethnic groups in Jerusalem at the time, and how each them responded to developments, was fascinating. Since Jacobson limits herself to such a specific time and place, she really has the latitude to explore a bunch of themes, and she does it in a way that is consistently intelligent and interesting. Also, her evenhanded treatment of the different religious and ethnic groups is both a relief and an inspiration, as anyone who reads Middle East-focused nonfiction will agree. While not a ‘popular history’ book, I think any educated lay reader with a bit of interest in the Middle East or WWI or imperialism or culture & identity politics would definitely enjoy this. I just wish she had more books for me to read!

Suggested Companion Reads

10 Comments leave one →
  1. July 7, 2011 1:01 pm

    Hey Eva! I am going to be off-topic, but just because I am not sure it will ever happen again… *points to her blog*

    I caved…

  2. July 7, 2011 3:29 pm

    I think I would enjoy this one. I’ve read a great deal of non-fiction about the Middle East but have read almost exclusively about the region from end of WWII to present. I would love to gain some knowledge of the area from an earlier time period.

  3. July 7, 2011 3:38 pm

    Sounds like a great book. I’m definately goign to add it to my TBR.

  4. July 7, 2011 8:50 pm

    Ha, you nailed me with your suggested companion reads: I got quite a bit more interested in this time & place after listening to the audiobook version of O Jerusalem!. And then my interest was increased even more after reading Rosalind Belben’s Our Horses in Egypt. I’ll have to keep my eye out for this one.

    • July 11, 2011 3:23 am

      I haven’t read the Belben! Is it good?

  5. July 7, 2011 9:50 pm

    Sounds really interesting! You really find some great gems on NetGalley!

  6. July 8, 2011 5:03 am

    this does sound great Eva I love middle east fiction this looks like a book that could fill in some pof the background to them ,all the best stu

  7. July 8, 2011 2:00 pm

    This book looks interesting, Eva! I love university presses too :) ‘O Jerusalem’ by Laurie King looks like an interesting book. Thanks for mentioning it.

  8. July 9, 2011 4:51 pm

    Oh, I read a book on this topic earlier this year, David Fromkin’s A Peace to End All Peace — it focused a little less specifically on Jerusalem, it sounds like, and more broadly on World War II. A very interesting time!

    • July 11, 2011 3:23 am

      I totally thought I’d read that, but now that I’m looking at it more closely I think I read a different Fromkin. So on to the TBR list it goes!

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