Power, Faith, and Fantasy

Michael B. Oren’s Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East: 1776 to the Present documents the involvement of the U.S.A. in the Middle East from the first battles with Barbary pirates through our current war in Iraq. As Oren examines each period (demarcated by our wars), he describes the inter-connected roles of military and economic power, religious faith, and America’s fantasies of the Middle East. As a neophyte history reader, I am amazed by this story and this history. Oren’s writing style is easy-to-follow and the level of detail that he dives into when describing particular journeys of missionaries or warriors or statesmen helps drive home the reality of the subject (although it does make for a long read). After arriving at the explanation of the post-WWII situation, Oren ends the detailed writing style, tells the reader why (others have already covered recent history in detail and the sources he prefers are still classified) and then covers the last sixty years at a faster pace. After that, the epilogue serves as a great review of the major points/events.

The book could also have been titled Power, Faith, Fantasy and Family, given the incredible genealogical connections of many of the players in the political, military and religious arenas. I would love to have the time to re-read it and chart out all the connections, noting which generations acted in which arena and under which ideology. For now though, I’m just in awe of the patterns.

Granted I have nothing to compare it to (a combination of the facts that I have not read many history books and that Oren wrote the book because no one else had covered it like he wanted to), I highly recommend this history. Although it took me several weeks to read it, I now have a much richer appreciation our interactions with the Middle East over the last few centuries. As a side benefit, Oren’s categorization of our interactions into military/political, religious and fantastical was very helpful in making my way through the history and should be useful in other areas.

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