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Napoleon's Egypt: Invading the Middle East


About the Author:
Juan Cole, internationally respected historian, celebrated blogger, and Middle East expert, teaches history at the University of Michigan and is a past president of the Middle East Studies Association

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Napoleon's Egypt: Invading the Middle East

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About the Author:
Juan Cole, internationally respected historian, celebrated blogger, and Middle East expert, teaches history at the University of Michigan and is a past president of the Middle East Studies Association

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Editorial Reviews

Tom Reiss
Most books on the expedition focus on the outsize characters of Napoleon and his staff, men like his towering second in command, Gen. Jean-Baptiste Kleber, who was eventually stabbed to death by a fanatical Muslim, or Gen. Jacques Menou, who converted to Islam. But in Napoleon's Egypt, Juan Cole…mostly ignores these larger-than-life characters to present the invasion and occupation through Egyptian eyes. Cole says his work "attends more closely than have the interplay of the ideas of the French revolutionary period with Ottoman and Egyptian ways of life," and what it lacks in narrative drive and coherence, it makes up for in fascinating quotations, mostly from contemporary memoirs and diaries, and in an analysis that suggests comparisons to the current American adventure in Iraq.
—The New York Times
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.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
From the Publisher
"[Cole] has mined a number of rich, recently discovered memoirs and letters to bring the personal aspect of these encounters vividly to life."—The Nation


"[A] well-researched contribution to Middle Eastern history."—Publisher's Weekly


"Cole has produced an engaging and provocative book."—Richard Fraser, Library Journal


"Cole’s sources allow for a well-rounded accounting of events."—The Columbus Dispatch


"Historian Cole, effectively utilizing diaries and letters of contemporaries on both sides, illustrates the confusion, hostilities, and necessary accommodations as two distinct cultures collide."—Jay Freeman, Booklist


"The book itself contains a lively account of the first eight months of France's invasion of Egypt in the summer 1798 followed by a bloody attempt to occupy and then to hold the country by the use of armed force.  Unlike almost every previous work which highlights the presence of numerous French scientists and archaeologists among the members of what is usually presented as a civilizing mission, the aim of this work is to present the occupation as a series of vicious military encounters, of battles, skirmishes and ambushes, between the French and a population which they could not understand the members of which they could not correctly identify...It is to Cole's great credit that he does not force the parallels too far.  But the shadow of contemporary Iraq is never far away." - Roger Owen, Dar Al-Hayat


"As the bibliography of the disaster known as the Bush administration grows, a useful early distinction will be chronicle versus analysis and context.  Cole, a thoughtful and imaginative scholar, offers the latter with his account of an earlier, disastrous attempt to interfere with the Arab world." — Robert Birnbaum, the Morning News 


"A timely and entertaining look at a previous Middle Eastern misadventure by one of America's most provocative and informed scholars."—Lawrence Wright, author of the Pulitzer Award-winning The Looming Tower: al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11


"We are told that at the time of their invasion of Iraq the top leaders of the U.S. did not know anything about the division within Islam between Sunni and Shia — or, for that matter, the history of Iraq, Iran, Egypt, or the other key countries of the Middle East. If any American is interested in catching up, the place to begin is with Juan Cole's Napoleon's Egypt: The Invention of the Middle East, a masterful and beautifully written account of Western imperialism's first assault on the Islamic world.  It includes indispensable details on the West's contempt for Islamic peoples — so-called Orientalism — and the untold misery it has caused."—Chalmers Johnson, author of Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic


"When Napoleon invaded Egypt, many outsiders believed the Middle East was a region they could easily conquer and rule. Some still believe it. Cole's book reminds us that today's leaders are not the first to find the Islamic world far more complex than they imagined. It not only offers delicious stories about the private lives of invaders, but also teaches urgent lessons for the modern age."—Stephen Kinzer, bestselling author of Overthrow and All the Shah's Men


"This is a detailed account of Napoleon's brief attempt to invade and occupy Egypt. With great skill the author depicts the horrors and massacres consequent to an invasion and the evil it causes both occupier and occupied. Imperial attempts have seldom been as disastrous a fiasco as this one was and Napoleon tried to down play the brutality and cupidity of the invasion and ordered the State Papers dealing with it burnt. However thanks to the diaries and letters of the invaders we have detailed accounts of how a so-called civilized people can inflict untold horrors on an alien race in the name of imperialism, which in other words, was for greed and contempt for 'the other' masked in the guise of teaching them 'liberty', a concept which today we translate as 'democracy'."—Afaf Lutfi al-Sayyid Marsot, Professor Emerita of Near Eastern History, UCLA, and award-winning author of Egypt in the Reign of Muhammed Ali


"This is a remarkable book, which provides a gripping account of the first modern encounter between a western army and a Middle Eastern country, and should provide cautionary reading for those who still think that superior Western power will inevitably prevail over the resistance of a population determined not to be subjugated by outsiders."—Rashid Khalidi, Edward Said Professor at Columbia and author of The Iron Cage and Resurrecting Empire


"Most books on the expedition focus on the outsize characters of Napoleon and his staff.  But Juan Cole presents it through Egyptian eyes." - International Herald Tribune


“Cole’s book presents an erudite, very readable and sometimes fascinating account of Napoleon’s campaign, and adds to our knowledge of this endeavor.”—Bustan: The Middle East Book Review

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780230606036
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 5/27/2008
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Juan Cole, internationally respected historian, celebrated blogger, and Middle East expert, teaches history at the University of Michigan. His blog, Informed Comment, receives 250,000 unique hits every day. He has written numerous books, including Engaging the Muslim World, Napoleon's Egypt and Sacred Space and Holy War. He lives in Ann Arbor, MI.

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Table of Contents

Map of Egypt     vii
List of Illustrations     viii
Acknowledgments     ix
The Genius of Liberty     1
A Sky Aflame     21
The Ferment of the Mind     45
Grand Cairo     65
The Flight of Ibrahim Bey     85
The Most Beautiful Nile that Has Ever Been     107
Ali Bonaparte     123
The Constant Triumph of Reason     143
The Festival of the Republic     161
The Object of His Desires     181
The Egyptian Revolution     203
The Fall of the Delta and the Arabian Jihad     223
Epilogue     245
Further Reading     249
Notes     251
Index     273
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