A methodically researched book on a subject that is difficult to find much literature written in the English language. It takes a relatively fresh perspective on nineteenth Middle Eastern politics by emphasizing the role of the Ottoman forces in the area. Many historians and commentators often describe the Ottoman Empire as a decrepit institution which was teetering on the brink of collapse. Anscombe tries to redress the balance by describing the role that the Ottomans had in shaping the sheikhdoms and would be countries of the region; stating that it was not just the British who moulded this part of the world.
The book describes how in the late Nineteenth Century the Ottomans returned to the Gulf with a renewed vigour and the intention of returning the area to Ottoman suzerainty for perpetuity. Successful for a while, the policy eventually backfired by forcing all the local Arab leaders to turn to the British for protection and legitimacy. By the outbreak of The Great War, the Ottoman policy lay in tatters.
Unfortunately, this book can be dry for all but the most determined and interested of readers. It is not light historical reading, it is solid historical research from Ottoman, Arab and European sources. However, the most serious criticism is that the book is nowhere near as revolutionary or re-evaluative as it likes to take the claim for. Sure, this topic is rarely visited by historians. However, those who do mention this era and region nearly always cite concerns of Ottoman expansion as the primary reason for British incursions and diplomatic success in the area. In addition, the author himself describes how the eventual withdrawal of the Ottomans from the region was because of the Ottoman's poor communications, scarce resources and irrational security concerns. All of these are signs, surely, of the decrepit and tottering power that historians rightly use to describe the Ottoman Empire of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
For the serious scholar this book does provide highly valuable information and a more than plausible rationale for some of the most formative events in the region's history. However, I would make sure that you really do need to know the history of this area in such a detailed manner.
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