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Parting the Desert: The Creation of the Suez Canal

3.52  ·  Rating Details ·  82 Ratings  ·  16 Reviews
Award-winning historian Zachary Karabell tells the epic story of the greatest engineering feat of the nineteenth century--the building of the Suez Canal-- and shows how it changed the world.

The dream was a waterway that would unite the East and the West, and the ambitious, energetic French diplomat and entrepreneur Ferdinand de Lesseps was the mastermind behind the project
Paperback, 320 pages
Published May 11th 2004 by Vintage (first published 2003)
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Karabell is at his best when he's giving broad strokes history. I know very little about nineteenth century France, so I can't judge his accuracy, but the background he gives on Saint-Simonianism and the general intellectual climate of the era is fascinating. I enjoyed, too, the political history of the constant fencing between France and England, and the sections that looked at the rise of an economic middle class with money to spend on small-scale investing were interesting.

But what he's not v
Matt Kuhns
Fairly good, if rarely rising to the level of greatness.

The book gets somewhat repetitive, at times, in telling of the extended struggles over money and political support. It features some interesting bits of history along the way, though. For example, the much-different character of pre-fundamentalist Arabian societies compared with what is at least the prevailing image of those societies today. And the real, conscious effort made by leadership in some of those societies to adopt “western” adv
Nov 17, 2015 Charles rated it liked it
"Parting the Desert" is a quick read that will fill-in the interested on the Suez Canal. However it reads more like an ode to Ferdinand de Lesseps and could have been his biography.

Frankly, I believe the story would have been better told if there had been a larger discussion of the technology and management developed rather than the battle of egos that delayed the project. A better story of accomplishment is "A Thread Across the Ocean by John Steele Gordon about the first transatlantic cable. In
Mar 11, 2013 Vinay rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Recommended for - Readers looking for the political history of the Suez Canal.
Not Recommended for - Technical detail seekers.

The creation of the Suez Canal was a monumental achievement. Ferdinand de Lesseps went through great efforts to complete his "borrowed" ambition.The book describes the political atmosphere during the creation of the canal.The creation of the suez canal company and its operations are followed through the creation of the canal.
Those looking for elaborate technical descriptio
Lauren Albert
Feb 04, 2014 Lauren Albert rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history-world
Not just about the building of the Suez Canal, this book manages to teach a lot of history. What was the relationship between Egypt and the Ottoman Empire (in theory and in reality)? Why did a canal built by a Frenchman and funded by an Egyptian leader end up owned and managed by the British? Considering that, why were British politicians so vehemently against the building of the Canal? A very interesting glimpse of history and an excellent history of the building of the Canal.
Todd Stockslager
Jun 09, 2015 Todd Stockslager rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Boring take on what sounded like it would have been an interesting subject. Mostly about the byzantine wanderings of Lessep, the Canal's driving force, through the politics and marketing of the canal, with pedestrian writing.

Brings to mind Steve Martin's line from Planes Trains and Automobiles: "These little stories you tell. They should have a point!"
Sep 27, 2015 Joshua rated it really liked it
A good primer which is largely narrative in nature. At times Karabell can be rather vague and paint broad strokes which seem rather lopsided (perspective wise), but its not exactly an academic text and probably a compromise for easy reading.
Adam Morris
Mar 02, 2009 Adam Morris rated it liked it
Shelves: middle-east, history
A very interesting account of all the players associated with the venture from inception to completion.
Stuart Blades
Sep 21, 2015 Stuart Blades rated it it was amazing
A terrific book, engaging history at it's best, and incidentally almost a primer on the source of discord between the Arab world and the West
Feb 02, 2014 Sarah rated it liked it
Great overview of the people and politics involved. For me, it's only 3 stars because I wanted way more engineering and that was mostly glossed over.
More about moving minds of political leaders and investors than sand. Shows that canals were the monorail fever of the 19th century.
Kevin Donahue
Nov 06, 2014 Kevin Donahue rated it did not like it
Very dissapointed. There was virtually no technical content or any details about the construction methods, use of labor, machinery, etc. There were no diagrams, there was not even a map!
Jun 22, 2007 Samantha rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Definitely one of the best history books I've ever read. The story is written so compellingly as to be almost novel-like.
Jansen Wee
Aug 03, 2011 Jansen Wee rated it liked it
A very good and enjoyable read. As one other reviewer said previously, the author does not waste his words or sentences to convey his intended meaning.
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