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Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East: 1776 to the Present

3.94 of 5 stars 3.94  ·  rating details  ·  1,159 ratings  ·  200 reviews
Drawing on thousands of government documents and personal letters, featuring original maps and photographs, this book reconstructs the diverse and remarkable ways in which Americans have interated with this alluring yet often hosttile land.
Hardcover, 832 pages
Published January 1st 2007 by W. W. Norton & Company
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Once again I find myself giving Michael Oren five stars and warning people away from his book. Five stars for a thoroughly researched and highly informative read, to be sure. But expect a pretty long slog.

This ambitious tome describes the interactions between the United States and the Middle East from the point of the United States' inception, starting with the Barbary Wars. Oren uses the themes of power (the U.S. wanted control, initially in terms of wanting to pass through the region safe from
Few fields have been as well plowed as that of Middle East studies. Indeed, the ever expanding shelf in the bookstore on the topic groans under the weight of a torrent of new works, many which might be charitably described as derivative of already existing work. What a thrill then when a new book appears covering otherwise undisturbed ground!

Michael Oren's excellent "Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East: 1776 to the Present" is such a book. Instead of covering familiar subjects
Saadiq Wolford
Michael Oren must be a horrible lay. I say this because only a horrible lay could take a subject as rife with passion and controversy as America's involvement in the Middle East and make it a mind-numbingly dull read.

Furthermore, while the book's subtitle is "America in the Middle East from 1776 to the Present", Oren only spends the last 20% of the book discussing the last 70 years of history (the period in which I was most interested), stating outright that he did so because there are many othe
Since my conversion to Islam more than a decade ago, I am wont to approach any book of this subject matter and scope with skepticism. While the author Michael B. Oren certainly has the credentials for this, he is also Israel's current ambassador to the United States.

The section of the book that deals with the nascent United States of the 18th century up to the influences of the then-major world powers in the first half of the 20th century seem unassailably objective. I honestly expected Mr. Oren
A very superficial, one-sided and biased "analysis" of the United States involvement in the middle-east. The motivation of the middle-eastern people's resistance to the U.S.'s attempts to exploit the region are never explored. Instead, the native people of the middle east are presented as savages that are intent on conflicting with the United-States for no particular reason, with the United-States motives being portrayed as an altruistic superpower intent on enlightening the world, which is extr ...more
Everything we all need to know about our relationship with the Middle East (if you happen to be American). Crucial reading in these times.
I have had this book on my to-read list for a long, long, long time (almost 7 years). But due to the length of the book and the density of the subject matter (not to mention my aversion to history books that have bored me to tears in the past), I just never seemed to want to read it. I even checked out the book once or twice, but ended up returning it before I got around to it.

But I've really taken to listening to audiobooks in the car during my daily commute. Some drives are longer than others
I am giving this 3 stars solely based on the amount of information included. Here is why it doesn't get a better rating.

The book starts with the very interesting Barbary Wars when the United States was brand new. It discusses the impacts that the pirates from Northern Africa had on the formation of our Navy and foreign policy.

After that there is 200 pages of discussion on missionaries and the schools and hospitals they built. This is also somewhat interesting, but I don't think so many of the di
This is an immensely fascinating study of U.S.-Middle Eastern relations starting in 1776 and roughly ending in 2006-2007. Oren not only writes passionately and convincingly about U.S. military and diplomatic interactions with the region, but also about the humanitarian and missionary work that private citizens did in the region, which had a far greater impact upon U.S. relations in the Middle East pre-1914 than one might think. I especially find it ironic that the Zionist movement and Arabian Na ...more
Well-written and well-researched.

However, the book's main weakness is that it doesn't cover the era of the 20th century to today very well. Oren excuses himself by saying that plenty of works already exist on the subject, and only writes as much as is needed. Arguably, this is the section most readers will be interested in the most, and it, while decent, fails to deliver. And besides, the stories of American romantics and adventurers got repetitive and boring after a while, and you start to ask
Paula  Obermeier McCarty
This was a fascinating book! Here are just a few thoughts I had about this incredible book:

1. I was appalled by the Armenian massacres. It was disturbing that the Turks were focused on genocide and their killing methods seemed to be a chilling precursor to the Jewish Holocaust. (such as Armenians packed into railroad boxcars and deported to execution sites). As an ally of Turkey during the First World War, Germany would have known of these things. They also would have witnessed the rest of the w
Overall, this is a book worth reading. A bit of a slog at times, finishing it became a matter of perseverance rather than interest. Given the overwhelming amount of detail, as well as a contrived personality sketch of seemingly every possible character that has been involved in U.S.-Middle East relations, I doubt how much information I’ll actually retain. However, I did leave the book with a much broader perspective of the historical connections between the regions, and there are definitely some ...more
Elliott Bignell
I am scandalised to find myself compelled to report that this book actually made me feel more kindly disposed to the USA. Very balanced, except in the closing section covering post-1948 events, it does not varnish US involvement in the Middle East but it makes very clear that its motives and those of its citizens prior to the fall of the European empires were not uniformly reprehensible, and were sometimes honourable. Certainly more so than the European empires, and often more so than those of M ...more
Frank Inserra
Ambassador Oren's book is stellar. It would be misleading to call it a survey of U.S. - Middle East diplomatic relations from Barbary to Bush, since that would hide the book's breadth, as well as its depth and thematic cohesiveness. After 9/11, it is easy to see our relations with the Middle East and its peoples as starting after WWII, but our relationship with that region is far deeper, as illustrated by Amb.Oren. A taste of the themes he reflects upon are the role of Barbary in our decision to ...more
Most of the comments are accurate in saying that the book is highly readable, but ultimately very dull. Oren seems to treat all aspects of the US's involvement in the Middle East equally, but the result ends up being that the most exciting parts of the history (the Barbary Wars, the last 70 years of US involvement, etc) feel entirely underwhelming and under-explained. Likewise, he treats other aspects of the history (for example missionaries in the mid-1800's) with too much attention for my tast ...more
This was a very good telling of the attitudes that the United States has had towards the Middle East. It is told on several fronts. My favorite was the political front which gave great detail to the Barbary war and later policies involving the mingling of American missionaries in a pretty hostile environment. The book does go through the Iranian crisis and gives some service to 9-11, but most of the book is grounded in building the reader's background into the complexities of the region and the ...more
Oren writes an overview of the involvement of the U.S. and of Americans in the Middle East. I made the distinction because sometimes the involvement is individuals or groups, and other times it's political/governmental. Oren's writing is engaging as he tends to focus on individuals and their stories and thinking. It's narrative and chronological, more than analytical.

You may know many or most of the things in this book, but what makes the book different is his characterization of the viewpoint f
Perhaps it was problematic that I often read this book just before going to bed, but I found that I had a hard time engaging with it. I learned a HECK of a lot, which is why I gave it 4 stars. I enjoy history and this covered a lot of episodes in American history which are glossed over at best (such as the Barbary Wars--I didn't realize that the problem with the pirates was such a driving force behind the federalization of the states, or that the U.S. paid obscene amounts of ransom to these 18th ...more
The author, Michael Oren, is currently the Israeli Ambassador to the United States. Oren is also a historian, specialising in the history of the Middle East, especially Israel. Quite knowledgeable on the subject, this is not his first effort into Middle East history. His book, The Six Days War, is a seminal work on the conflict.

Oren takes us on a journey of the history of the relationship between the United States and the Middle East, beginning within a few years of the birth of the United State
Power, Faith and Fantasy is a wonderful look at how the United States and the Middle East (includes North Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, Turkey and Iraq/Iran) as their relations progressed from 1776 to the most recent invasion of Iraq and Iran. Oren works through varying degrees of complexity to unravel the relations and power struggles between the United States and the Middle East as they evolved through motives of faith to the fantasy that drew travelers into the region. The book begins with t ...more
David Fox
Mis-Adventures in the Mid East

I was really looking forward to reading this book & gaining a better understanding of the history of our relationship with those countries that now constitute the Middle East. For the most part Mr. Oren (Israel's current Ambassador to the US), does a splendid job tracing our involvement & the evolving interdependency of our country and the nation states of the Middle East. He eloquently & with a dry wit fashions a wry narrative that stitches together the
Tom Schulte
Roughly three quarters of the book is given to American relations wiht the Middle East from 1776 to WWII, about 175 years. Post-WWII to the War on Terror is the final quarter, roughly three quarters of a century. As result, tying in where we are now seems rushed, almost glossed over.

However, the author does succeed in documenting his case that from birth of this nation until know the relationship of America to the Middle East has been a contradictory blend of exotic allure and Islamophobic revul
Juergen John Roscher
Listened to this book on CD

When I saw the title of this book “Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East 1776 to the Present” by Michael Oren, I felt this book would help me understand the current issues in the Middle East and the United States role. Even with all of the news and problems with Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, and the conflict between Israel and Palestinian people, I felt that I knew very little about the region, their culture, and their beliefs. Therefore, I thought this book
Bob Pearson
This is a great read of the history of the U.S. in the Middle East. Much of the material is not well-known to Americans. I was fascinated by the stories of American efforts in the late 1700's and early 1800's to deal with pirates in the Mediterranean. Equally interesting were the accounts of American missionaries and their struggles mainly to survive and also to convert local Muslims to Christianity. The great legacy of these efforts were the wonderful American secondary schools and universities ...more
It took me a while to both get through this book and to get around to writing a review (as David's comments below attest).

As a history book, the first 2/3 are good, if a bit dry and slow in places. The real highlight is the wealth of colorful American characters that our country has inflicted on the Middle East - crazy missionaries, Civil War veterans determined to find the headwaters of the Nile, headstrong and star-crossed naval commanders.

By the time we get to WWI, I start knowing the materia
Josh Muhlenkamp
This was a very interesting look into the history of the relationship between the United States and the Middle East. Having been born in 1988, and only being alive to experience a very small portion of that relationship, this book really taught me a lot about where that relationship had been, and how it got to the point it's at now.

Obviously, there's the rocky start in the Barbary Wars. But after that, the relationship between Americans and Arabs was friendly, in complete contrast to the stereot
I finally finished this large book. I enjoyed it from beginning to end. The author presents his thesis of how power, faith, and fantasy have shaped the US's dealing with the Middle East from the beginnings of our nation in a lively and exceedingly interesting manner.

I learned much history that I was never aware of. For example, that Civil War veterans went to Egypt to help build an army. The strongest impression that the book made on me was to illustrate how only one man, the President of the US
Josh Liller
A mammoth tome (over 600 pages, plus endnotes and index) that at times bogs down.

This book really focuses on America's involvement in the Middle East (including North Africa), skipping over other events as much as possible and condensing the last 50 years into less than 100 pages (which is acknowledged by the author). The extreme focus of the narrative is a both a weakness and a strength: some of the events referenced briefly left me a bit confused due to lack of familiarity with them. Yet the s
Kaitlin Oujo
I have mixed feelings about this book... as a student of Middle Eastern politics, I had never read about many of the topics covered in this book. It was very refreshing to learn about America's relations with the Middle East from independence onwards; most courses start with the end of World War I. I often found myself thinking "Wow, I never knew that! Interesting."

On the other hand, a lot of it is pretty revisionist and almost reads like a fiction narrative. Oren comes across as very judgmenta
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 wri ...more
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History of the relationship between the USA and the Middle East 1 25 Jan 04, 2009 08:55AM  
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Michael B. Oren (born 1955) is an American-born Israeli scholar, historian, author and former Israeli ambassador to the United States. Oren has published books, articles and essays on the subject of Middle Eastern history, and is the author of the best-selling Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East, which won the Los Angeles Times History Book of the Year Award. Oren h ...more
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