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The Berlin-Baghdad Express: The Ottoman Empire and Germany's Bid for World Power

3.86  ·  Rating Details ·  257 Ratings  ·  43 Reviews

The modern Middle East was forged in the crucible of the First World War, but few know the full story of how war actually came to the region. As Sean McMeekin reveals in this startling reinterpretation of the war, it was neither the British nor the French but rather a small clique of Germans and Turks who thrust the Islamic world into the conflict for their own political,

Hardcover, First Edition (U.S.), 461 pages
Published August 9th 2010 by Belknap Press (first published June 2010)
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Steven Z.
Mar 16, 2013 Steven Z. rated it really liked it
Sean McMeekin is a historian who specializes in the diplomacy of World War I and has written an interesting survey of Turkish-German relations leading up to and during the "Great War." The author concentrates on the role and construction of the Berlin-Baghdad Railway project that was designed to allow Germany to penetrate the Middle East and present the British with a diplomatic and economic defeat in the region. The railway was to counter the importance of the Suez Canal and was to be an integr ...more
Sep 13, 2014 Kaydon_the_dino rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, non-fiction
Ever feel like most of the geo-political, social and scientific situations that arise today are a product of Germany just messing everything up constantly? Do you find yourself giving Angela Merkel the side eye whenever you see her on tv because yup are pretty sure the Germans are up to something nefarious? Do you not know very much about WWI because you are American and Texas ensures your history textbooks are full of nothing substantial? Is the only thing you know about the Ottoman Empire is t ...more
Jun 19, 2012 Jerome rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
A fascinating look at the Ottoman-German alliance during the war and their use of pan-Islamism as a strategy. They did this with their railway project, and by launching a propaganda campaign against the Muslims of Britain’s empire. Neither of these projects ended up working. The Berlin-Baghdad railway project was difficult to build and expensive to maintain. The jihad project also floundered.

In retrospect,Turkey’s entry into the war proved to be its undoing. While both the Allies and the Central
Feb 23, 2015 Dobiasz rated it it was amazing
Dawno temu na lekcjach historii uczyłem się, że jedną z przyczyn wybuchu pierwszej wojny światowej była budowa przez Niemców linii kolejowej do Bagdadu. Wówczas wydawało mi się to dosyć głupie — linia kolejowa gdzieś na peryferiach cywilizowanego świata miałaby być aż tak ważna? A jednak. Ekspres Berlin-Bagdad doskonale i obszernie wyjaśnia niemieckie nadzieje na wywołanie dżihadu — świętej wojny mającej skierować swoje ostrze w mocarstwa Ententy.

Ten front Wielkiej Wojny z reguły traktowany jest
Neill Goltz
Dec 16, 2014 Neill Goltz rated it liked it
Ultimately an awkward book. I really appreciated the detailed presentation of people and places of the many German agents' secret missions to stir up trouble for (primarily) the British in the Ottoman Empire during World War I across the Middle East. Am reading this as part of a geo-time-period package I have set for myself, to include in sequence:

The Great Game
The Sleepwalkers
Berlin-Baghdad Express
Lawrence in Arabia (since read after reveiw of BBE - a tremendous book)
Seven Pillars of Wisdom

Mark Mortensen
Jan 31, 2012 Mark Mortensen rated it liked it
Shelves: wwi
Author Sean McMeekin has performed extensive research and put forth a multitude of details this historical book complete with a 30 page index, however at times I found it hard to process all the information. The book is not as much about the Berlin-Baghdad railway as it is about Germany forming a coalition with Muslim Ottomans to fight on the Eastern Front against allied British and Russians.
A very good read on the German intentions in the Middle East during the Great War, and of the consequences. Has a number of good maps and foot notes.
Mar 14, 2017 Murtaza rated it it was ok
A narrative of a covert campaign by German Arabists and secret agents to build popular support in the Muslim world for their cause during WW1, using the Berlin-Baghdad Railway started by the Kaiser and the Ottomans as its jumping-off point. The book is mostly threaded together by the reports of the German officials who had been tasked with this seditious undertaking, while moving chronologically along from the Kaiser's famous visit to the Arab world through to the war and its immediate aftermath ...more
Oct 19, 2010 Tim rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Using the narrative conceit of the Berlin-Baghdad railway, McMeekin constructs an entertaining narrative of the romance between German and Austro-Hungarian Orientalists in the years leading up to and during WWI. Of greatest interest are the passages dealing with some of the lesser known/more obscure characters and events involved in the Germanic "Drang nach Osten", such as Alois Musil (the Austrian counterpart of Lawrence of Arabia), Kaiser Wilhelm's emmissary to Kabul, Oskar von Niedermeyer, an ...more
E. Kahn
Aug 25, 2014 E. Kahn rated it really liked it
This book is a (weak) five-star right up to its last couple of chapters. Informative, well-written (if somewhat breezy) and detailed. The interpretation is... debatable, at many points, but a history book that forces you to think about interpreting events can't be faulted for that, right?

Reading the last two chapters and epilogue are a bit like finding a fly in the soup, after you've eaten most of the soup. McMeekin's views on the meaning of jihad in Islam and the origins of anti-semitism in the
Nov 10, 2016 Darren rated it really liked it
If you thought that Western countries making a mess in the Middle East was a new thing, you may find this book interesting. More than 100 years ago, the German Kaiser Wilhelm II was sold on the idea of building a railway from Berlin to Baghdad with the aim of doing an end run around the British controlled Suez Canal. While there was some reasonably economic rationale behind this decision, it led to the Germans being embroiled in the politics of the declining Ottoman Empire, the 'sick man of Euro ...more
Oct 25, 2010 Liviu rated it really liked it
Has a lot of great stuff about the Middle eastern contest between Germany and England/France that was started by the Kaiser and culminated in WW1; especially the background and first part about how science and engineering advanced with "pseudo" colonialism;

The problem is in the tone of the book which is pretty shrill in a "them vs us" kind that kept me "rewriting" passages from this book in my head in a what-if history where America stayed neutral and Germany crushed France and forced England t
Jan 26, 2016 Corey rated it really liked it
McMeeken has a talent for shining light on the Great War on previously under covered aspects that changes the way you understand the totality of the war. Obviously, historically there has been an over focus on the West, Germany, France and Britain. My first McMeekan book was on Russia and the Great War, which forced me to completely reconsider my understanding of the July Crisis. Now this book details the Kaiser's plays for power in Western Asia in the 16 years prior to 1914. Germany's attempt t ...more
May 03, 2015 Gavin rated it really liked it
Really excellent book about the German machinations during World War I in order to create a jihad against the Entente powers. Sadly, again, history proves that governments don't pay attention to experts, or else pay attention to only the experts that lead them down the primrose path to their goals. Germany was as much an infidel as England, France, and Russia.

Not only that, but the Ottoman's and various groups and sects, soaked Germany in particular for billions of marks in today's money. Not ch
Dec 31, 2012 Andy rated it it was amazing
Much - in fact, far too much - has been written about the British contribution to the so-called Arab Revolt of 1916 to 1918. In particular, the role played by Col TE Lawrence, later to be mythologised as "Lawrence of Arabia", has clouded the military, political and religious complexity of that guerrilla campaign.

Lawrence's own post-war bitterness at the dismissal of Arab nationalist aspirations (though tainted by his own cynical actions in fomenting those hopes even knowing that Britain and Fra
This book covers the ill-fated alliance between the Ottoman Empire and Germany in the First World War. Germany hoped to use Turkey as a vehicle for its global ambitions through encouraging revolt by Muslim subjects of its enemies. These ambitions proved quixotic. The book features funny German orientalists running around trying to get various Arabs, Persians and Afghans to throw in their lot with their war effort, usually without much success. It also covers the grim horrors of inter-ethnic and ...more
Well written and with a wealth of obscure (to me anyway), fascinating and often hilarious details and characters. Could have done with more on the actual railroad, but I can always stand to hear more about railroads.

I'm somewhat derailed by the epilogue on Zionism however, rather the same feeling as with Tony Judts Postwar's Holocaust Epilogue. It kind of arrives from nowhere after a book largely bypassing the Yishuv (more or less fairly, as a very minor factor in a book that stretches from Lib
John Hutt
Must read history of events in the Middle East during and up to the 1st World War. Although pivotal to the scheme by the Central Powers to attack British India the book does not dwell on the construction of the railway but covers the political moves, covert and overt, to involve the Ottoman Empire in the bid for world supremacy by Germany.
The exploits of the German and Austrian adventurers and academics put Lawrence in the shade and the Author has several veiled criticisms of Lawrence of 'Arabia
Jul 11, 2016 O. rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
- Germans were the ones who created Zionism and Islamic jihadism in its current sense
- Germans are the reason Wahhabism, Salafism in Middle East are dominant mindsets
- Germans were the ones who led the Turkish army almost on all fronts soon before and during the World War I
- Germans commanded the Turks to deport and kill the Armenians
- Germans planned the 1917 Revolution in Russia and caused communism to become such a menace to the world

Sounds outrageous right ? Well, this book will change your
Apr 07, 2011 Darren rated it really liked it
This would be a hard read for someone not interested in this era. It started off hard for me as well, because I did'nt know much about German or Turkish history or their relationship around the turn of the last century.

I'm glad I slogged through the first third of the book though. Because after a while, I got in the groove and it started making sense. After reading this, I feel much more enlighted about why the middle east is the way it is. It was also another testament as to what a knucklehead
Diogo Almeida
Nov 16, 2013 Diogo Almeida rated it liked it
Resourceful book for those interested in the contemporary history of the Middle East. The author works hard to make the text accessible to the general audience - maybe a little too accessible. At times it reads like an Indiana Jones paperback novel. But all the references for the immense research "corpus" are there, so it's a serious scholarly effort and it hits the spot. I particularly liked to read about the German-Turkish overtures to different sects of Islam (Shiite in Iran, Sunni in Mecca) ...more
Emin Kiraz
Jul 14, 2014 Emin Kiraz rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A well-documented book about the Tukish-German Alliance during the World War I. The book systematically and in a chronological order covers all fronts, except Galicia, where Turkish-German armies were involved with a particular focus on the "global jihad" expected to be fought in the name of the Caliph with the support of "Haji Wilhem" from India to Central Asia and to the Northern Africa. It gives insightful thoughts by citing interesting details and illustrating sharp contrast between the inte ...more
Margaret Sankey
Jul 23, 2011 Margaret Sankey rated it liked it
From the early days of Deutschland uber Allah, someone finally went to both German and Ottoman sources to reconstruct the links forged between German industry (backed by the Kaiser) and the nascent Young Turk movement to cultivate the future leaders of Turkey as allies--a move that led the Ottoman into WWI and set in motion far-reaching Middle Eastern consequences (as well as put a statue of Bad Cousin Willy in front of the Istanbul train station, German in Turkish classrooms and BMW cabs on the ...more
Mar 15, 2011 Khalid rated it liked it
This book takes a look at the First World War from the prospective of both the Germans and the Turkish. The author recalls the attempt by Imperial Germany to establish an "anti-Orientalist" empire in the Middle East through an alliance with the Ottoman Empire. The goal was to create a strategic, economic and military force that could challenge and destroy the British Empire, then its main rival for global dominance.
Feb 03, 2011 Lee rated it really liked it
This covered much more than just the railroad construction. The real theme was Imperial Germany's attempts to foment Islamic insurrection, using the Ottoman Caliph, against the British Empire before and during World War I. It ends with the bizarre maneuverings among Germans, Bolsheviks, Turks, British, Georgians, Armenians and many more in the Caucasus.

The author then does a terrific job drawing out the consequences of this attempt at mass jihad which are still active today.
Chantal E. R. H.
Jun 13, 2011 Chantal E. R. H. rated it it was amazing
This book was extremely accessible and informative. I learned so much. I can't recommend this book enough to people who are interested in WWI and the middle east. It was fascinating to find out about Germany's 'jihad' in Turkey, the Suez Canal, etc. The only problem I had with the book is that occasionally I'd get confused because there are so, so many people involved. That's obviously not the author's fault though.

Anyway, I definitely recommend this book!
Mar 29, 2013 James rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, non-fiction
The Middle Eastern theatre of World War One is rather infrequently encountered (unless one is reading Lawrence of Arabia), even more so when it concerns the perspective of the Germans and Ottomans. Discussing the German plan to build a railway from Berlin to Baghdad for strategic purposes and how the Germans planned to unite the Islamic world against Britain, McMeekin brings to life a number of colourful characters and places with a well-written and researched account.
Jan 30, 2016 Brian rated it it was amazing
A wonderful convergence of three of my favorite areas of history - World War I, Germany, and Ottoman Turkey - with a fascinating narrative about how the machinations of Kaiser Wilhelm II and a series of wily German diplomats helped unleash a chain of events, the consequences of which still resonate in today's world.
Barry H. Wiley
Remarkable look at the Imperial German effort to enlist the Middle East as an ally in WWI, to induce the various Muslim sects to declare jihad on the Western colonial powers, France and Great Britain. Very well done. Used as background research for the novel on which I am currently working, The Shadow of the Tiger, the second book in the Kyame Piddington Adventures in Second Sight trilogy.
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