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

3.79 of 5 stars 3.79  ·  rating details  ·  125 ratings  ·  27 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, 496 pages
Published September 15th 2010 by Belknap Press (first published 2010)
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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...more
Steven Z.
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
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
E. Kahn
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...more
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
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...more
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...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...more
Well researched history of the period covering not only the railway itself but the wider German attempts to ignite jihad during WWI. A good background text for those interested in both German and Turkish history.
Emin Kiraz
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
Diogo Almeida
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
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...more
Margaret Sankey
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
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.
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.
Chantal E. R. H.
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!
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.
Mark Mortensen
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.
Barry 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.
Stephen Harker
This proved to be a tough read. Loaded with facts and discussing events and places of which I had little previous knowledge.

However, it opened so many new doors for me and helped me to understand a lot of things a little better.

Excellent. Well worth the effort.
Boston Book Bums
More a round-out of German-Turko intrigue than about the railway itself, McMeekin demonstrates portraitist skills in a ranging history that will surely prove illuminating for those unfamiliar with this element of Middle Eastern history.
James Folan
This goes into too much detail for the casual reader maybe, but it's a fascinating read. Who knew that the Germans attempted to unleash Islamic jihad to get the British out of India and win WW1? I didn't.
Lots of fun to read, but the thesis of the book placed too much responsibility on the German-Ottoman partnership. Highly recommended, however.
Outstanding book. Fascinating subject. Explains so much about today's world. Well-written. Full of fascinating characters, incidents.
Jan 15, 2012 Steve added it
Brilliant - a superb tale of how Germany tried to create an anti-British colonial jihad before and during World War I.
Great history....well researched.
Desmond marked it as to-read
Oct 21, 2014
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Oct 19, 2014
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