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Levant: Splendour and Catastrophe on the Mediterranean

4.05  ·  Rating details ·  205 ratings  ·  30 reviews
Levant is a book of cities. It describes three former centers of great wealth, pleasure, and freedom—Smyrna, Alexandria, and Beirut—cities of the Levant region along the eastern coast of the Mediterranean. In these key ports at the crossroads of East and West, against all expectations, cosmopolitanism and nationalism flourished simultaneously. People freely switched ...more
Hardcover, 470 pages
Published May 24th 2011 by Yale University Press (first published November 1st 2010)
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Average rating 4.05  · 
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Bchara
Jul 01, 2015 rated it liked it
I particularly enjoyed the chapters about Alexandria, which allowed me to discover the interesting persona of the greek poet Cavafi. Some other stories are heartbreaking, like the evacuation of Greeks from Smyrna.
Shane Quinn
Oct 05, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Really beautiful book - with the odd slight quibble. Given that it almost brought me to tears at one point, it is most definitely a movingly crafted tale. It speaks not only of Smyrna, Alexandria and Beirut, but of the opportunities and threats of cosmpolitanism and multi-culturalism. For those of us who believe deeply in both concepts, this book is a warning for how quickly and violently 'melting pots' can disintegrate.

There was a little bit of an assumption by Mansel that his reader would
...more
Stephen Hayes
Jul 27, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, our-books
This book is tale of three cities -- Smyrna, Alexandria and Beirut. But it is a great deal more than that, as it is also the history of the region of the world in which the three cities are located, the region known to the French as the Levant, which is equivalent of the Latin "Orient", and means the land of the rising sun. More specifically, it refers to the lands bordering the Eastern Mediterranean which, from the 16th century to the 20th, were part of the Ottoman Empire.

The three cities that
...more
Margaret Sankey
Jan 22, 2012 rated it really liked it
Mansel, using a dazzling array of sources in multiple languages (this is one of those occasions where I missed footnotes and had to flip back and forth), reconstructs the long, intertwined history of the Eastern Mediterranean through three cities--Smyrna, Alexandria, and Beirut. He argues that because they never formed a civic identity, the kaleidoscopic nature of the mixed religious and ethnic population certainly added dynamism and a network that made the cities rich, but also meant that when ...more
Jenny Brown
Jan 25, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an eye-opening history of Smyrna, Alexandria, and Beirut which gives a rich background to much of today's political situation in Syria, Egypt and Lebanon. Reading it made me aware, once again, how abysmally ignorant Americans are about the history of these countries and the highly dysfunctional political cultures that grew out of that history.

The author avoids the Eurocentric view of the history of these places which is almost inescapable in English-languge writings.

This is not light
...more
Jeffrey
Nov 02, 2015 rated it really liked it
If you'd like to understand the tragedy of nationalism, how it brought catastrophe to most of the cosmopolitan Leventine world, this book is a good place to start. What Mansel does is place Izmir, Beruit, and Alexandria at the center of our journey (thought Salonika and Istanbul are also reflected upon). The book moves historically from what were called the Ottoman Capitulations, a system that granted Europeans--among other things--the right to try their citizens in their own courts, to the life ...more
A. Sacit
Sep 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
This book is about extraordinary, heart-warming, and yet tragically ending stories of three great Levantine cities, namely Smyrna (now, Izmir), Alexandria, and Beirut, where Turks, Greeks, Arabs, Jews, Armenians, and many European nationalities coexisted, traded, and flourished with panache - despite occasional interference by external powers and religious and racial violence - during the final 100 years of the Ottoman Empire and the period that followed under British and French rule. Racial and ...more
Mohamed Toorani
Jul 31, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Philip Mansel does an outstanding job at detailing the histories of the three prosperous Levantine cities of Smyrna (now Izmir), Alexandria and Beirut.

This book isn't just a dull narration of fact after fact. Through class research, Mansel has managed to revive long-gone conversations you'd hear in the streets of 1921 Alexandria, the horrors of the Lebanese civil war and the disturbing accounts of the great Smyrna fire. But these cities shouldn't be known for their catastrophes; this book does
...more
Diane
Nov 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This book tells the story of the main Levantine cities: Izmir (formerly Smyrna, in modern-day Turkey), Alexandria (in Egypt), and Beirut (in Lebanon). The author traces the history of these cities from the 16th century on, focusing on their role in the 19th century- both in terms of the rise of nationalism and in terms of the international flavor of these cities on the Mediterranean. Then, he shows how all of these cities faced rising nationalism and conservative religious values in the 20th ...more
Inna
Jul 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Lovely book on emerge of several multi-ethnic cities prospering through international trade (Smirna, Alexandria, Beirut) and on the destruction of these communities due to various nationalisms. What is especially nice about the book is the details - the descriptions of lively multilingual cultures side by side with class and ethnic tensions, often combined.
Fusun Dulger charles
Jan 01, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Great book on the politics and lives in Izmir, Alexandria and Beyrouth. It explains a lot about the problems the cities and even these countries face now.
A must read for anyone who want to understand the Middle East and who lives or whose parents have lived in these cities.
Very well written and with great understand and depth of the problems these cities faced.
Ferruccio
Dec 18, 2010 marked it as to-read
From The Economist - Mediterranean cities Dec 9th 2010
http://www.economist.com/node/1767295...

Levant: Splendour and Catastrophe on the Mediterranean.
By Philip Mansel. Yale University Press; 470 pages; $25. John Murray; Â25
http://www.philipmansel.com/
IN SCHOOLS across the eastern Mediterranean, children are still learning about the past of the fascinating places where they live through the distorting lens of modern nationalism. In varying degrees of crudity, they are presented with the idea that
...more
Adam Morris
Jul 09, 2017 rated it it was ok
Okay 2 1/2 stars. I really hoped I would like this book as a study of these cities at these periods of history interests me. I am fascinated by the history of the Middle East and the shifting power centers within the Ottoman Empire and after and have read a number of books on related subject matter. Judging by the reviews on the back cover by a number of highly respected papers and individuals I was truly expecting something superior. In the end it was just ok.
There is certainly an abundance of
...more
Orion
Sep 20, 2014 rated it really liked it
The book views the Levant in terms of being areas where multiple cultures co-exist in an orderly manner. He exemplifies these areas through relaying the histories of three cities; Smyrna (Izmir), Alexandria, and Beirut. He shows the strengths of these areas as providing profitable economies and fascinating society. However, beneath the surface of cultural acceptance, and in the areas surrounding these cities, may lie fierce loyalties to one's own cultural group which have the capacity to destroy ...more
Raffi
Oct 05, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
I borrowed this book from a friend, when I first laid my eyes on the title of the book, the Levant. It's a French word that is widely used in English as well. I always wondered what and where Levant is and where its boundaries are.
The author has a lot of resources and he mentions all the facts and stories that he could get his hands on. What I didn't like is that there is no cohesion between the stories, he couldn't find a way to link them.
The Levant talks about the major Levantine cities:
...more
Sarah Adams
Jun 07, 2017 rated it liked it
Mostly focuses on Beirut, Alexandria, and Smyrna but very fascinating read on these cosmopolitan port cities and what contributed to the co-existence of so many different groups. Some of the most interesting insights were often buried in text that went into too much detail on a person's title/rank/origin. I felt like some of the descriptions could have been left to footnotes to make more cohesive points. Over all, good insights to the history and culture of the region.
Amela Koluder
Sep 12, 2019 rated it liked it
What a book?!
It is full of facts and details, a great intro to the rich and turbulent history of Levant. Specially interesting perspective of cosmopolitanism and its urge.

However, I am quite disappointed with a complete lack of other perspectives but the one form the colonial powers, mostly English and to some extent French. What about everybody else, and especially the domicile population - they are barely mentioned.
But anyway, this book and great storytelling of history facts made me even
...more
Pinar Gungor
Apr 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Çok güzel hem bütünsel hem detaylı olarak Levant tarihini anlatan bir kitap. Çok beğendim. Sırasıyla en çok Beyrut, İskenderiye ve İzmir’i anlatıyor. İzmir’in yakın tarihi yok ama olayların Beyrut kadar karışık olmamasından ötürü olağan karşıladım.
Eric Gurr
Jul 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. It's actually a fairly quick read, and a great place to start on those interested in the current situation in the Levant, and the greater Middle East.
Mike G
Nov 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A wonderful most enjoyable read. Most informative.
Albert Gomperts
Mar 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
Excellent, if depressing history of the fate of the cosmopolitan cities of the Levant in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Mark
May 10, 2012 rated it really liked it
Just finished Philip Mansel's Levant, which chronicles Smyrna (modern Izmir), Beirut and Alexandria through the late Ottoman period and into the 20th century. All three cities were centers of culture, business and had large, diverse populations. Christians and muslims lived together and, for the most part, spoke French - once the international language.

And all three cities suffered in the 20th century - and at least two (Smyrna and Alexandria) emerged as modern but ethnically homogeneous cities.
...more
Joe
Mar 06, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Nicely written and full of interesting anecdote. A sad reminder of how diverse this part of the world had been in the past. Also a warning of the dangers of strong ethnic identities and the havoc they cause. The inhabitants of these wealthy and successful cities must for a long time have thought their good fortune would continue indefinitely.


May Khaw
Nov 02, 2011 rated it liked it
Lovely, if a bit drawn out for my taste.
Salih Akan
Jan 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Because of this book you can change your holiday destination.
Brian Angle
Apr 03, 2015 rated it it was ok
Interesting topic, but long and dry. Too many details, not enough narrative structure.
Mehmet Nuri
Feb 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is an outstanding work!
!Tæmbuŝu
Nov 11, 2011 marked it as to-read
Shelves: history, turkey
Bill Rapp
A bit tedious but still an insightful exploration of the demons that have changed the world of the eastern Mediterranean.
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Philip Mansel is a historian of courts and cities, and of France and the Ottoman Empire. He was born in London in 1951 and educated at Eton College, where he was a King’s Scholar, and at Balliol College, Oxford, where he read Modern History and Modern Languages. Following four years’ research into the French court of the period 1814-1830, he was awarded his doctorate at University College, London ...more