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Splendour and Catastrophe on the Mediterranean

Philip Mansel

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Not so long ago, in certain cities on the shores of the eastern Mediterranean, Muslims, Christians, and Jews lived and flourished side by side. What can the histories of these cities tell us?

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 identities and languages, released from the prisons of religion and nationality. Muslims, Christians, and Jews lived and worshipped as neighbors.

Distinguished historian Philip Mansel is the first to recount the colorful, contradictory histories of Smyrna, Alexandria, and Beirut in the modern age. He begins in the early days of the French alliance with the Ottoman Empire in the sixteenth century and continues through the cities' mid-twentieth-century fates: Smyrna burned; Alexandria Egyptianized; Beirut lacerated by civil war.

Mansel looks back to discern what these remarkable Levantine cities were like, how they differed from other cities, why they shone forth as cultural beacons. He also embarks on a quest: to discover whether, as often claimed, these cities were truly cosmopolitan, possessing the elixir of coexistence between Muslims, Christians, and Jews for which the world yearns. Or, below the glittering surface, were they volcanoes waiting to erupt, as the catastrophes of the twentieth century suggest? In the pages of the past, Mansel finds important messages for the fractured world of today.

Philip Mansel is a historian of France and the Ottoman Empire. His publications include histories of Constantinople and nineteenth-century Paris, as well as biographies of Louis XVIII and the Prince de Ligne. While writing Levant, he lived in Beirut and Istanbul.

"I could scarcely put down this magnificent book, with its galloping narrative, its worldly analysis, sparkling anecdotes and its unforgettable cast of the decadent, the cosmopolitan, and the cruel."—Simon Sebag Montefiore, Financial Times

"[A] highly enjoyable and intricately-worked account of three great Mediterranean ports."—The Economist

"This is a rich piece of historical storytelling that will satisfy scholars, travelers, readers of travel literature, and everyone in between, Highly recommended for anyone with an interest in this complicated region of the world."—Veronica Arellano, Library Journal

“This book is a labour of love and finely tuned scholarship, ornamented with such telling social detail and intimate knowledge of the urban and social landscapes that it brings 300 years of history to entertaining life…”—Barnaby Rogerson, Times Literary Supplement

Levant is an eminently readable and authoritative work that speaks directly to present-day anxieties, both about the nature of today’s western multicultural cities, and about current tensions between nations and religions.”-- Roderick Beaton, King's College London

"An extraordinary achievement. Passionate but impartial, animated, sensual and scholarly. "--Barnaby Rogerson, auhor of The Last Crusaders

“This book is a labour of love and finely tuned scholarship, ornamented with such telling social detail and intimate knowledge of the urban and social landscapes that it brings 300 years of history to entertaining life…Philip Mansel slowly makes the reader aware that the grand theme of his history is a slow unfolding tragedy which remains absolutely relevant to today’s multicultural societies, engaged as they are in the delicate balancing act between political unity and cosmopolitan diversity…not only an entertainment and a historical education but also something of a political warning…”—Barnaby Rogerson, Times Literary Supplement

“Philip Mansel's Levant: Splendour and Catastrophe in the Mediterranean is a remarkable, highly unusual and very readable social history of the ports of Smyrna, Beirut and Alexandria during the final decades of the Ottoman Empire.”—Lev Myshkin, Global Dispatches

"The strengths of the book are colossal. Philip Mansel’s knowledge of the history and culture of these places is encyclopedic; he has walked their streets, met the scions of their famous families and penetrated their private archives. His eye for detail is sharp; telling anecdotes are culled from memoirs of all kinds, and the sights and smells of each city are vividly conjured up."—Noel Malcolm, Telegraph

"Philip Mansel’s impressive return to the eastern Mediterranean. . . . Mansel has given the Levantine world its chronicle, and restored its weight in history."—Jason Goodwin, Spectator

"A masterly work."—Moris Farhi, Independent
ISBN: 9780300181715
Publication Date: May 29, 2012
480 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
33 b/w in two 8-page inserts

Sales Restrictions: For sale in North America only
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