March 1, 2011

Was Beirut a Levantine City, and is it still?

Dr. Mansel, who made his reputation as a historian and authority on nineteenth century France, and later wrote two excellent works on Constantinople and the Ottoman Empire, has very recently published a highly acclaimed book entitled ‘Levant: Splendour and Catastrophe on the Mediterranean’ where the Levant is seen through the history of three key cities, Smyrna (now Izmir), Alexandria and Beirut. The book examines the ways in which these Levantine cities which sat on the frontline between the Ottoman Empire and Europe reflected dialogues between East and West, and challenged stereotypes about cosmopolitanism, coexistence and nationalism, by allowing all of them to flourish. In their review of ‘Levant’, the Sunday Telegraph said ‘the strengths of the book are colossal’, while the Financial Times writer said ‘he could scarcely put down this magnificent book’. The Economist called it ‘a highly enjoyable and intricately worked account of three great Mediterranean ports’. Finally Patrick Seale appearing on the BBC said the book was ‘eloquent and moving… a song of lamentation for a lost cosmopolitan world’. While writing ‘Levant’ Philip Mansel lived in Beirut and Istanbul. He also writes for the Spectator and the Times Literary Supplement.

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