PRESS & PRAISE
"In an ably researched and well-told account, Karabell (The Last Campaign) chronicles the origins and legacy of one of the greatest undertakings of the 19th century. Karabell demonstrates that the political machinations behind the project were just as intricate and daunting. [...] Karabell does an especially fine job of balancing the ballyhoo and symbolic grandeur of what the canal was meant to be and the more or less forgotten entity it has become."
— Publisher's Weekly | read full review >
“A tale shot through with . . . unexpected twists. . . . Karabell tells his story concisely and with narrative skill, peppering the account with many wry anecdotes.”
— The Jerusalem Post
“Engrossing. . . . As accessible and vividly written as a novel. . . . It maintains a page-turning pace. Superbly researched, it is a volume to keep.”
— The Sunday Times
“Zachary Karabell has written an absorbing narrative. . . . [He] traces with skill the complex diplomatic and engineering feat. . . . [and] prompts reflections . . . about the futility of human effort and the evanescence of glory.”
— Times Literary Supplement
“Excellent and well-written. . . . A riveting story, and Karabell tells it handsomely. . . . An exceptional book, one of the best of its kind I have read. . . . A splendid account of a great project.”
— Sunday Herald
“Well-researched and very well-written.... The tens of thousands of the Egyptian fellahin peasantry who dug the canal...did indeed part the desert, and their story cannot have been better told than by this fine book.”
— The Sunday Telegraph | read full review >
“Fascinating. . . . Elegiac. . . . Parting the Desert is an excellent story, skillfully told. Even those who are bored to tears by canals, whose eyes glaze over at the first mention of engineering, will find themselves, as this reader did, racing through it.”
— Justin Marozzi, Literary Review
“An absorbing, well-written narrative. . . . [Karabell gives] dimension to the personalities, eccentricities and strengths of key figures. . . . [A] fascinating account.”
— San Antonio Express-News
"In depicting Ferdinand de Lesseps' glory days on the Suez Canal, Karabell proves just as able a raconteur as David McCullough, as he thematically contrasts the dreams invested in the construction of the Suez Canal with its fading importance today. Karabell amplifies his story with figures from the worlds of diplomacy, finance, and French and Egyptian societies. A brilliant narrative."
— Booklist | read full review >
“Karabell writes with the authority and power of a gifted arabist…an entirely splendid book.”
— Simon Winchester, The New York Times Book Review
“Karabell tells the story of a crucial development in the history of the modern world with economy and lively grace.”
— Los Angeles Times | read full review >
“Zachary Karabell reminds us in this concise and pleasantly digressive history [that] the waterway’s creation stirred great passions in the 19th century.”
— The Economist
“Read Karabell’s wonderfully written book to remember the dreams people had about the Middle East–and what became of them.”
"A fascinating saga: of diplomacy involving primarily the French and the Egyptians, of raising gigantic sums of money, of overcoming massive geographical and technological obstacles long before the invention of mechanized earth-moving equipment. . . . The business aspects sometimes seem as if they are ripped from last month’s headlines."
— Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
“A rich and engaging narrative of one of the greatest engineering feats of the nineteenth century [with] resonance beyond its time.”
— Alexander Stille, author of The Future of the Past
“Karabell tells his story elegantly . . . distilling a large cast spread across several countries into a manageable one. . . . A gifted crafter of sentences, Karabell seldom wastes a sentence as he offers one well-chosen anecdote after another that sheds light on the greater drama of this important and historic construction project.”
— Charleston Gazette
“A fascinating, epic, elegiac story. Zachary Karabell’s account of the political intrigue, quixotic dreamers, and engineering genius that led to the construction of the Suez Canal vividly brings to life one of the underappreciated marvels of the modern world. The book is a triumph of history and art.”
— Bruce Feiler, author of Abraham: A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths
“Today, as Mr. Karabell ruefully concludes, Lesseps's masterwork is far from being a symbol of the hoped for confluence of Occident and Orient. Battle-scarred after three wars between Israel and Egypt, and falling into disuse, it is but one of many ugly fissures that divides the Middle East."
— The Wall Street Journal | read full review >
Award-winning historian Zachary Karabell tells the epic story of the greatest engineering feat of the nineteenth century--the building of the Suez Canal-- and shows how it changed the world.
The dream was a waterway that would unite the East and the West, and the ambitious, energetic French diplomat and entrepreneur Ferdinand de Lesseps was the mastermind behind the project. Lesseps saw the project through fifteen years of financial challenges, technical obstacles, and political intrigues. He convinced ordinary French citizens to invest their money, and he won the backing of Napoleon III and of Egypt's prince Muhammad Said. But the triumph was far from perfect: the construction relied heavily on forced labor and technical and diplomatic obstacles constantly threatened completion. The inauguration in 1869 captured the imagination of the world. The Suez Canal was heralded as a symbol of progress that would unite nations, but its legacy is mixed. Parting the Desert is both a transporting narrative and a meditation on the origins of the modern Middle East.