The Man Who Created The Middle East by Christopher Simon Sykes


Author: Christopher Simon Sykes
Published: 2016
Publisher: William Collins
Length: 320pp.

This is a short review of a book I really enjoyed back in January. It seems to have a lot of low star reviews on goodreads therefore I felt compelled to give it a well rounded public review.

This is a good book about a bad man. 

The poor goodreads rating for this books is probably more to do with who Mark Sykes was as opposed to the book itself. The author even writes that when he told his editor about the book he was told he ought to call it ‘The man who f***ed up the Middle East’ which really says it all.

Mark Sykes was the British signator of the famous Sykes-Picot agreement. A treaty that oversaw the carving up of the Middle East in 1916. This agreement has come to prominence in recent years due to all the wars in the Middle East, not to mention the desire from ISIS to “undo Sykes-Picot”.

If you're hoping to find some redeeming features in Mark Sykes by reading this book, i'm sorry to disappoint but he just isn't a very likeable character. This biography is written by his grandson who has a personal insight into Mark Sykes life through his diary entries and the personal history of his family. On account of this you get a really intersting insight into the controversial actions of a guy with a pretty (deservedly) bad reputation. He seems to have no favourable view of anybody native to the Middle East be they Arab, Jewish, Kurdish, Muslim etc. which can't be excused in my opinion no matter how long ago he lived and whether these views were common at the time.

Yet outside of his worklife he has a loving wife and children, and very colourful parents. For me the highlight of this books was reading about his parents, particularly his mother, Jessica Sykes. She was pretty much forced into marrying her husband Lord Tatton Sykes because she ended up spending a platonic night in his house and her parents were afraid people would gossip so they insisted they marry. He was much older than her and they ended up in a miserable marriage. Sadly Jessica didn't take to this well and dealt with her misery through numerous affairs, alcoholism, and a gambling addiction resulting in ludicrous debts. But this also resulted in an outpouring of love and generosity to the working classes who didn't judge her as those in her own social class did. I found Mark Sykes parents lives fascinating! And if the author ever writes a more detailed book on them I am so keen to read it!

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