In This Review

Water on Sand: Environmental Histories of the Middle East and North Africa
Water on Sand: Environmental Histories of the Middle East and North Africa
Edited by Alan Mikhail
Oxford University Press, 2012, 352 pp.

Environmental history is a fascinating field, but this volume lacks a binding thread. Despite its fractured focus, much of the material the collection presents is interesting, and its range is impressive, from considerations of the environment’s effect on the longevity of empires to estimates of the size of the typical daily catch enjoyed by fishermen in medieval Istanbul. In his chapter, J. R. McNeill explores the differing power bases relied on by agrarian and pastoral empires. Richard Bulliet shows how during the Middle Ages, population growth spurred the development of wind and water power for milling in Europe, while in the Middle East, cheap communal grazing favored the use of animals. Sam White speculates on the degree to which the Little Ice Age weakened the Ottoman Empire. Other contributions explore the incidence of plague in Egypt, the role water and oil played in building the power base of the Saudi monarchy, France’s establishment of national parks in its colonies, environmental policymaking in Lebanon, and land reclamation in Egypt. Before reading on such topics, however, it is wise to keep in mind a caveat McNeill issues: “Much of the foregoing is speculation that cannot be tested or verified.”