Three Empires on the Nile: The Victorian Jihad, 1869-1899

A secular regime is toppled by Western intervention, but an Islamic backlash turns the liberators into occupiers. Caught between interventionists at home and fundamentalists abroad, a prime minister flounders as his ministers betray him, alliances fall apart, and a runaway general makes policy in the field. As the media accuse Western soldiers of barbarity and a region slides into chaos, the armies of God clash on an ancient river and an accidental empire arises.

This is not the Middle East of the early twenty-first century. It is Africa in the late nineteenth century, when the river Nile became the setting for an extraordinary collision between Europeans, Arabs, and Africans. A human and religious drama, the conflict defined the modern relationship between the West and the Islamic world. The story is not only essential for understanding the modern clash of civilizations but is also a gripping, epic, tragic adventure.

Three Empires on the Nile tells of the rise of the first modern Islamic state and its fateful encounter with the British Empire of Queen Victoria. Ever since the self-proclaimed Islamic messiah known as the Mahdi gathered an army in the Sudan and besieged and captured Khartoum under its British overlord Charles Gordon, the dream of a new caliphate has haunted modern Islamists. Today, Shiite insurgents call themselves the Mahdi Army, and Sudan remains one of the great fault lines of battle between Muslims and Christians, blacks and Arabs. The nineteenth-century origins of it all were even more dramatic and strange than today's headlines.

In the hands of Dominic Green, the story of the Nile's three empires is an epic in the tradition of Kipling, the bard of empire, and Winston Churchill, who fought in the final destruction of the Mahdi's army. It is a sweeping and very modern tale of God and globalization, slavers and strategists, missionaries and messianists. A pro-Western regime collapses from its own corruption, a jihad threatens the global economy, a liberation movement degenerates into a tyrannical cult, military intervention goes wrong, and a temporary occupation lasts for decades. In the rise and fall of empires, we see a parable for our own times and a reminder that, while American military involvement in the Islamic world is the beginning of a new era for America, it is only the latest chapter in an older story for the people of the region.

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By Thomas (Sacramento, CA) · ★★★★★ · June 06, 2012
In keeping with a piece of advice from Ray Bradbury that has been making the rounds, in which he suggests that writers must have a slightly creepy love affair with books, I say emphatically that this week I am creepily in love with books about Sudan.

Today, I am particularly in love with Three Emp... ...more
By JuliAnna (Amherst, MA) · ★★☆☆☆ · July 15, 2008
I was hoping more cultural history and less military history. In addition, it is told from the perspective of the British. The title is really far more interesting than the book turns out to be. ...more
By Andrea (East Lansing, MI) · ★★★☆☆ · September 18, 2014
This was one of those books that seems to overlap with lots of others I've read (history of the Suez Canal, history of the European exploration of the Nile, history of Sudan etc), but somehow it doesn't manage to add anything new or memorable. I am surprised because I selected the book expecting... ...more
By Jamie (The United States) · ★★★★☆ · April 14, 2012
At times great and at times frustratingly wandering off on tangents and reading like a turn of the century colonialist adventure story with its focus on old dead racist white men, this book illuminates the European policies of structurally salting the earth in Egypt and Sudan in the middle of the... ...more
By Hyperionconsul (The United States) · ★★★★★ · February 11, 2013
Dominic Green has done a fine job in conveying an important, but neglected part of 19th century history. The historical events described in this book still echo in modern day Egypt and Sudan and that's what makes it all the more interesting. At the time, the Khedive of Egypt was borrowing heavily... ...more
By Mohamed (Henderson, NV) · ★★★★★ · January 22, 2014
History repeats itself with a scary consistency! The book narrates the second failing attempt to achieve modernity. The author does a marvelous job in connecting history of Egypt, Sudan, and England. Opposite to the standard narratives of Egyptian history, the book expands on the muddled British... ...more
By Grady (New York, NY) · ★★★★☆ · September 30, 2008
Research for a piece, but reading about the insane British plans for the Sudan in the 19th century, as well as the raving, foaming-at-the-mouth abolitionist Chinese Gordon makes you cheer on the rampaging mobs of half-naked, poorly armed, homicidal maniacs fighting for Islam as they kill as many... ...more
By Christopher (Friedens, PA) · ★★★☆☆ · October 12, 2012
Competent account of Britain's entanglements in Egypt and Sudan, specifically Urabi Pasha's uprising and the Mahdist Wars. Green successfully intertwines the components of imperialism, Arab nationalism and Islamic fanaticism together, inviting modern-day comparisons. The book brings little fresh... ...more
By Nathan (Canberra, Australia) · ★★★☆☆ · January 18, 2012
Egypt, the Sudan and Britain 1869-1899. Corrupt pashas, the Mahdi. Chinese Gordon et al. Didn't know too much about the place and time before. Know a little more now. Like most histories, not many people come out of this looking very good. Rated PG for some war violence. 3/5
By Jared (Jersey City, NJ) · ★★★★★ · March 03, 2011
Loved it, no idea why people say that it's dry. Maybe it just hit a sweet spot for me: abolitionists, geopolitics, political islam and the history of jihad. ...more