Academic journal article The International Journal of African Historical Studies

A History of Libya

Academic journal article The International Journal of African Historical Studies

A History of Libya

Article excerpt

A History of Libya. By John Wright. New York: Columbia University Press, 2012. Pp. xix, 267; maps, bibliography, index. $20.00 paper.

In 2010, John Wright published a partly revised edition of his 1969 history of Libya.1 He has now added a new chapter on the overthrow of Muammar Gadafi in 2011, and published an updated version of the original 1969 text. In a review of his 2010 publication that appeared in this journal (Vol. 44, No. 3 [2011], 458-60), I was critical of the ways that Wright left unchanged the parts of his 1969 text that had relied on the outdated concept of race as an explanatory model in his account of North African history. Although this problem remains unchanged in the 2012 edition, I will focus my brief review here on the more useful parts of this book that address the contemporary period.

It is in moments of crisis that underlying social and political dynamics become visible. In the case of Libya, the disorder that has followed the overthrow of Gadafi reveals not just the weakness of state institutions that would be necessary to reconstitute national authority over Libyan territory, but the complete absence of a coherent civil society capable of expressing coherent national political demands (p. 235). Wright traces the weakness of the state in Libya to distinct regional geographies of Cyrenaica in the east, Tripolitania in the west, and the Fezzan in the south. He argues that over the course of Libya's long history, the centrifugal forces of these regional loyalties have consistently undermined state formation. According to Wright, state authority was never successfully extended beyond the Mediterranean coastal strip during the Ottoman period, and it was only during the long resistance to the Italian colonial occupation, which began in 1911, that a sense of nationhood began to emerge, although that too took a regional character, especially in Cyrenaica. …

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