Dead Sea Level: Science, Exploration and Imperial Interests in the Near East, by Haim Goren.
London, I. B. Tauris, 2011 (Vol. 6, Tauris Historical Geography Series), ISBN: 9781848854963. £59.50
It is rare that a book is both an excellent scholarly treatise and a gripping page-turner filled with stories of adventure and exploit. Haim Goren’s Dead Sea Level is one of those rare books. Rare and perhaps unique in that it takes a story of which we know the outlines (though many of us are perhaps sketchy on the details) and skilfully challenges the accepted wisdom on why the enterprises unfolded as they did.
Goren writes masterfully of the 19th-century European involvement in the Near and Middle East, demonstrating that the traditional interpretation of this as one form or another of colonial endeavour is not as accurate as we might think at first glance: the events were both more quotidian and more significant. They were both personal achievements and national projects.
The book is divided into two sections. The first covers the general outlines of European endeavour in the area, notably the expedition of Francis Rawdon Chesney to survey the Euphrates in the 1830s. The second section deals at greater length with investigations concerning the Dead Sea and the broader Jordan Rift Valley area. Goren tellingly depicts these events both within the wider context of Western involvement in the area and also as products of the personalities who were involved.