New Books Network

Philip Zelikow and Ernest May

Suez Deconstructed

An Interactive Study in Crisis, War, and Peacemaking

Brookings Institution Press 2018

New Books in British StudiesNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Middle Eastern StudiesNew Books in National SecurityNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in World AffairsNew Books Network January 25, 2019 Charles Coutinho

Experiencing a major crisis from different viewpoints, step by step:  the Suez crisis of 1956— one of the major crises of the 1950s offers...

Experiencing a major crisis from different viewpoints, step by step:  the Suez crisis of 1956— one of the major crises of the 1950s offers a potential master class in statecraft and the politics of strategy. It was an explosive Middle East confrontation capped by a surprise move that reshaped the region for many years to come. It was a diplomatic confrontation between the world’s two major colonial powers (France & Britain) and a major third-world country (Egypt), as well as a conflict between the world’s premier Arab country (Egypt) and Israel. A confrontation that riveted the world’s attention. And it was a short but startling war that ended in unexpected ways for every country involved.

Six countries, including the two superpowers, had major roles, but each saw the situation differently. From one stage to the next, it could be hard to tell which state was really driving the action. As in any good ensemble, all the actors had pivotal parts to play. Among the world-renown figures involved were Sir Anthony Eden, Dwight Eisenhower, David Ben-Gurion, Abdel Nasser and John Foster Dulles.

Like an illustration that uses an exploded view of an object to show how it works, Philip Zelikow and Ernest May‘s Suez Deconstructed: An Interactive Study in Crisis, War, and Peacemaking (Brookings Institution, 2018) uses an unprecedented design to deconstruct the Suez crisis. The story is broken down into three distinct phases. In each phase, the reader sees the issues as they were perceived by each country involved, taking into account different types of information and diverse characteristics of each leader and that leader’s unique perspectives. Then, after each phase has been laid out, editorial observations invite the reader to consider the interplay.

Using the most updated primary source material and research; developed by an unusual group of veteran policy practitioners and historians working as a team, Suez Deconstructed is not just a fresh and novel way to understand the history of a major world crisis. Whether one’s primary interest is statecraft or history, this study provides a fascinating step-by-step experience, repeatedly shifting from one viewpoint to another. At each stage, readers can gain rare experience in the way these very human leaders sized up their situations, defined and redefined their problems, improvised diplomatic or military solutions, sought ways to influence each other, and tried to change the course of history.

Professor Zelkow has served five Presidents from Reagan through Obama, in various capacities at the State Department, White House, and the Defense Department. He was also the Executive Director of the 9/11 Commission. He is currently a professor at the University of Virginia.


Charles Coutinho has a doctorate in history from New York University. Where he studied with Tony Judt, Stewart Stehlin and McGeorge Bundy. His Ph. D. dissertation was on Anglo-American relations in the run-up to the Suez Crisis of 1956. His area of specialization is 19th and 20th-century European, American diplomatic and political history. He has written recently for the Journal of Intelligence History and Chatham House’s International Affairs. It you have a recent title to suggest for a podcast, please send an e-mail to Charlescoutinho@aol.com.