A Life in the Middle East
By Roger Own
2016, Tadween Publishing, 978-1-93906-723-4, $18.99 pb.
Reviewed by Arthur Clark on November 15, 2017
Readers with an interest in the field of Middle Eastern studies, and insights gained through a lifetime of work inside and outside the “ivory towers” of Oxford and Harvard, will find Roger Owen’s autobiography a valuable read. As a British soldier in Cyprus in the mid-1950s, he fell in love with the eastern Mediterranean’s “sweet early summer evenings, Biblical ruins and the insistent hammer of contemporary politics.” That led him into Middle Eastern studies at the time the first centers for such scholarship were being established. Less than a decade later, while teaching English at the American University in Cairo, he gained entrée to the Abdeen Palace archives in Cairo and also accessed information from the Nile Delta farming community to prepare his Oxford thesis on the role of cotton in Egyptian economy in the 19th century, work that becomes an adventure in itself. Stories about the places he taught and visited, and the friendships he forged, add spice to this perceptive look into this important field of academia in which Owen has thrived.