Jordan--that country conjured out of sand and hills by Winston Churchill at the Cairo conference in March 1921--has always had a question mark over its existence. For the first thirty years, King `Abdullah tried to trade Amman, his backwater capital, for Damascus or Jerusalem. King Husayn struggled during four decades to fend off many predators, including Gamal Abdel Nasser and the PLO. As recently as July 1994, he stated that Jordan "is susceptible to fragmentation."
Salibi, professor of history at the American University of Beirut, provides an excellent basis for grappling with these fundamental questions about the Jordanian polity. In two of the book's most important chapters, he chronicles the Hashemite dynasty which produced the kings of Jordan and tells the history of the territory that Churchill would eventually make into Jordan. Particularly important for today's Jordan-is-Palestine advocates to note, Salibi shows that the British did not control Transjordan during the eight critical months between the French conquest of Damascus in July 1920 and the Cairo Conference.
The sections dealing with more recent history provide a competent and useful account of political developments, but they do not provide new perspectives; more surprisingly, they have nothing to say about the culture and economy of modern Jordan, a major lapse.