Professor Joseph Sassoon in conversation with Dr Michael Willis about his recent book, The Global Merchants: The Enterprise and Extravagance of the Sassoon Dynasty (Allen Lane, Penguin Group, 2022). Emeritus Professor Avi Shlaim joins them.
Abstract: The influential merchants of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries shaped the globalization of today. The Sassoons, a Baghdadi-Jewish trading family, built a global trading enterprise by taking advantage of major historical developments during the nineteenth century. Their story is not just one of an Arab Jewish family that settled in India, traded in China, and aspired to be British. It also presents an extraordinary vista into the world in which they lived and prospered economically, politically, and socially.
The Global Merchants is not only about their rise, but also about their decline: why it happened, how political and economic changes after the First World War adversely affected them, and finally, how realizing their aspirations to reach the upper echelons of British society led to their disengagement from business and prevented them from adapting to the new economic and political world order.
Professor Joseph Sassoon is Director of the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies and Professor of History and Political Economy at Georgetown University. He holds the al-Sabah Chair in Politics and Political Economy of the Arab World. He is also a Senior Associate Member at St Antony’s College, Oxford. In 2013, his book Saddam Hussein’s Ba‘th Party: Inside an Authoritarian Regime (Cambridge University Press, 2012) won the prestigious British-Kuwait Prize for the best book on the Middle East.
Professor Sassoon completed his Ph.D at St Antony’s College, Oxford. He has published extensively on Iraq and its economy and on the Middle East. The Global Merchants is his fifth book.
Professor Avi Shlaim is Emeritus Fellow of St Antony's College and a former Professor of International Relations at the University of Oxford. He was elected Fellow of the British Academy in 2006. His main research interest is the Arab-Israeli conflict. He is author of Collusion across the Jordan: King Abdullah, the Zionist Movement, and the Partition of Palestine (1988); The Politics of Partition (1990 and 1998); War and Peace in the Middle East: A Concise History (1995); The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World (2000, second edition 2014); Lion of Jordan: King Hussein’s Life in War and Peace (2007); and Israel and Palestine: Reappraisals, Revisions, Refutations (2009). He is co-editor of The Cold War and the Middle East (1997); The War for Palestine: Rewriting the History of 1948 (2001, second edition 2007); and The 1967 Arab-Israeli War: Origins and Consequences (2012).
Professor Shlaim is a frequent contributor to the newspapers and commentator on radio and television on Middle Eastern affairs.
Dr Michael Willis is Director of the Middle East Centre at St Antony’s College, University of Oxford and King Mohammed VI Fellow in Moroccan and Mediterranean Studies. His research interests focus on the politics, modern history and international relations of the central Maghreb states (Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco). He is the author of Politics and Power in the Maghreb: Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco from Independence to the Arab Spring (Hurst and Oxford University Press, 2012) and The Islamist Challenge in Algeria: A Political History (Ithaca and New York University Press, 1997) and co-editor of Civil Resistance in the Arab Spring: Triumphs and Disasters (Oxford University Press, 2015).