Book review: Weaving a cloth merchant’s story into the history of Syria

The author details his life using in-depth interviews with his children, friends and colleagues. (Shutterstock)
Updated 07 July 2018
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Book review: Weaving a cloth merchant’s story into the history of Syria

BEIRUT: “The Merchant of Syria” is more than a history of survival, it interweaves the story of cloth merchant Mohammad Chaker Chamsi-Pasha with the development of Syria in an insightful look at the life of a successful businessman who expanded his trade from the Levant to the shores of the UK.
Author Diana Darke was introduced to the merchant, known as Abu Chaker, by his youngest son in 2005. During his lifetime, Abu Chaker refused to have a book published about himself, but after his death in 2013, his sons asked Darke to write the story of their father’s life.
The book alternates between the macro and the micro, with even-numbered chapters recounting the life of the illustrious merchant and odd-numbered chapters setting that story against the socio-economic history of Syria, from the end of the Ottoman Empire to the present day.
Abu Chaker faced a series of tragedies that reinforced his determination to succeed against all odds. His father died when he was ten-years-old, leaving him with a mother and seven unmarried sisters to support. He left school to earn a living in his uncle’s textile shop where he learned the ropes and eventually became a textile merchant.
After losing everything in Syria, then in Beirut, he left for London. He soon took over a Bradford-based textile plant and went on to build a multi-national empire. He had an innate sense of entrepreneurship, instinctively knew the right approach for each buyer and, above all, he had a knack for turning disasters into opportunities.
The author details his life using in-depth interviews with his children, friends and colleagues. It is, of course, difficult to gain a solid understanding of the man through the words of his acquaintances, but Darke does an admirable job of piecing together his journey.
If I had to recommend a single book for someone wanting to understand Syria, it would be this. The “Merchant of Syria” is a fascinating read that sews together the life of one man into a wider look at the history of a country that many seek to understand.


What We Are Reading Today: Ever the Leader

Updated 12 December 2018
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What We Are Reading Today: Ever the Leader

Author: William G. Bowen

Ever the Leader gathers together selected speeches and writings from one of the great scholars and commentators of higher education. William G. Bowen’s career at Princeton University — from economics professor to provost to a 16-year tenure as president — was marked by extraordinary accomplishments during times of great change, both at the university and in the country. But it was in Bowen’s second act, as president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and founding chairman of ITHAKA, that he took the lessons he learned as a highly productive leader of one of the nation’s most esteemed universities and applied them to a broader set of problems in higher education. This volume of work from Bowen’s later career captures this expansion of his thought and influence.
Comprising remarks and articles on the subjects of university values, educational opportunity, college sports, technology, and colleagues and peers in higher education leadership, Ever the Leader is more than just a concis e distillation of Bowen’s research and thinking on some of the most urgent issues of the day — it is a portrait of leadership in action. The selected papers, talks, and articles exemplify Bowen’s commitment and singular ability to communicate strong, persuasive arguments for change.
and to motivate others to engage with the truly hard questions facing higher education leaders.