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Spring 1941 was a high point for the Axis war machine. Western Europe was conquered; southeastern Europe was falling, Great Britain on its heels; and Rommel’s Afrika Korps was freshly arrived to drive on the all-important Suez Canal. In Blood, Oil and the Axis, historian John Broich tells the story of Iraq and the Levant during this most pivotal time of the war. The browbeaten Allied forces had one last remaining hope for turning the war in their favor: the Axis running through its fuel supply. But when the Golden Square—four Iraqi generals allegiant to the Axis cause—staged a coup in Iraq, elevating a pro-German junta and prompting military cooperation between Vichy French–occupied Syria and Lebanon and the Axis, disaster loomed. Blood, Oil and the Axis follows those who participated in the Allies’ frantic, improvised, and unlikely response to this dire threat: Palestinian and Jordanian Arabs, Australians, American and British soldiers, Free French Foreign Legionnaires, and Jewish Palestinians, all who shared a desperate, bloody purpose in quashing the formation of an Axis state in the Middle East. Memorable figures of this makeshift alliance include Jack Hasey, a young American who ran off to fight with the Free French Foreign Legion before his own country entered the war; Freya Stark, a famous travel-writer-turned-government-agent; and even Roald Dahl, a twenty-three-year-old Royal Air Force recruit (and future author of beloved children’s books). Taking the reader on a tour of cities and landscapes grimly familiar to today’s reader—from a bombed-out Fallujah, to Baghdad, to Damascus—Blood, Oil and the Axis is poised to become the definitive chronicle of the Axis’s menacing play for Iraq and the Levant in 1941 and the extraordinary alliance that confronted it.
As people crowded into British cities in the nineteenth century, industrial and biological waste byproducts and then epidemic followed. Britons died by the thousands in recurring plagues. Figures like Edwin Chadwick and John Snow pleaded for measures that could save lives and preserve the social fabric.

The solution that prevailed was the novel idea that British towns must build public water supplies, replacing private companies. But the idea was not an obvious or inevitable one. Those who promoted new waterworks argued that they could use water to realize a new kind of British society--a productive social machine, a new moral community, and a modern civilization. They did not merely cite the dangers of epidemic or scarcity. Despite many debates and conflicts, this vision won out--in town after town, from Birmingham to Liverpool to Edinburgh, authorities gained new powers to execute municipal water systems.

But in London local government responded to environmental pressures with a plan intended to help remake the metropolis into a collectivist society. The Conservative national government, in turn, sought to impose a water administration over the region that would achieve its own competing political and social goals. The contestants over London's water supply matched divergent strategies for administering London's water with contending visions of modern society. And the matter was never pedestrian. The struggle over these visions was joined by some of the most colorful figures of the late Victorian period, including John Burns, Lord Salisbury, Bernard Shaw, and Sidney and Beatrice Webb.

As Broich demonstrates, the debate over how to supply London with water came to a head when the climate itself forced the endgame near the end of the nineteenth century. At that decisive moment, the Conservative party succeeded in dictating the relationship between water, power, and society in London for many decades to come.

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