A History of Libya

May 2012 9781849042277 288pp


John Wright’s concise history of Libya begins in the prehistoric Sahara and concludes with the bloody overthrow of the Gaddafi regime and the emergence of a ‘new’ Libya in 2011. After surveying the story of the central Sahara’s early hunter-gatherers and its Garamantian civilization, Wright briskly recounts the land’s succession of foreign invaders, followed by the semi-independent Karamanli regime in 1711 and the return of the Turks in 1835. He discusses the workings of the historic trans-Saharan slave trade to Tripoli, Benghazi and other ports for local sale or export to the Eastern Mediterranean, and highlights Tripoli’s nineteenth-century role as a base for European penetration of the Sahara and the lands beyond it. Wright’s modern history assesses the controversial Italian era (1911-43), describing in detail the long, harsh conquest while giving due credit to the material achievements of the colonial regime. This fair and comprehensive overview provides a clearer understanding of Libya’s subsequent history, covered in four final chapters. These start with the World War Two campaigns that ended Italian rule; the fairly easy ride to an early UN-supervised independence under the Sanussi monarchy in 1951; the discovery and exploitation of oil in the 1950s and 1960; and Moammar Gaddafi’s 1969 coup bringing to power a bizarre revolutionary regime that was to last for forty-two years. Wright’s final chapter summarises the main events of 2011 – the successful popular uprising; the NATO air intervention; the end of Gaddafi and his regime; and the emergence of a ‘new’ and perhaps rather different Libya.


‘John Wright’s original study of Libya was a unique and masterly survey of the country’s history. This updated edition possesses all the virtues of the original, together with an acute and perceptive analysis of both the Libyan Jamahariyah of Colonel Gaddafi and its humiliating end in 2011, to provide us with the most complete study of Libya’s complex history to date. It is the essential companion for any scholar, journalist or interested reader anxious to understand this unusual and important Mediterranean state.’ — George Joffe, University of Cambridge

‘We have every reason to be grateful for the re-publication of A History of Libya, particu­larly at a time when Libya is hoping again to be a member of international communities after so many years of isolation. John Wright has been the standard-bearer for Libyan historical studies for more than half a century. His book is an excellent contribution and will be invaluable for anyone interested in Libyan affairs.’ — Mohamed Ben-Madani, Editor, The Maghreb Review

‘This book is in many important ways the culmination of the author’s long involvement with Libya, tracing in an admirable fashion its history from pre-historic times through the revolutionary Gaddafi regime that consolidated its rule after 1969. Meticulously researched, with a breadth and with insights that only a long-term observer can muster, the different chapters provide wonderfully concise, analytic summaries of each distinc­tive historical period. What has always made Wright’s writing attractive, and particu­larly in this volume, is his direct and engaging prose, providing clear and accessible writing rather than much of the jargon that has bedevilled other treatments of Libya. The result is a wonderfully succinct but highly insightful recall of the country’s past and present that does not in any way sacrifice clarity for detail. This book is not only a “good read” for a non-specialist audience, but will be much appreciated by Libya observers as well since there is no current up-to-date comprehensive history of the country available. The crowning achievement of a highly respected Libya observer.’ — Professor Dirk Vandewalle, Dartmouth College, author of A History of Modern Libya

‘A timely and updated re-issue of the standard work on Libya. It is required reading by all those who wish to understand that desert enigma.’ — Saul Kelly, King’s College London, author The Hunt for Zerzura: The Lost Oasis and the Desert War

‘John Wright has produced a comprehensive and far-reaching history of Libya … Wright examines the cultural and social drivers of the [recent] revolution, which ultimately provides important historical context that is lacking in some accounts of the Arab Spring in Libya. … A History of Libya is a must-read for any serious scholar of Libya.’ — H-Net Reviews

‘A core addition to any world history collection.’ — Midwest Book Review


For many years John Wright was chief political commentator and analyst of the BBC Arabic Service, specialising in Libya, the Sahara and the international oil industry. Besides many articles, papers and talks, he has completed a PhD thesis and written or edited six books on Libya, Saharan travel and exploration and the Saharan slave trade.

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