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Pity the Nation: Lebanon at War [Paperback]

Robert Fisk
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
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Book Description

25 Oct 2001
Pity the Nation ranks among the classic accounts of war in our time, both as historical document and as an eyewitness testament to human savagery. Written by one of Britain's foremost journalists, this remarkable book combines political analysis and war reporting in an unprecedented way: it is an epic account of the Lebanon conflict by an author who has personally witnessed the carnage of Beirut for over a decade. Fisk's book recounts the details of a terrible war but it also tells a story of betrayal and illusion, of Western blindness that had led inevitably to political and military catastrophe.

Updated and revised, Fisk's book gives us a further insight into this troubled part of the world.

'Robert Fisk is one of the outstanding reporters of this generation. As a war correpondent he is unrivalled.'
Edward Mortimer, Financial Times

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Pity the Nation: Lebanon at War + The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East
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Product details

  • Paperback: 752 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford Paperbacks; Updated Edition edition (25 Oct 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0192801309
  • ISBN-13: 978-0192801302
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 19.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 35,272 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

More About the Author

Robert Fisk is a bestselling author and journalist based in Beirut as Middle East correspondent of the 'Independent'. He has lived in the Middle East for three decades and holds more British and international journalism awards than any other foreign correspondent. His last book, 'The Great War for Civilisation', a history of his career and the numerous conflicts he has covered, was published internationally to great critical acclaim. He is also the author of 'Pity the Nation', a history of the Lebanese war.

Product Description

Amazon Review

Twenty-five years after first setting foot on Lebanese soil, award-winning journalist Robert Fisk has revised his brilliant study of this troubled country, Pity the Nation, for a third edition, to include the years since its initial publication in 1990. Artificially created as a country by the French in 1920, Lebanon's revenge was to "welcome all her invaders and then kiss them to death". Since arriving during the 1976 Muslim-Maronite civil war, Fisk has travelled its length to seek out, as well as provide, eye-witness account of combat and atrocity. The book's main pre-occupation is the Israeli invasion of the early 1980s and its terrible aftermath, including the appalling massacre of Palestinians at the Shabra and Chatila camps. Banned in Lebanon itself, the first edition of Pity the Nation ended with close friend and colleague Terry Anderson still being held by Islamic Jihad. Inevitably, Anderson's release in 1991, along with other Western hostages such as Terry Waite and John McCarthy, emotionally informs the bulk of the new material, which also considers the Gulf War, Islamic resurgence, the collapse of the Oslo peace agreement and the bloody 1996 Qana massacre in a UN refugee compound by Israeli forces, to which Fisk bears terrible witness. He sees Yasser Arafat make the transmission from "terrorist to superstatesman to superterrorist", but by the end of this exhaustive testimony, virtually the last Western journalist left in West Beirut, he admits, "I still fear the monsters". And then Ariel Sharon is elected prime minister of Israel in February 2001.

Fisk, formerly of The Times and now Middle East correspondent for The Independent, writes as combatively as the events he so vividly describes. With a fastidious eye for detail, he rails against day-tripping reporters who betray truth with their clichés and loose language, constantly defending language against false appropriation: "terrorism", for example, wielded by one side to describe acts committed against them, deprives the term of any objective purpose and thus legitimises reprisal. He makes reparation with this unique and passionate analysis, still angry after all these years, which remains the most relentless and convincing account yet of the bloodiest quarter-century in Lebanon's history. --David Vincent


Robert Fisk is one of the outstanding reporters of this generation. As a war correspondent he is unrivalled. (Edward Mortimer, Financial Times)

Overall Fisk makes enthralling reading, and his account of modern Lebanon stands out as the most interesting book on the war in recent years. (Amanda Mitchison, Sunday Correspondent)

Robert Fisk's enormous book about Lebanon's desperate travails is one of the most distinguished in recent times, as well as one of the most anguished and hard-bitten ... Fisk's reportage has a power which one expects but so often does not get from journalists. His account of the 1982 Israeli invasion is the best that has been published. (Edward Said, Independent on Sunday)

a truly tremendous book. (Time Out)

a hugely and immensely moving book. (New Statesman and Society)

a devastating witness to the failure of politics to guard mankind against itself. (Simon Jenkins, Sunday Times)

the sheer accumulation of eye-witness reports has a sort of unstoppable power to convince. (Patrick Seale, Observer)

Robert Fisk's poetically written (Jeremy Atiyah, Sunday Telegraph)

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
30 of 32 people found the following review helpful
Probably one of the most powerful books I have ever read, Fisk gets to the heart of Lebanon and all of its diversity.

I found this book intellectually satisfying in that at its conclusion I felt I finally had a grasp of how the country's complex political arrangements actually work. This has really helped to provide some context to the ongoing turmoil in Lebanon and the region. The book also made an impact on an emotional level as I felt a real pang of terror during the recent Hezbollah-Israeli conflict, as if someone I know personally were being violated. A powerful book, indeed.

Fisk writes from and about Lebanon from the point of view of a transplanted native. This is what gives his writing its passion, but also its shall we say "non-mainstream" perspective. One assumes the average reader is intelligent enough to take this into account in developing one's own views on the many conflicts the book describes.

This is one of two books most often recommended as introductions to the study of Lebanon and especially its relationship with Israel, the other being Thomas Friedman's "From Beirut to Jerusalem". Friedman's book is the more readable for a general audience; Fisk's intense work is for those who really want to delve deeply into the subject.
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47 of 53 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mesmerising 14 Nov 2002
By A Customer
This book is a haunting testament to the tragedies that have been such a large part of Lebanon's recent history. If, like me, you knew little of the Lebanon before reading the book, you will find yourself in the hands of someone who knows about what atrocities have taken place because he has witnessed them at first hand. The descriptions haunt me still.
But this is more than just a history book. It is the story of a journalist working in the Middle East and provides an insight into the challenges of reporting in a climate dominated by violence. Fisk shares with his readers the exhaustion, fear, frustration and even nausea that would seem to have been his constant companions during much of his time in the Lebanon.
This is not a book to enjoy, but it is a book to value. From the opening pages on the Nazi Holocaust, to description of the massacre at Sabra and Chatila, Fisk reports with compassion and even handed condemnation of the perpertrators. Few books have had the impact on me that Pity The Nation has had.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Horrors of the Nation 14 April 2007
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Robert Fisk's extensive account of the Lebanese civil war is an amazing mosaic of events and stories that in its entirety paint a pretty good picture of the horrors that took place from 1976 to 1996. Mr Fisk has an almost unparalleled ability to be on the spot as events are either unfolding or have just happened.

Pity the Nation is the story of a journalist working in pretty dire conditions and a first account witness statement to the atrocities of civil war, Israeli invasion, more Israeli invasion and involvement by Syria, France, USA, Italy and many other countries that have somehow seemed to get involved in the destiny of Lebanon.

Fisk, along with Norwegian journalist Karsten Tveit, were the first to enter Sabra and Shatila after the massacre and recounts in graphic detail the sheer horror of the systematic extermination by the Christian Lebanese Forces and under the watchful eye of the occupying Israeli Defence Force. Fisk also found himself passing through Hama in Syria in 1982 when President Assad's forces killed between 10,000 and 25.000 civilians in an attempt to oust Muslim Brotherhood influence on Syrian politics. Lastly, he worked with Terry Andersson who was later to be kidnapped and held hostage for over 5 years. It is these stories, along with many more, that combine to give a full and fairly clear picture of war and politics in the Levant over a 20 year period.

Unfortunately the book does not work as a historical account and there are a number of omissions in the book that would need to be included for it to work.
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45 of 53 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
This book divides opinion in those who read it. To make a gross generalisation, those towards the right see it as overly critical of the Israelis and the US, those towards the left as the real experience Lebanon and its people, which just so happened to suffer from their involvement.
Personally, as a great admirer of Robert Fisk's journalism in The Independent I tend toward the latter, however, there are some problems with Pity The Nation as a historical account.
The wider historical events surrounding Lebanon's history are underdeveloped. Vital actions that shaped the region (for example the Arab-Israeli wars) are neglected. While this is in some ways an unfair criticism (after all, this is a book about Lebanon) without wider historical context the actions of key players are not sufficiently explained, a problem I found as this was the first book I read on the Middle East.
Also, as a journalist's account, it sometimes lacks the cohesion of an academic's historical analysis. For example, Orlando Figes' account of the Russian Revolution (a different topic I know, but the principle is still valid) has a framework of a political, social and economic history through which he weaves the stories of individuals. This allows him to give the sweeping narrative depth. Without such a clearly explained political, social and economic history, Pity The Nation is so full of personal accounts that it can get bogged down in the Lebanon's sheer complexity.
However both of my criticisms reflect not failings in the book but in what I (and other readers, perhaps) expected. This is not an academic account of Middle East history; this is the account of a journalist, reporting what he saw (and lived, his home being in Beirut). And he does it extraordinarily well.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Perfectly delivered and received!!Thanks!
Published 1 month ago by mariamarcone
5.0 out of 5 stars Tell it like it is!
I came late to Robert Fisk - and I believe he is primarily responsible for changing my Middle East position and allegiances 180 degrees over the last few years. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Geoff Bates
4.0 out of 5 stars Comprehensive
I knew very little about the origins of the events surrounding the Lebanese civil war prior to reading this book. I certainly felt better informed having finished the book. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Nico
5.0 out of 5 stars a superb book
This man is a personal hero: his tenacity, determination and journalistic ability leave me wondering if I'll ever be this good at anything (I doubt it, sadly)

That said,... Read more
Published 5 months ago by BirdBrain007
3.0 out of 5 stars As expected from the author
Always wanted him to explore the bigger picture which he does not do in this book. Good quality book though
Published 6 months ago by Linda Murray
3.0 out of 5 stars interesting but read other books on Lebanon, or at least wikipedia to...
Interesting and very, very - too - detailed account. it is the kind of book when you can say that the author did not have enough time to write in a concise manner, ie cared more... Read more
Published on 4 Sep 2011 by Nicu
5.0 out of 5 stars detailed facts
I like this book and generally Rober Fisk, the author, I haven't finished reading but as I started the first chapters it just made me feel as an eyewitness of the events the author... Read more
Published on 20 Aug 2011 by abdi
5.0 out of 5 stars Pity the nation
Robert Fisk is renowned as one of the world's best foreign correspondents today, in particular on Middle Eastern issues. Read more
Published on 13 Mar 2010 by M. A. Krul
5.0 out of 5 stars Journalism at its finest
Robert Fisk writes superbly well and reports at first hand his experiences in Lebanon. He witnessed many horrors and reported the brutal facts with clarity and passion. Read more
Published on 2 Oct 2009 by Mr. P. C. Brown
5.0 out of 5 stars The best analysis of the civil war
Robert Fisk's important book on the history of the civil war in Lebanon, up to the recent past, provides one of the most authoritative sources on the country's recent history, the... Read more
Published on 30 Aug 2008 by Steven Allen
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