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Strange Rebels: 1979 and the Birth of the 21st Century [Hardcover]

Christian Caryl
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

6 Jun 2013
Few moments in history have seen as many seismic transformations as 1979. That single year marked the emergence of revolutionary Islam as a political force on the world stage, the beginning of market revolutions in China and Britain that would fuel globalization and radically alter the international economy, and the first stirrings of the resistance movements in Eastern Europe and Afghanistan that ultimately led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. More than any other year in the latter half of the twentieth century, 1979 heralded the economic, political, and religious realities that define the twenty-first.
In "Strange Rebels," veteran journalist Christian Caryl shows how the world we live in today--and the problems that plague it--began to take shape in this pivotal year. 1979, he explains, saw a series of counterrevolutions against the progressive consensus that had dominated the postwar era. The year's epic upheavals embodied a startling conservative challenge to communist and socialist systems around the globe, fundamentally transforming politics and economics worldwide. In China, 1979 marked the start of sweeping market-oriented reforms that have made the country the economic powerhouse it is today. 1979 was also the year that Pope John Paul II traveled to Poland, confronting communism in Eastern Europe by reigniting its people's suppressed Catholic faith. In Iran, meanwhile, an Islamic Revolution transformed the nation into a theocracy almost overnight, overthrowing the Shah's modernizing monarchy. Further west, Margaret Thatcher became prime minister of Britain, returning it to a purer form of free-market capitalism and opening the way for Ronald Reagan to do the same in the US. And in Afghanistan, a Soviet invasion fueled an Islamic holy war with global consequences; the Afghan mujahedin presaged the rise of al-Qaeda and served as a key factor--along with John Paul's journey to Poland--in the fall of communism.
Weaving the story of each of these counterrevolutions into a brisk, gripping narrative, "Strange Rebels" is a groundbreaking account of how these far-flung events and disparate actors and movements gave birth to our modern age.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Civitas Books (6 Jun 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465018386
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465018383
  • Product Dimensions: 4.3 x 16.5 x 24.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 212,906 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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"At the end of the 20th century, two coiled forces, religion and markets, sprung onto the world stage. From China's reforms to Margaret Thatcher's rise to Ayatollah Khomeini's revolution, they all began in 1979 and have been shaping international life ever since. Christian Caryl tells the story of that pivotal year--and its consequences--with intelligence, grace and lucidity."
Anne Applebaum, author of "Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956" --Fareed Zakaria

About the Author

Christian Caryl, a Senior Fellow at the Legatum Institute, is also a contributing editor at "Foreign Policy," a regular contributor to the "New York Review of Books," and a former "Newsweek" correspondent. A senior fellow of the Center for International Studies at MIT and winner of an Overseas Press Club Award, Caryl lives in Bethesda, Maryland.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Blurring the line between history and propaganda 28 July 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Three stars might seem a bit harsh, American journo Christian Caryl writes engagingly for a mass audience and renders complex geo-political changes accessible and explicable. I dont take issue with the main theme of the book either:- that 1979 marked a turning point in 20th century history which saw the 'right' of the political spectrum winning the battle for the hearts and minds of the world's poor - Caryl cites Margaret Thatcher, Deng Xiaoping, Ayatolleh Khomeini, John Paul II and the Mujahideen in Afghanistan as key figures gaining prominence in this year - and thus fatally undermining the political left from below, as it were.

My 'harsh' star rating is based upon my misgivings as to Caryl's unapologetic neo-conservative/'Whiggish' and tendentious propagation of the view that all of this was in some way natural or inevitable like the weather and his whitewashed, hagiographic portaits of such complex individuals such as Thatcher, Karol Wojtyla and Deng Xiaoping. This is why I have awarded this book only three stars. It is marketed as a history book but it is actually a deeply political book, blurring the line between history and propaganda.

Perhaps all works of history are in some way works of propaganda? history writing is partly about spinning a story, creating a narrative, after all. Perhaps my 'harsh' rating represents my own political biases? maybe so. Despite these difficulties in judging any history book, in my own personal view; whilst history writing is not scientific in any meaningful sense, it should attempt to look at its subjects from as many angles as possible so as to obtain the clearest possible view of them. 'Strange rebels,' for all that is good about it, conspicuously does not do this, hence my rating.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Rise of the Radical Right 8 Mar 2014
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The parallel developments of Thatcherism, the Polish Pope, Islamists in Iran, the anti-Soviet resistance in Afghanistan and Deng in China. Showing parallels and differences, a useful reminder of events.
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3 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Strange Rebels 24 Jun 2013
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An excellent book. Well researched. A fantastic read. I recommend it without hesitation. Well done and thank you Christian Caryl.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.5 out of 5 stars  29 reviews
21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Actors In Search Of A Stage 4 May 2013
By Robert Taylor Brewer - Published on
Pick a year. Chances are, for the year you pick, a historian will write a book arguing that year was the start of something pivotal in the world's history. We've seen this in such titles such as1493: Uncovering The New World Columbus Created, 1616: The World In Motion, 1959: The Year That Changed Everything. Now we have an engaging, well documented, and in spots magically written book by Christian Caryl entitled Strange Rebels: 1979 And The Birth Of The 21st Century.

It gives away nothing to tell readers that Caryl's story groups five timelines together and finds common ground among them. Margaret Thatcher's England, Deng Xiaoping's China, Ayatollah Khomenhi's Iran, Karol Jozef Wojtyla' s Poland and Mohammed Daoud Khan's Afghanistan form the backbone of the author's contention that events of the year 1979 unleashed forms and forces that brought us to the world we now inhabit.

Of the five, the most radically changed seem to be Afghanistan and China. So connected is Afghanistan to contemporary terrorism that it is probably impossible for anyone to remember the Afghanistan depicted in this book - a society where visitors could, as recently as 1970, "purchase yarn or lentils, or the garlands of paper flowers that were used to decorate cars during wedings" or "where you could buy lapis lazuli or dried fruits or karakul skins." Moving in the opposite direction is China. Mired in Mao's revolutionary turmoil, China achieved little until Deng Xiaoping took the reins of power, ending the cycle of purges that cost China 40 million dead during The Great Leap Forward from 1958 to 1960 and probably another ten million during The Cultural Revolution from the years 1966-1976.

In Europe, Caryl's very readable story merges his personal experiences in Poland acquired through street level reporting there, with the dispassionate curiosity of a scholar's research techniques. He is very persuasive describing the almost spiritual tone of the non violent marches and demonstrations that took place in Poland after Tiananmen Square . Even though the events of 1979 are long gone and the leaders who navigated through them have passed the world stage, Caryl believes we are still living through the consequences of those years. There is room to disagree with his conclusions, but he's given the world a well written book.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars CATCH UP ON RECENT HISTORY 14 Aug 2013
By The Curmudgeon - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is a great book that lets you catch up on the details of five important events involving four major characters who helped creat seminal events in 1979. The book says it shows the birth of the 21st century but it really shows the major events of the last quarter of the 20th century. It remains to be seen what the 21st century will bring.

The four major characters include Pope John Paul II from Poland. Although he was elected in 1978, it was his visit to Poland in 1979 that changed things. The communist authorities let him in and then found that millions of Poles were anxious to attend his sermons despite decades of communist propaganda. This quiet revolution set the stage for the later real revolutions that toppled communism in Europe.

Another major figure was Ayatollah Khomeini who became leader of Iran after the Islamic Revolution of 1979. While the superpowers the United States and the Soviet Union were busy conducting the cold war on which economic system was better, the revolution in Iran shocked the world by claiming that religion was more important than economics and that a return to the 7th century was the best answer.

Then there was Margaret Thatcher who became prime minister of the United Kingdom on a platform of free enterprise and privatization of the country's nationalized industries. This election presaged the similar election of Ronald Reagan in the United States and has helped maintain the revival of free market economics to this day.

Not apparent at the time was the importance of Deng Xiaoping whose free market reformation started in China in 1979. This system of state capitalism where the government still owns a lot of the economy has made China the second largest economy in the world and is probably the most important event in 1979 to affect the 21st century.

The fifth topic is the one about which Americans know the least and is thus the most informative. The Soviet invasion of Aghanistan was reported in purley Cold War terms but this book gives a better description of what actually happened. Afghanistan had a stable royal government for decades but a secular nationalistic revolution toppled this regime in 1973 and threw the country into chaos as Islamic insurgents began challenging the new government. This led to a radical faction of the local communist party to overthrow the national government. Then an even more radical faction of the local communist party overthrew that government amidst more chaos with increasing Islamic attacks.

This caused the Soviet Union to invade Afghanistan to install a moderate communist government headed by an Afghan leader who had obtained asylum in the Soviet Union. At this time the United States and the Soviet Union faced similar threats from fundametalist Islamic revolutionaries. However, the Cold War attitudes of the time prevented them from seeing their common interests.
4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars PUT THE HEADLINES IN PERSPECTIVE 5 Jun 2013
By Alex Liddie - Published on
Format:Audio CD|Verified Purchase
If you've spent much of a lifetime reading headlines about foreign events and tuning into the six o'clock news, you probably didn't see a pattern in the chaos of world events. A few weeks ago I caught Christian Caryl on CSPAN2 and was quickly grabbed by his summary of his new book. Now that I'm retired I have time to go behind the headlines. STRANGE REBELS is about uprisings in Russia, China, Afghanistan, Iran, and England (that's Margaret Thatcher's England). What's strange about the rebels who undid Mao, the Shah, the Communist Party, and the Labour Party? They're all counter-revolutionaries. Like the Tea Party they stress the market economy and/or religion in opposition to socialism and liberalism. I'm more than half way through the book and see no sign that Caryl is endorsing or protesting the rebellions or their direction, but he does an excellent job of describing how they came about, the stages in their emergence, the reasons for their popular success. He's made sense of extraordinary diversity.
5.0 out of 5 stars strange rebels 3 April 2014
By Louise H Taylor - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
A fantastic review of past times, even if it seems just like yesterday when we had leaders in the world, for good, or bad.
4.0 out of 5 stars Tie the Threads of History Together 23 Feb 2014
By Kevin J. Ashley - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Only with 30 years of perspective can one truly appreciate the characters that made the world we experience today. Even 10 years ago most of us who lived through 1979 had too much personal stake to see these key individuals and events objectively. With emotion ebbing, one can actually understand who they were and why they did what they did. If you still think Khomeini was crazy, read this book and understand what a 20th century person he was. If you still think Thatcher was unreasonable, read this book and understand what she disassembled as much as she built. If you still think Deng Xiaopeng was a minor bureaucrat, read this book and understand his stamina that brought about a new China. If you still think John Paul II was mostly interested in taking the Catholic Church back a century, read this book and understand his emphasis on modern politics. If you still think Afghanistan is an impossible puzzle, read this book and understand where its people came from and want to go.
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