on 1 August 2005
I didn't know anything about the Israel/Palestine conflict before reading this book. It is a place that has been in conflict for so long. I knew there were disputes in the West Bank and Gaza Strip as there have been since I was old enough to take interest in the news. However, I didn't understand the history of this region.
The author is a journalist who spent time reporting in both Beirut and Jerusalem in the late 70's and the 80's. He is a Jewish American and is therefore sometimes accused of bias. I have an open mind on the topic and personally didn't detect any bias. Interestingly he has been accused on occasions of bias towards the Palestians as well!
The book covers the history of Israel and Palestine and also explains a little about the civil war that took place in the Lebanon. It looks at the views of both the Israelis and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation and the rationale for the actions taken by both of them. The author also discusses how strange it was to see people going about their ordinary way of life amid bombing and gunfire. He talks at about the interesting people he met while living in the Middle East and how their lives have been impacted by the conflict.
Thomas Friedman has a wonderful way of writing which makes this book very easy to read and absorb. It is interesting, educational and in many places very amusing.
As it is not a recent book, it only covers events up to the early 90s. However I think it is a great introduction to the subject.
on 21 May 2000
A great achievement - this is indeed a good starting point and Friedman is at his best when he relates the horror of the Sabra and Shatila refugee camp massacres of Palestinians in Lebanon. But there is a sense that he is trying to distil the Arab-Israeli conflict into easy nuggets for the reader - one needs to go much further than this. However he is refreshingly open about his own misconceptions and what he learnt from living in the region. Edward Said has a perceptive review of this book in his 'Politics of Dispossession'. For more depth on the Lebanon side, go to Robert Fisk's 'Pity the Nation'
on 9 May 2012
I first read this book twenty years ago, when the events dscribed within were very much current headlines. Twenty years later, the events have faded from the foreground, although the background problem has hardly changed, unless it is for the worse. What remains fascinating is the personal story of Tom Friedman, showing the evolution of his attitudes towards the byzantine, impenetrable and cruel mess of Middle East politics and war. Many of Friedman's detractors (there are many) write him off as an unrepentant admirer and supporter of Israel, and insist that his work is not balanced. This seems to me to be rather missing the point, as it is a partial autobiography, reflected in the chaos surrounding him, rather than with Friedman himself as the centre of gravity. It is a personal view of the Middle East, rather than a polemic. It is very well written and is definitely still worth reading... even if at the end of it you, like me, like Friedman have no clearer understanding of the dynamics of the Arab Israeli conflict.
on 27 October 2008
I first read this in the early 1990s,and then later in the 1990s visited both Syria and Lebanon,and found this a good read to carry round on long bus rides.Note-I have transported this book safely across the Turkish,Syrian,Lebanese and Jordanian borders without any trouble.
Friedman has lived widely in the Middle East(he mentions Egypt,Lebabnon and Israel)and speaks both Hebrew and Arabic,as well as having a master's in Middle East history.He writes well and fluently,and his experiences are fascinating-being one of the first outsiders to enter Sabra and Shatilla in 1982,being a visitor to Hama,Syria after Assad crushed an uprising there in 1982 with maybe 20 000 dead.
I feel that Friedman has tried to be impartial and accurate,but,as a US journalist,it's difficult not to be pro-Israel;otherwise you may well be unemployed in the near future.One story in the book is that,during the siege of Beirut in summer 1982,he protested against the editing of his reports with such force as to almost get himself dismissed.I'd say he is pro-Israeli about 60% of the time-an amazing feat for a US journalist.If you haven't got the energy for academic works,this is well worthwhile.
on 1 April 2014
First published in 1989 I read the second edition published in 1995 detailing the time Friedman spent in Beirut and then Lebanon as New York Times bureau chief before moving back to the safer haven of Washington DC.
An American Jew pitching up to Beirut in the mid 80s sounds a disaster waiting to happen but the chronology provided by Friedman is well worth reading. Although perhaps lacking the detail to be a relevant source for academia I would recommend this to anyone else wanting an introduction to the history of the conflict and how it appeared soon after Rabin and Arafat shook hands, but before Rabin was assassinated.
It was interesting to read the different perspective of living in Beirut vs Jerusalem, but perhaps the most interesting was the suggestions towards the end for long-term peace. Much of his Friedman's expectation was surprisingly accurate!
on 25 February 2001
Friedman grew up in the American Mid-West as a Jew inspired by the Six Day War. He came to the MIddle East and shed much of his emotional baggage along the way. His book is an exceptionally clear-sighted, detailed analysis which very refreshingly asks the reader to forget about history and consider how the mess can be sorted out. There is none of the usual anti-Israel rhetoric. He blasts the Isrealis for their misdeeds and praises them for their attempts to build a country out of such disaparte strands of Jewish identity. There are no utopias here, no fantasies about 'why can't they all just live together' or 'they stole the land they've got to give it back' - just a stubborn insistence on understanding two very different peoples and demanding that each of them shed the pathology of victimhood to create the future.