121 of 128 people found the following review helpful
on 22 August 2008
I read this book a couple of years ago having decided to read it after listening to Robert Fisk on Desert Island Disks. It occured to me that I was approching 40 and had no understanding what so ever of the history or politics or wars of the Middle East and frankly up till then I had no interest in the subject. However I decided it was time to find out and so read this book. I have never looked back and it set me on a journey that as a nearly 40 year old housewife with a husband and 3 children I never dreamed that I'd take. I have now studied certain areas of this book in much greater detail in other texts and have travelled to the Middle East and actively take part in peace initiatives. I know my title sounds melodramatic but it happens to be true.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 10 December 2014
The most gripping book I have ever read and a must read to understanding the seemingly endless conflicts in the middle east. Fisk tells modern history from his first hand experience in dense detail and without remorse for the perpetrators and suppliers of evil. This includes the leaders who, from the persuasion by the turkish government, have denounced the Armenian genocide to the propping up of madmen such as Saddam Hussein by western governments, arms dealers who profit from the killing of civilians, and finally to the utterly false reasons for the US to invade Iraq and the fallout from these lies that we are seeing today.
Reviewers have called this book Anti-Semetic, which only goes to show that some people are afraid to hear the truth about the brutal actions of the Israeli government. This blind eye includes most governments and reporters from the western media. Fisk does not fear backlash from Israel, nor does he favor one people over the other, he simply reports what he has witnessed and what he has gathered from countless hours of research and interviews. This book is no more anti-Semitic than it is islamophobic. Fisk is simply telling history as it actually happened, no matter who it makes look bad.
Personally this book was very difficult to read for two reasons. Firstly, it is a bloody narrative from first hand accounts, and should not be read if you want something warm and fuzzy. The narrative is cold, relentless, and sad, because of the brutality and betrayal of which these people have had to endure. Secondly because of how dense it is. Fisk writes in a wonderfully clear manner to cover so much information, but it would be wise to read this book with a notepad and pencil to keep the names and places straight and also to highlight some of the more telling insights that Fisk has on the events, the precursors and the fallout.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 27 July 2011
This book should be mandatory reading for everybody, even if at times it's hard work going past the horrors described. More than once I've found myself welling up or filling with anger and disgust at the hypocrisy and shamelessness of our so-called civilised West - or, for that matter, the middle-eastern regimes that we have often put in charge in territories the West wanted to have control over. Go past the filters that the media put on the information that is administered to you and read this book. You won't regret it.
I would like to thank Mr. Fisk for this monumental work.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on 6 December 2013
This is not an unbiased presentation of middle eastern history. It doesn't pretend to be and it makes no appologies for supporting the people Mr Fisk clearly believes are the underdogs. The underdogs are by no means all muslims and the description of the Turkish oppression of the Christian Armenians will haunt me and I guess many other readers for a very long time. However, it is clear that it is the Palestinians and other Arabs who have suffered most in the last hundred years - and so these are the heroes of this extensive history.
I am sure that many will consider this work as anti-israeli, which often gets conflated with anti-semitic. I do not believe for a moment that Robert Fisk is in the least anti-semitic and I am sure that if Israel was conquered and its people displaced he would be the first to leap to their defense. He appears to be acutely sensitive to injustice and he is able to turn this outrage into deeply emotive prose. He combines this with forensic research. It is a combination that makes it impossible to read this book without empathising with the victims. The book should be essential reading for all subscribers to the Daily Mail.
80 of 88 people found the following review helpful
on 20 December 2006
I first became aware of Robert Fisk (I am not a keen follower of English journalism) after listening online to a talk Fisk gave a year ago, which is essentially the foreword to this book. His strident, urgent yet tender voice would not leave me and it was with this voice ringing in my mind that I read "The Great War for Civilisation"
This book should be obligatory reading for all those with even a passing interest in 20th century history. Here is a first hand account of events which have shaped our present and will continue shaping our increasingly bleak future. It is essential that we are aware of the forces behind the news headlines and Robert Fisk does just that while "keeping it real", staying on the ground, among the people, the victims and survivors of horrific slaughter. This book is essential reading because the author does not flinch from the horror, and miraculously (and here is where Fisk climbs head and shoulders above the competition) he does so with extreme impartiality. If there's one thing the reader will come away with after reading this massive tome is that all sides have their hands dipped in the blood of the innocent, west, north, south, east, christian, muslim, jew, kurd, shia, sunni, white house, downing street, saddam hussein and khomeni, arafat, turkey etc etc... the list goes on and on... a depressing yet strangely empowering read.
161 of 180 people found the following review helpful
on 30 January 2007
I'll begin with a little true story. A very good friend of mine, best man at my wedding in fact, was working as a teacher in Lebanon a few years ago. He loved working there until the day he nearly died. That was when he almost became collateral damage, as it's quaintly known, when the block of flats he was living in was attacked by some, no doubt, highly sophisticated rocket fired from an Israeli helicopter. Apparently some wanted PLO man was supposed to be in the building and it was just tough luck that he happened to be around when the missile was launched.
Anyway he lived to tell the tale, but headed home in order to extend his life expectancy. Now it seems to me that this is what a lot of Fisk's magnum opus is all about. How innocent people are randomly slaughtered for no particular good reason at all and the problem is that the number of such people is vast. By dipping backwards and forwards over the last 150 years or so Fisk very convincingly makes the points that history repeats itself and then that few, if any lessons, seemed to have been learnt from the mistakes made in the past. His father is repeatedly used as a touchstone throughout the book,because he took part in the senseless mass slaughter of World War 1.
And so we come to today and strangely many of the really efficient mass killers over the last 50 years, who invade other countries and destroy homes and the means to live and maybe even steal the land too( and we all know who they are don't we ? ) are the GOOD GUYS !!! Well that's if you look at most newspapers or watch television.One thing that Fisk forces you to face up to is the fact that the, ahem, free world is, for the most part, shackled to a truly supine and mendacious media.
All I know is that if anyone can read this book and not feel shocked and deeply ashamed at the conduct of the supposedly great powers then he or she must possess a blunted moral sensibility. Going back to my bombed-out friend for a moment, you might be interested to know that his interview with either Sky or CNN or Fox etc,you know the plucky if not to say lucky western survivor was never aired. He was convinced this was because he refused to accept the line being fed to him that it must be truly scary living in Lebanon and instead replied that he loved being there, found the people delightful and was extremely angry to have enjoyed a near death experience courtesy of peace-loving Israel. As Fisk repeatedly says in his book, victims of such attacks wherever they take place are either, obviously terrorists or terrorist sympathisers or merely collateral damage. The fact that by far the greatest proportion of the victims in such attacks are totally innocent is conveniently passed over by the perpetrators, since they are, of course, peace loving democrats, who just happen to have sufficient armaments to destroy the world a few times over. Needless to say,this situation is diametrically reversed, when even one or two of the good guys die. These people have usually been killed by evil men etc etc and although we are god-fearing folk our revenge will be swift and terrible. It happens time and time again.
Yes the book is long, but Fisk is never less than highly literate and anyone who enjoys reading will fly through this book. It's not a tough read at all. It is however a devastating one and I would implore anyone with even an ounce of interest in the modern world to read this book. You will be rewarded many times over.
93 of 104 people found the following review helpful
on 20 March 2006
You don't have to be a fan of Robert Fisk to realise that this is an important book. Aim-off if he irritates you, but read the damn thing. It is hugely long, but hugely informative. It took me over two months to read, but is the best book of its type I have ever read. The best bits are when Fisk writes about events he has witnessed at first-hand. The parts on the Iran/Iraq war are masterly. And, for those who mighty expect a long diatribe on Israel/Palestine...well there isn't one. Yes, it plays an important part in the book, but it isn't the focus.
Buy it in hardback or wait until the paperback is available. It's your choice. But I urge you to read this important historical work.
I am, however, glad now not to have to lug the thing in my rucksack to read to/from work on the train!
26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on 23 August 2006
Bring on the critics.
I welcome intelligent criticism being made of this book by the more informed readers to help me understand just why it is I find Fisk is such a special talent and this book such a great and moving read.
Where others find it too long, I found it too short. The sheer depth and range of experience in regions around the Middle East is almost impossible to match: it demands more space, not less. I read every footnote hungrily. I wanted to know more about the Israeli military machine and the various Afghan debacles from the point of view of history, not less. For the first time I read about Bin Laden and Khomenei as believable human figures rather than those wacko bearded nutjobs we all love to demonise.
Where others find this book too disjointed, I find it too joined up. Fisk cannot resist helping the reader by employing his vast intellect to connect the dots I would like the narrative to be more present tense, more chaotic. Present the full chaos for me. Forget the "why" and let me figure it out for myself later. Supply me with more clues and evidence, less smooth transitions and logical argument. Let the editor take a holiday and let me try to figure out the structure of the reality as Fisk experienced it.
Some say it is too biased. I say it is not biased enough. Fisk tries too hard sometimes to be objective. I want more of his emotions, more of his outrage, more passion. That is when he writes best. Like that reporter who picked up an orphan and took the child back to Britain: make a stand and show your colours. Take sides when it is necessary. I can't stomach all this fake "balanced" objectivity coming out of the BBC's anus about the recent Lebanon invasion when a simple glance at the casualty figures tells anyone all they need to know about the reality on the ground.
From my point of view, one criticism so far holds water. I am sure there are many others. A mean-spirited little poker (did the writer read the book?) points out that Fisk does not speak Arabic. He is hardly alone in this weakness. But it's a fair point, if true. It's an important weakness that I imagine Fisk himself would willingly acknowledge. It makes me wonder what more might have been written if Fisk had been able to overhear more conversations. Time for a little Arabic 101, Robert.
One thing so far even the critics don't deny: great writing. Nobody argues against the power or quality of the writing. An Iranian judge slurping down vanilla ice cream through a mini red plastic spoon on the day he orders public executions is the kind of thing that gets more mainstream reporters a Pulitzer.
If Robert Fisk ever does win a proper award, then it will be time to stop reading him. His poignant and emotive writing style is just too precious to be diluted by the know-it-all subs and publishers back in London.
35 of 39 people found the following review helpful
on 10 November 2005
Unremitting in its foreceful description of the plight of humans in Arab countries. Unflinching descriptions of massacres, genocides and torture. The underlying assertion is that the source of the ongoing unrest in Arab lands lies with the end of colonial period. The book will enrage the pro-Israeli lobby and the neo-conservatives. For those with an open mind, it demonstrates the double standards that have charaterised the relationship of the West to the Arab nations. It paints an ugly picture for the ongoing involvement of troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. Highly recommended.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 26 July 2012
I finished this book in about three weeks, once I started everything else I was working on became secondary. This is easily the best book you will ever read. There really are no better words to describe this book. It is just so powerful in every sense of the word. Fisk goes into so much detail and gives you a greater narrative on which to hinge events on, probably why the book is so long. He writes so eloquently and so passionately, every page, every paragraph conveys the horrors or war in such detail that one is almost by his side. Fisk's work is described as being "writing history from the cannon's mouth" and you see that all through this book. From the first Iraqi incursions into Iran, talking to Soviet soldiers pouring into Afghanistan, children dying of cancer in an Iraqi hospital, an Armenian genocide survivor, you're given first hand accounts of the brutality war induces. Regardless of religious or political background, the one true conviction and the underlying truth behind this book is that "war is the total failure of the human spirit".