on 15 December 2006
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.
on 14 November 2002
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.
on 3 September 2004
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. Every account of a tragedy or personal story is emotive, informative and beautifully described. He obviously loves Lebanon and this seeps through the pages of his book. The descriptions are so vivid that it feels like you can smell the orange groves and feel the electricity in the air as a storm rolls in off the Mediterranean. This makes the tales of Lebanon's people even harder to read. 'Touching', 'moving' and 'tragic' seem clichéd and inadequate to describe his accounts of real lives, real people, which have been destroyed. Yet even when on the verge of impenetrable bleakness, a dark sense of humour shows through. In one case he describes being cautioned for a traffic offence during the siege of Beirut in 1982, and in another he mentions a man who hijacked a plane bound for Beirut and ordered it to fly to... Beirut.
Overall, this account represents the best in foreign reporting. Lebanon was not a place Robert Fisk was viewing from the outside; it was his home. He has a deep understanding of events, a potent desire to find the truth and a great talent for expressing the experience of real people. Pity The Nation is the result, and it deserves to be read by as many people as possible.
on 25 April 2002
Robert Fisk has spent the last 25 years in Lebanon. He brings the skills of a dedicated reporter, the objectivity of an outsider and the knowledge of a local to the subject. The most compelling thing about this incredible book is the quantity and quality of eye witness testimony. Robert tells the story as only one who has been there can. Another striking thing about this book is Robert's desire to be exact and precise. Everything is cited and referenced.
If you hold a bias for one of the many sides in this sorry conflict you will probably find yourself nodding vigorously sometimes and shouting angrily at others.
Those with an open mind will just be horrified. Regardless of the ebb and flow of politics and war it is always the poor, the weak the silent that suffer. Robert gives them a feint voice.
on 8 December 2001
Well documented...What hit me most is the author's constant search for the truth. His straight forward chilling accounts of the war in Lebanon makes one realise that it is coming from a person who personally feels the sufferings of the innocent civilians in Lebanon. This is one book which every conscientious person should read. It shows the horrors of war on the civilian population and the insensitivity of the oppressor to people's sufferings.....Maybe the world will be a better place if all journalist were as committed as Mr.Fisk
on 28 September 2002
This book is, quite simply, beyond compare. To try to digest, process and retain all the information contained in it would be futile, as innumerable injustices, ceasefires, invasions, peace keeping missions, massacres and "terrorist" outrages are related by the author.
It is not possible to come away from reading 'Pity The Nation' without having been touched by the, more often than not, very personal nature of what is a national tragedy. Forgotten by the West, brutalised by their neighbours in the Middle East and by each other, no Lebanese (or Palestinian) seems to emerge from the years of conflict covered by this book unscathed. In Robert Fisk these people have inherited a coherent, unbiased and sensitive witness who bears testament to their suffering. One can only hope that the lessons to be drawn from this book will be learned one day.
on 8 November 2002
This book is unforgettable. Robert Fisk takes the reader from the Nazi Holocaust, to the massacres at the refugee camps of Sabra and Chatila, with compassion and even handed condemnation of atrocities, no matter who the perpertrator. This is more than a history book, although readers who, like me, knew little of the history of the Lebanon will find it invaluable background reading. Instead it is a testament and a witness statement to the devastation that has been inflicted on Lebanon in recent decades. Although haunting in places, it is not a sentimental work, but rather it is the story of a journalist working in the Middle East, and Robert Fisk describes his experiences of fear, nausea and frustations in equal measure.
on 14 April 2007
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. More attention would need to be given to the bombing of the US Embassy (such as motive and speculation / evidence as to who was involved), the kidnappings would need to be elaborated and especially the kidnapping of Terry Waite, which I think is dealt with very superficially. Fisk never pretends that Pity the Nation is a historical description of war in Lebanon.
Fisk is a brave man (you would have to be to have lived in Lebanon through the war) and has made himself controversial by writing the book. There is a multitude of very critical reviews by people who in one way or another find it difficult to deal with the very gory and almost unbelievable facts of the conflict. I, for one, believe Fisk's account to be reasonably truthful and precise, as he does not seem to be pushing any one sided agenda. But judge for yourself and be prepared for some stomach churning stuff . Anyone who went through what he did and was prepared to put it on paper afterwards deserves much more than a 5 Star Rating on Amazon!
on 13 August 2015
Read this if you are in any doubt about Lebanon. Many stories here that will shock you, all written with intelligence and passion. Absolutely beyond belief, what has been done in that region, and with the West choosing to look the other way. No wonder there is still so much hatred, and the story is far from over. We never seem to learn and really try to change things. A fantastic book, and I look forward to reading more by Robert Fisk.
on 8 October 2007
This book provides an exceptional depiction of the tragedies that Lebanon underwent during the last quarter of the 20th century,
The bulk of the book focuses on the events that took place during the civil war between 1975 and 1990, hence, it covered the Syrian intervention in 1976, the Israeli invasions in both 1978 and 1982, and the involvement of the multinational forces (USA, Britain and Italy) in the aftermath of the 1982 invasion, which triggered an escalation in civil war. Although not covered in much details, Robert Fisk provides brief snaps taken from the major events that led the deterioration of the situation in Lebanon, such as the Jewish Holocaust and the ethnics cleansing of Palestine. In addition, there are small sections that covered briefly events related to the Lebanese history during the 1860s (Christians and Druze civil war) and 1950s (USA's first involvement).
Despite some accusations against Mr Fisk of being biased in his reporting, I felt that the author has presented a valuable piece of work that successfully captured the ugliness of the war, and exposed the wrong doings of all involved from Palestinians to Israelis, Muslims and Christians, Syrians and the USA. There is a whole chapter that was dedicated to the role of the media in this conflict and other similar conflicts around the world, as well as the hypocrisy and double standards of reporting that was and continue to brain wash the masses to achieve some cynical goals.
This book is a valuable resource for anyone who has an interest in the Lebanese history or the recent developments in the Middle East. It is a little grim and harsh at times, but so has been the fate of this region of the world for as far as I can remember.