And Then All Hell Broke Loose: Two Decades in the Middle East by Richard Engel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
A solid mix of historical context and on-the-ground narrative. I've read a few books on the modern Middle East, but this is by far the best. He does an excellent job of spelling out the myriad reasons why the region is a mess, sharing a history stretching from the Crusades to the Wahhabi to the indiscriminate carving up of lands after WWI to the Iraq War and the Arab Spring. Though don't think you're buying a solely historical account. At some points it's a travel book--the charms of the marketplace, the antiquities of Egypt, the dusty apartments. Mainly, though, it's the story of a journalist who's worked non-stop in the region since 1996, there from the height of the "big men" to the current chaos. Shot at, nearly bombed, kidnapped. Bearing witness to the atrocities like so many great journalists before him have (William Shirer kept coming to mind since I recently read his Berlin Diary). I cannot recommend this book enough--for the understanding you'll get of events central to our world, and for the addictive narrative that keeps you turning the pages.
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Ray Stickle reads a lot and writes daily. For progress reports, updates on any upcoming releases, and the occasional thought or two, check here.