Jun 222010
 

Goldberg describes himself as a Zionist, former peace-nik, with an insatiable wish to meet people who want to kill him because he is Jewish. As a regular contributer to the New Yorker he’s an excellent writer with an ability to meet face to face with leaders of Islamic Jihad, the Taliban, and Hamas. In this book Goldberg is best when he’s doing journalism, describing the hell of Ketziot prison for Palestinians swept up by the IDF and in the end of the book when he refuses to relinquish his search for a Muslim Palestinian willing to put friendship with a Jew before desire for revenge. I had to wade through a long middle section of memoir that I didn’t quite care about. September 2007

Jun 212010
 

Erez, a patriotic IDF commander of 13 fresh recruits, is sent to Lebanon in the late 90s to protect Israel’s northern border from Hezbollah rocket attacks. What begins as a group of gung-ho, post high-school roustabouts on a clear mission descends into the heart of darkness as the reason for Israel’s being in Lebanon disintegrates and the soldiers do too. One of the finest written descriptions of the pride of being part of a group of men whose lives depend on one another followed by the creeping development of post-traumatic stress disorder. May 2008.

Jun 212010
 

The first two chapters were so densely packed with Islamic history I am almost gave up on the book, but am so glad I didn’t. Nasr provides the clearest explanation of events in Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia of anyone I’ve read and does it primarily by describing the 1400 year conflict between Shiites and Sunnis. At the end of the book I felt I knew more about Middle Eastern politics than most of Bush’s advisors and half the U.S. media. That shouldn’t be taken as faint praise. The only caveat is that the writing is dense, textbookish, but well worth the effort. The book isn’t too long, either. December 2006.

Jun 182010
 

This is Marjane Satrapi’s second half of her graphic (comic book) memoir of life as an Iranian exile in Europe as a young teen followed by her return to Iran as an older teen. It is more personal, and therefore, more compelling even then Persepolis 1, especially the second half of the book about life in Iran after the eight-year war with Iraq has ended. August 2006.

Jun 182010
 

A memoir in graphic novel form of growing up under Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran. It’s a good introduction to the history of the era and a fine description of living as a liberal beneath the feet of an autocratic religious regime with their minions of spies and enforcers. The comic book format makes for a very quick read, but the storyline is too superficial. January 2006.

Jun 182010
 

An unbelievably informative book about the transformation of the Ottoman Empire through World War I into the colonial prizes carved up by Western Europe into the countries that now form the modern Middle East. It is full of the origins of today’s conflicts and differences between Iran, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel, Syria, and Iraq and is filled with characters whose names are famous, but whose activities during this time period I knew nothing about, e.g., Churchill, Lawrence of Arabia, the House of Saud (to become today’s rulers of Saudi Arabia), and King Abdullah, whose descendants still rule Jordan.