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The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East Hardcover – Deckle Edge, November 8, 2005

4.5 out of 5 stars 206 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Combining a novelist's talent for atmosphere with a scholar's grasp of historical sweep, foreign correspondent Fisk (Pity the Nation: The Abduction of Lebanon) has written one of the most dense and compelling accounts of recent Middle Eastern history yet. The book opens with a deftly juxtaposed account of Fisk's two interviews with Osama bin Laden. In the first, held in Sudan in 1993, bin Laden declared himself "a construction engineer and an agriculturist." He had no time to train mujahideen, he said; he was busy constructing a highway. In the second, held four years later in Afghanistan, he declared war on the Saudi royal family and America.Fisk, who has lived in and reported on the Middle East since 1976, first for the (London) Times and now for the Independent, possesses deep knowledge of the broader history of the region, which allows him to discuss the Armenian genocide 90 years ago, the 2002 destruction of Jenin, and the battlefields of Iraq with equal aplomb. But it is his stunning capacity for visceral description—he has seen, or tracked down firsthand accounts of, all the major events of the past 25 years—that makes this volume unique. Some of the chapters contain detailed accounts of torture and murder, which more squeamish readers may be inclined to skip, but such scenes are not gratuitous. They are designed to drive home Fisk's belief that "war is primarily not about victory or defeat but about death and the infliction of death." Though Fisk's political stances may sometimes be controversial, no one can deny that this volume is a stunning achievement. (Nov.)
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Review

“Notable for [its] depth of observation and insight and for the vividness of [its] descriptions of particular events and people. [Fisk has] a strong affection and respect for the suffering majority of Palestinians and Israelis inexorably caught up in the storm of violence, fear, mythology, and hatred that the former territory of Palestine has become . . . His extraordinarily readable book depicts a vast historical landscape . . . For all his erudition and his passion for the subject, Fisk is primarily a journalist, and his book, among many other things, is an important account of what a journalist actually does or tries to do, especially during wars . . . Fisk’s powers of observation make his war reporting particularly vivid [and he] has developed a network of friends and acquaintances throughout the region who provide background and depth for his stories . . . Shocking . . . Deeply moving.”
–Brian Urquhart, New York Review of Books

“Combining a novelist’s talent for atmosphere with a scholar’s grasp of historical sweep, foreign correspondent Fisk has written one of the most dense and compelling accounts of recent Middle Eastern history yet . . . Fisk, who has lived in and reported on the Middle East since 1976, first for the (London) Times and now for the Independent, possesses deep knowledge of the broader history of the region . . . It is his capacity for visceral description--he has seen, or tracked down firsthand accounts of, all the major events of the past 25 years--that makes this volume unique . . . A stunning achievement.”
--Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“The most comprehensive survey of 25 years of Middle Eastern conflict.”–Library Journal

“An epic account . . . a rich tapestry of the contemporary Middle East [and an] engagingly thorough tour of the region’s turmoil.”
Newsweek International

“Fisk is a gifted writer and an accomplished storyteller, so those who have not read him before will enjoy [the]wealth of hard-won narrative detail accumulated over the decades of intrepid reporting.”
--The Economist

“A magisterial report from the shifting front lines of the Middle East. It deserves to be read by all those who are concerned with what is happening in Iraq today.”
Boston Sunday Globe

“The book seals Robert Fisk’s place as a venerable, indispensable contributor to informed debate in and about the Middle East.”
The Nation
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 1107 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf (November 8, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400041511
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400041510
  • Product Dimensions: 6.7 x 2.3 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (206 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #481,392 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Robert J. Crawford on January 12, 2007
Format: Hardcover
If you are like me, once you've established your basic opinion on something, you tend to skim the newspapers on the subject, often only reading headlines and maybe the first few paragraphs. So it has been with me and the Middle East conflicts over the last 30 years. However, every so often, a book like this comes out that is so deep, so excellent, and so challenging that it will wipe out all my cozy assumptions and ignite an interest that will carry me for several years at a minimum.

I read this over a period of months with a mixture of fascination and revulsion. It is in my opinion a literary masterpiece by a courageous reporter who is also a true intellectual, steeped in history as well as the stories of people that great journalists seek like air or food. There are so many levels to this book that a review cannot do it justice, but I will try.

First, there is the autobiographical side of this, where Fisk explains his obsession with war and injustice and man's inhumanity to man - it originated with his conflict with his father, a WWI veteran, which leads to his search for the truth and the need to document the lives of those who suffer. At times very moving, always vivid, this in many ways is the core of the book's theme.

Second, there are the historical analyses of conflicts starting with WWI and its aftermath - the Balfour Declaration - that saw the carve-up of the Ottoman Empire and the beginnings of the modern Middle East. This covers a huge range of countries, from Algeria to Turkey and Iran. You can see the roots of where the conflct started with the end of Turkish authority, how it got complicated by decolonization and the establishment of Israel, and how it has evolved into an increasingly murderous direction.
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Format: Hardcover
"Always let your conscience be your guide", sang Disney's dapper little bug. Robert Fisk adopts this theme in this monumental history of the modern Middle East. Prompted by a World War I soldier father's actions and admonitions, Fisk's sense of justice outweighs that mighty rock sitting at the gate to the Mediterranean Sea. As he travelled from "the Med's" shores to Afghanistan, Egypt, Palestine and other states, he watched the growing unrest and resentment as the last world empire retreated to Downing Street and a new one emerged from the shores of the Potomac. With rising anger and no little resentment of his own, he records the sufferings of ordinary people as these empires played nations and their leaders as pawns in what the British Empire deemed "The Great Game". In graphic, and sometimes disturbing prose, he portrays how fear became the catalyst to inflict pain without reason or justice.

It would have been easy for Fisk to simply stack up his notes and have them bound as a volume of essays. Instead, he approaches his task by depicting the recent history of a locale. Afghanistan, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, Palestine - the list is a detailed tour of a land deemed by history "The Cradle of Civilization" - hence his derived title. Each nation's recent history is reviewed. It's a sorry tale of interference from "outsiders", whether Christian West or Communist North. Centre to the tale is the imposition of the State of Israel on Palestine by the Balfour Declaration following the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire. The continuing presence of British and French "mandated" authorities remained a festering irritant to the Muslim populations. An uprising in Iraq in 1920 against the British presaged another, much later, "insurgency" which Fisk recounts in vivid detail.
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Format: Hardcover
It was an effort to read this book, in great measure because it describes in unflinching detail so many examples of what is worst in people. Unlike the saccharine and deliberately oblivious "reporting" we get in the corporate mainstream, Robert Fisk leaves the reader with no doubt about what war is really like, the failings of public figures on the international scene, and the pathetic condition of typical, contemporary "journalism."

He has spent 30 years in the Middle East, reporting on events in that part of the world. Living in Beirut, he has been close to the stories emanating from the nations in that crucial area. He has repeatedly risked his life to spread the real story of events and people's fate in hospital beds, slums, mountain tents, and torture chambers. His compassion for the powerless, the pawns of war, and targets of violence, is palpable; his disgust with lying officials and kangaroo-court judges, is unmistakable. This is a man who burns against injustice and manages to translate his anger into the chosen instrument of his life, the journalist's trade. Instead of taking up arms, he has taken up the pen--and we are all better off for it.

If you are concerned to understand what is taking place in the Middle East--which, in turn, affects the direction of so much else taking place in our world--read this book. It is smallish print with many asterisked footnotes and substantial notes...all running to practically 1100 pages of main text. Twenty-four chapters cover two Gulf Wars, including the current war in Iraq; the Iran-Iraq war; the despair of the Palestinians and resultant danger to all in that area of the world; the first holocaust--directed against the Armenian people; the Russian invasion of Afghanistan; his several face-to-face meetings with Osama bin Laden...and so much else. The Great War for Civilization is a work to absorb and refer to often; it will not soon be outdated--or equalled.
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