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Imperial Life in The Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone Paperback – September 4, 2007


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Imperial Life in The Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone + The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl + Troublemaker: A Memoir from the Front Lines of the Sixties
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 365 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Books; 1st edition (September 4, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307278832
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307278838
  • Product Dimensions: 7.4 x 5.5 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (215 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #65,222 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

As the Baghdad bureau chief for the Washington Post, Chandrasekaran has probably spent more time in U.S.-occupied Iraq than any other American journalist, and his intimate perspective permeates this history of the Coalition Provisional Authority headquartered in the Green Zone around Saddam Hussein's former palace. He presents the tenure of presidential viceroy L. Paul Bremer between May 2003 and June 2004 as an all-too-avoidable disaster, in which an occupational administration selected primarily for its loyalty to the Bush administration routinely ignored the reality of local conditions until, as one ex-staffer puts it, "everything blew up in our faces." Chandrasekaran unstintingly depicts the stubborn cluelessness of many Americans in the Green Zone—like the army general who says children terrified by nighttime helicopters should appreciate "the sound of freedom." But he sympathetically portrays others trying their best to cut through the red tape and institute genuine reforms. He also has a sharp eye for details, from casual sex in abandoned offices to stray cats adopted by staffers, which enable both advocates and critics of the occupation to understand the emotional toll of its circuslike atmosphere. Thanks to these personal touches, the account of the CPA's failures never feels heavy-handed. (Sept. 22)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From The New Yorker

This revealing account of the postwar administration of Iraq, by a former Baghdad bureau chief for the Washington Post, focusses on life in the Green Zone, the American enclave in central Baghdad. There the Halliburton-run (and Muslim-staffed) cafeteria served pork at every meal—a cultural misstep typical of the Coalition Provisional Authority, which had sidelined old Arab hands in favor of Bush loyalists. Not only did many of them have no previous exposure to the Middle East; more than half had never before applied for a passport. While Baghdad burned, American officials revamped the Iraqi tax code and mounted an anti-smoking campaign. Chandrasekaran's portrait of blinkered idealism is evenhanded, chronicling the disillusionment of conservatives who were sent to a war zone without the resources to achieve lasting change.
Copyright © 2006 Click here to subscribe to The New Yorker --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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Its well written and very easy to read.
Michael M.
Rajiv Chandrasekaran's excellent book, "Imperial Life in the Emerald City" is unusually different from the recent books published about what went wrong in Iraq.
Jon Hunt
Armchair Interviews says: First-hand reporting well done in this book.
Armchair Interviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

159 of 164 people found the following review helpful By Bucherwurm on November 26, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Here's how it works. You have a degree in, let's say, English Literature, and your resume says that your entire work experience has been working on the campaign of Republican senator Schmurtz. You apply for a job working for the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in Iraq, and sigh in relief at passing the hardball questions asked of you like, "How do you stand on Roe vs. Wade?", and "Whom did you vote for in the last presidential election?" Finally you end up in Baghdad's green zone, and are put to work designing a new traffic code, or trying to set up a computerized stock exchange.

Maybe your name is James Haveman, a 60 year old social worker. I don't know if we have a job for you. Wait, you are a true party loyalist? How about taking over the Iraqi health care system? Currently we have a gentleman running it named Frederick Burkle, Jr. He's a physician with an MA in public health, postgraduate degrees from Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth, and UC Berkeley. He specializes in disaster-response issues, a subject he taught at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. The problem with him is we aren't sure he is a Republican loyalist. So Jim why don't you go over and take his place?

I am definitely not making this up. If this were a novel by, say, Carl Hiaasen, it would be the funniest book of the year. Tragically, this is real life. I finished this book right after reading "Fiasco", and don't know if I can take many more recountings of the disaster that is Iraq.

The folks that were sent to Iraq to build a new nation made all the wrong decisions at just the right time. They were literally trying to turn Iraq into a little USA. The new traffic codes and the new regulations for the stock exchange? The Iraqis read them through, and carefully filed them in the circular file.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book was so absorbing that it kept me up past midnight. I had to finish it. It is unique, focusing in a very easy to read way on the terrible errors committed that made Bremer's rule a complete failure.

The author documents both the unreality of the Green Zone ("The fear on the faces of American troops was rarely seen by the denizens of the Palace") and the terrible errors that resulted from arrogance, ignorance, and plain bureaucratic in-fighting.

The author opens by concluding that most of those serving in the provisional authority simply gave up and went through the motions. He calls them a motley bunch, most qualified by allegiance to the neo-conservative wing of the Republican Party, rather than actually being competent or even relevant. The author makes an informed speculative judgement that fully half of those serving, many callow youths, got their first passport to take the political appointments in Iraq. Great line from one disillusioned staffer: "I'm a neo-conservative who has been mugged by reality."

Bremer screwed this up, but it was Dick Cheney who chose him for the job and got General Garner fired. Dick Cheney also personally directed the removal of Tom Warrick, the only person in the US government that actually understood Iraq in all its nuances, from the Garner team, largely to protect Chalabi--a thief and a liar according to CIA and State, a willing accomplice who sucked up to Cheney--and block objections to Chalabi being installed as the leader.

The author also reports that Doug Feith kept General Garner ignorant in order to promote Chalabi as the one with the answers.
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29 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Parola138 on January 14, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This book walks you beneath a war that, until now, I had only known via tv, blog, and magazine. I think every american, regardless or left or right wing should read. I am a conservative and noticed that the author seems to take shots here and there about key players being neocons, but also I suppose he's assigning blame where blame is due. What makes this book so scary is how embarassing all of it is. You see how our government pretty much threw their friends and cronies into power, and those friends ruined the direction in iraq. Regardless of what side you stand on politically, you owe it to yourself to read this eye--opening inside account of the Iraq mess. I kept hearing Homer Simpson say, "Doh," in the back of my head while reading.
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34 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Craig Jacobson on January 5, 2007
Format: Hardcover
While most debates about the Iraq War focus on the strength of the military presence - are there enough troops, etc - Chandrasekaran's inside perspective paints the failure in Iraq clearly as a political and civil failing, where there were not enough officials to rebuild the infrastructure, and those that were there had their positions because of their connections, and not their credentials. While officials continue to insist that the war "will be won," it becomes clear here that the war was lost soon after the statue of Saddam fell, when looting (which was not stopped, because officials had not made it a priority, and orders to protect certain areas were not communicated to troops) destroyed the nation's ministries, and thus their ability to govern. We see an insurgency born not because of differing political philosophies, but because the CPA was completely unable to provide jobs and even the substandard government services that the Iraqi people had under Saddam's reign.

A frustrating book to read as well, as you realize that the insurgency might have been stunted before it took hold had the CPA been either competent or qualified. The desire to have "good Republicans" in key roles as opposed to experienced experts might have cost us this war and a golden opportunity to bring democracy to the region. An important book to read to not only understand why we failed, but also to gauge our chances of success going forward.
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