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Strange Rebels: 1979 and the Birth of the 21st Century Hardcover – April 30, 2013

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Editorial Reviews

Review

Wall Street Journal, Best of 2013
“Christian Caryl's Strange Rebels may be the year's best book. It brilliantly documents 1979, when "the twin forces of markets and religion came back with a vengeance" through Margaret Thatcher and Deng Xiaoping, the Iranian revolution, the start of the Afghan jihad, and the pilgrimage of Pope John Paul II to Poland; the book is a must-read for any serious student seeking to understand what has ensued in the 21st century.”

The Economist
"A timely new book... Caryl tells this story with great skill. He moves effortlessly from one scene to another in this tumultuous year.... Caryl also sprinkles his fast-paced narrative with plenty of striking details.... Anyone who wants to understand how this new world came into being needs to read Mr. Caryl’s excellent book."

New Yorker
“[Caryl] makes a strong, sweeping case that the year ushered in, as his subtitle puts it, the birth of the twenty-first century.”

New York Review of Books
“This is a book that, by its diligence and restraint, really does help us to think, as opposed to telling us what to think.”

Andrew Solomon, New York Times Book Review
“Christian Caryl’s Strange Rebels argues convincingly that the problems of the 21st century were all hatched in 1979, and looks particularly at the move away from secularism and the welfare state; it’s a bold and illuminating take on our time, and its analysis of militancy seems particularly relevant as we look to Syria.”

The New Republic
"By amalgamating distinct geographic areas and seemingly disparate historical forces, Caryl uncovers new and vivid questions.... A virtuoso of connection, Caryl joins Poland and Afghanistan into a single cold war narrative.... These patterns and claims challenge the current journalistic obsessions with economic statistics and with social media’s promise to gild the motors of globalization. Caryl brings forward a fierce contest over ideas, religious beliefs, and methods of government. The twenty-first century has not escaped from the age of ideology bequeathed to it by the twentieth century."

New York Times Book Review
"[An] engrossing new book.... A well-written and thorough work of history."

Jonathan Derbyshire, The Guardian
"[A] riveting account.... A book about what happens when the world stops co-operating with ideological categories and they lose their explanatory power. It is also an extended demonstration of the law of unintended consequences.... [Caryl] is to be applauded."

Wall Street Journal
“It is hard to imagine figures as different as these or a year quite as grim as 1979, but suspend your disbelief for a moment. Mr. Caryl makes a fairly compelling case that this was a year when history made a sharp turn and that each leader set in motion the seismic changes that came to shape our world today: the fall of the Soviet Union, the rise of China and the emergence of radical Islam…. The reader comes away convinced that the forces set in motion, for good and for ill, in 1979 set the stage for the world we see today, in ways that were hard to see at the time.”

Sunday Times (London)
"A provocative and vivid portrait.... One of the great virtues of Caryl's book is that it invites reflections about the role of contingency and inevitability in recent world history."

Chicago Tribune
Strange Rebels... is carefully researched, broad in scope and smoothly written. Whether or not we agree that the 21st century began in 1979, or share Caryl's views as to the nature of that beginning and of the century thus far, he is undoubtedly correct that we could not possibly begin to understand the world we now live in without understanding what took place during that eventful year.”

The Guardian
"[A] provocative if highly original account of the year 1979 and its political significance.... [Caryl] tells the story of that single year with verve and scholarship. He makes unlikely connections between the Iranian revolution and John Paul II's papacy, the Afghan jihad and the economic reforms pursued by Deng Xiaoping and Thatcher, all of which took root in 1979.... Strange Rebels, superbly written, brings a tumultuous single year to life in all its proper significance."

Prospect
"A welcome addition to a growing bibliography on the remarkable rise and astonishing success of the neoliberal credo in the last 30 years.... Nuanced and balanced... Strange Rebels is a fine book which is bound to generate long overdue discussion on the reasons why 1979 continues to loom so large."

Pittsburgh Post Tribune
“Readers old enough to recall 1979 will come away from this book viewing that year as much more than just a miserable one for America; those too young to remember 1979 will gain new understanding of the only world they've known — and of why history matters.”

National Interest
“Christian Caryl is a journalist of the old school….His book demonstrates the breadth of his experience in journalism. A riveting read, it is interspersed with gripping anecdotes and an admirable attention to detail. Its main thesis—that our current world would be unimaginable without the unique concatenation of world events that occurred in a very short period of time in 1979—is both novel and compelling.”

The Washington Monthly
"Caryl unites his extensive travels with keen analysis, arguing that 1979 was a hinge moment in the history of the twentieth century, one that continues to exert profound effects upon both Europe and the United States. The resulting work is beautifully written and, to borrow a phrase from the late Robert Bork, an intellectual feast.... [A] marvelous book.... While 1989 will always loom as the more sensational year...Caryl has made a very strong case indeed that 1979 was a pivotal year, one whose significance has perhaps not been adequately appreciated. His closing remarks alone about the lessons of 1979, which focus on the illusion that social and material advancement are inevitable, are worth the price of admission. In his book, then, Caryl has staged his own rebellion against humdrum writing and conventional analysis. It is a profound accomplishment."

Literary Review
"A pleasure to read… Strange Rebels teaches an imperishable lesson: never underestimate the power of reaction.”

Publishers Weekly
"Caryl displays an impressive facility with Western, Soviet, Chinese, and Islamic political traditions and circumstances, and he manages to present a relatively coherent and unified view of world affairs."

Kirkus
"A highly focused work.... As ably shown by Caryl, the events of this cataclysmic year would continue to bear fruit for years to come. An astute assessment of the efforts of a group of historic newsmakers."

Fareed Zakaria
“At the end of the 20th century, two coiled forces, religion and markets, sprung onto the world stage. From China’s reforms to Margaret Thatcher’s rise to Ayatollah Khomeini’s revolution, they all began in 1979 and have been shaping international life ever since. Christian Caryl tells the story of that pivotal year—and its consequences—with intelligence, grace and lucidity.”

Anne Applebaum, author of Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956
“If you haven’t thought much about the year 1979, it’s time you should. In this provocative work of scholarship and reporting, Christian Caryl argues that this was the year when a counter-revolution—led by Margaret Thatcher, John Paul II, Ayatollah Khomeini, and Deng Xiaoping—changed the course of history. After reading this book you won’t think the same way about the 20th century again.”

James Fallows, author of China Airborne
“Christian Caryl’s book is eloquent, elegant, and persuasive. It makes a connection that is obvious once he points it out—about the transformations in the Middle East, central and east Asia, and Europe from West to East whose after-effects shape our politics, culture, and economy even now. After reading this book, I will always think differently about developments in Iran, Afghanistan, China, and elsewhere because of the connections Caryl has drawn out. This is a very valuable and readable work combining the best elements of history and high-end contemporary reportage.”

Dexter Filkins, author of The Forever War
“Christian Caryl takes a series of seemingly disparate events that shook the world of the late 1970s and uncovers the strands that bind them together. The result is an amazing story that illuminates the world we live in.”

Mark Lilla, author of The Stillborn God: Religion, Politics, and the Modern West
“We knew something was happening in 1979. And now, thanks to Christian Caryl, we know what it was. A hands-on reporter with global experience, Caryl follows the common thread running through the seemingly unrelated upheavals in Britain, Poland, Iran, Afghanistan, and China that year, revealing a powerful revolutionary traditionalism that continues to shape the world we live in today. An eye-opening and deeply sobering book.”

Gary Shteyngart, author of Absurdistan
"One of the books I am most proud to have on my bookshelf, it uses one pivotal year to explain so much of where we are as a deeply troubled planet. The chapter on Afghanistan is worth the price of admission alone."

About the Author

Christian Caryl, a Senior Fellow at the Legatum Institute, is also a contributing editor at Foreign Policy, a regular contributor to the New York Review of Books, and a former Newsweek correspondent. A senior fellow of the Center for International Studies at MIT and winner of an Overseas Press Club Award, Caryl lives in Bethesda, Maryland.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (April 30, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465018386
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465018383
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.4 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #605,699 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Robert Taylor Brewer on May 3, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Pick a year. Chances are, for the year you pick, a historian will write a book arguing that year was the start of something pivotal in the world's history. We've seen this in such titles such as1493: Uncovering The New World Columbus Created, 1616: The World In Motion, 1959: The Year That Changed Everything. Now we have an engaging, well documented, and in spots magically written book by Christian Caryl entitled Strange Rebels: 1979 And The Birth Of The 21st Century.

It gives away nothing to tell readers that Caryl's story groups five timelines together and finds common ground among them. Margaret Thatcher's England, Deng Xiaoping's China, Ayatollah Khomenhi's Iran, Karol Jozef Wojtyla' s Poland and Mohammed Daoud Khan's Afghanistan form the backbone of the author's contention that events of the year 1979 unleashed forms and forces that brought us to the world we now inhabit.

Of the five, the most radically changed seem to be Afghanistan and China. So connected is Afghanistan to contemporary terrorism that it is probably impossible for anyone to remember the Afghanistan depicted in this book - a society where visitors could, as recently as 1970, "purchase yarn or lentils, or the garlands of paper flowers that were used to decorate cars during wedings" or "where you could buy lapis lazuli or dried fruits or karakul skins." Moving in the opposite direction is China. Mired in Mao's revolutionary turmoil, China achieved little until Deng Xiaoping took the reins of power, ending the cycle of purges that cost China 40 million dead during The Great Leap Forward from 1958 to 1960 and probably another ten million during The Cultural Revolution from the years 1966-1976.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By The Curmudgeon on August 14, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a great book that lets you catch up on the details of five important events involving four major characters who helped creat seminal events in 1979. The book says it shows the birth of the 21st century but it really shows the major events of the last quarter of the 20th century. It remains to be seen what the 21st century will bring.

The four major characters include Pope John Paul II from Poland. Although he was elected in 1978, it was his visit to Poland in 1979 that changed things. The communist authorities let him in and then found that millions of Poles were anxious to attend his sermons despite decades of communist propaganda. This quiet revolution set the stage for the later real revolutions that toppled communism in Europe.

Another major figure was Ayatollah Khomeini who became leader of Iran after the Islamic Revolution of 1979. While the superpowers the United States and the Soviet Union were busy conducting the cold war on which economic system was better, the revolution in Iran shocked the world by claiming that religion was more important than economics and that a return to the 7th century was the best answer.

Then there was Margaret Thatcher who became prime minister of the United Kingdom on a platform of free enterprise and privatization of the country's nationalized industries. This election presaged the similar election of Ronald Reagan in the United States and has helped maintain the revival of free market economics to this day.

Not apparent at the time was the importance of Deng Xiaoping whose free market reformation started in China in 1979.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By MBJ on January 3, 2015
Format: Kindle Edition
Tucked away in the Diwang Mansion skyscraper in the city of Shenzhen is a wax sculpture of Margaret Thatcher and Deng Xiaoping sipping tea while engaged in groundbreaking negotiations regarding the future of Hong Kong and the New Territories. The legacy of these figures goes well beyond the historic event frozen here in time. Both were devout advocates of market economies who swam against the tide of accepted economic policy, Thatcher in a socialist arena, and Deng in a communist one. This is only one of the splendid juxtapositions of events and personalities that we discover in Strange Rebels.

The year 1979 is one of perhaps many dates that could be singled out as the fulcrum for examining events leading up to and shaping the new millennium. But Christian Caryl's choice of this year is a particularly appropriate one. He convincingly argues that revolutionary forces of a social, political, and economic nature boiled over in that year with a ferocity that is still being felt in the second decade of the 21st-century.

It was in 1979 when the most powerful monarch on earth, the Shah of Iran, was toppled from on high by Ayatollah Khomeini and the Islamic revolutionaries of whom Khomeini was the visionary leader. For years this exiled Islamic cleric, a devout and brilliant man, watched patiently from the wings as Western values invaded and transformed Iran. As a critic of the Shah, Khomeini taught that Islam and politics were inseparable, a concept too radical even for many of his fellow clerics. But in response to the policies of the Western-backed dictator blinded to the importance of traditional values, Khomeini was inexorably swept to the top of a new and unprecedented theocratic regime.
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