The press coverage of the second Iraq war was notable for the American military's program assigning journalists to be "embedded" with specific military units. While this afforded more personal coverage, the reportage was inherently narrow, missing out on the larger perspective of a sprawling and complex situation and telling stories only from the American troops' point of view. Such is not the case in The Fall of Baghdad
, journalist Jon Lee Anderson's harrowing account of the Americans' capture of the Iraqi capital. Anderson was not embedded but on the ground in Baghdad and recounts the increasing anxiety and dread of Iraqi citizens as they try to prepare as best they can for a seemingly inevitable invasion. Not only were the Iraqis fearing for their lives, dwelling as they did in what they knew to be the largest target city in the nation, they also lived in fear of Saddam Hussein while he was still in power and so projected a facade of desperate optimism and unfailing loyalty. Anderson chronicles the collapse of this feigned allegiance and the Iraqi people's joy of being free of Saddam but also reports hints of the kind of anti-American sentiment that would come to deadly fruition in the months following the end of conventional fighting. Additionally, Anderson tells of the journalists covering the war, who struggled with the conflict between their drive to tell the story of what was happening and their desire to stay alive. Anderson keeps the scope of his book limited to the situation within Baghdad, omitting any mention of the larger political issues related to the war, which means that the book is not only non-partisan and highly focused but also incredibly claustrophobic, capturing the feeling of being trapped in a city about to be devastated. --John Moe
From Publishers Weekly
writer Anderson's eyewitness account of the invasion of Baghdad is a thoughtful document of war, written with stunning precision. Anderson arrived in Baghdad during the eerie calm before air strikes began in March 2003. While questioning ordinary Iraqis about their country's future, he also traveled to Iran, where he interviewed war-weary Shiite Iraqi refugees. Back in Iraq, Anderson sought out members of Saddam's Baath Party and probed the ambiguous nature of their relationship with their dictator: Ala Bashir, a plastic surgeon and artist who was close to Saddam, provides Anderson with a character study rich in contradiction. Equally compelling is a poet named Farouk, whose accounts of cocktail parties under Saddam have, in Anderson's recounting, a tension and irony reminiscent of Cold War Hitchcock thrillers. Anderson also makes his openly anti-Saddam driver, Sabeh, a key character and a link to Iraqi quotidian culture. In a voice refreshingly free of machismo, Anderson proffers an inside view of war reporters' scramble to cover events and of life at the Rasheed and Palestine hotels, where most journalists stayed. In this original narrative (not a collection of his New Yorker
pieces), Anderson's unobtrusive voice mediates the voices of others faithfully and with humanizing integrity, resisting any impulse to convert what he observes into political argument. Instead, he collects grimly cinematic snapshots of Iraqi casualties that will haunt readers even after the invasion has receded into history.
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