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No Friends but the Mountains: Dispatches from the World's Violent Highlands Hardcover – March 7, 2017
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"No Friends but the Mountains is Matloff's globe-hopping, more-often-than-not crushing investigation into mountain mayhem. She has the experienced intrepidity to go get the story behind these murderous frays without coming across as a flake with a death wish. She returns with chromatic stories, which can't help but be chromatic as they are smeared blood red, from the Sierra Madre, the Caucasus, Jammu and Kashmir, the Himalayas, and the Andes. As well, she returns with the cultural and socioeconomic rubs that help us to grasp the bellicosities."
"[A] chillingly enlightening account of those who live in mountain regions in order to elude or destroy authority, and whose blood feuds are handed down from one generation to the next."
"Impressive and necessary... Matloff approaches her topic with a magic combination of wisdom and empathy, and it is impossible to not be moved."
--Booklist, starred review
"A tightly focused study."
"In No Friends But the Mountains, Judith Matloff has delivered a vital, deeply revealing book of political travelogue and intrepid correspondence. She is the ideal witness - learned, dogged, skeptical, but always listening out for new and credible voices. This is classical international journalism of the highest order."
--Steve Coll, Dean of Columbia Journalism School and staff writer for The New Yorker
"Americans discount geography precisely because they have been the beneficiaries of it. People elsewhere know better. Judith Matloff's book is an indefatigable journalistic exploration of how mountains shape, sustain, and even determine war and culture around the world. Her argument, which her reporting makes undeniable, is at once obvious and original."
--Robert D. Kaplan, author of The Revenge of Geography
"Judith Matloff's book is a political geography of mountains, once the haunt of witches, now-in many parts of the world-strongholds of outlaws and rebels, told with a sense of drama by someone who has clearly done her fieldwork."
--Yi-Fu Tuan, author of Romantic Geography
"The most spectacular heights on earth hold mysteries, not least why conflict so often shadows their vistas. Judith Matloff-a brave, engaging, keenly observant guide-rides shuddering buses, boards decrepit helicopters, and hikes through mud and checkpoints in pursuit of answers and solutions. Along the way, as history and present-day circumstances intertwine, Matloff reveals the rich, surprising and perplexing life of places too often diminished by the flat imagery of war."
--Sheri Fink, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and author of Five Days at Memorial and War Hospital
"Vistas, vainglory, vengeance and violence mark Judith Matloff's engaging voyage across mountainous terrains. She reports with empathy on religious charities, anthropologists, guerrillas, and state armies all attempting to pacify some of the world's least governed spaces."
About the Author
Judith Matloff teaches conflict reporting at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. Her articles have appeared in numerous publications including the New York Times Magazine, Economist, and Christian Science Monitor. Matloff lives in New York City.
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Top Customer Reviews
The book starts in the mountains of Northern Albania, where an ancient code of honor leads to generation-long feuds, claiming 10,000 lives in 20 years, which is huge given the small populations. One intriguing detail, apparently there is an old concept called "sworn virgins," who sear an oath of chastity and can take up men's roles if all the men of a family are wiped out, exempt from honor killings. Chapter 2 looks at the Maya Zapatistias in Mexico's Chiapas. Chapter 3 is far better than 2, when Matloff visits the Colombian mountains to interview rebels and government troops--decades of rebellions and violence has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives..
Chapter 4 looks at Nepal, mostly the Rai people (2.8% of the Nepalese population) who may soon all be flooded out by a major dam financed by India (which will mostly benefit India). For anyone interested in Nepal or the problems development causes, this is an excellent chapter. Chapter 5 considers the Caucasus, particularly the Chechens. It provides a lot of informational context that most readers will not know, including the Tsar's wars against the Caucasus, Stalin's deportation of Chechens and others during World War 2 (both at heavy loss of life); it's the best short consideration of the Chechens I have ever read, and includes current politics, which appear to be utterly corrupt, so it's as much about politics as about violence.
Chapter 6 is about Kashmir. It strikes me as harshly anti-Indian, saying the Indian authorities are responsible for thousands of disappearances and routine repression of the majority Muslim population. Nonetheless, if the Kashmir problems interests you, this is close to a must read.
Chapter 7 looks at the US Army mountain school, training soldiers for mountain fighting--it appears to be good at training but Matloff says US capacity for fighting in the mountains is badly flawed. The next chapter goes to Norway and Norway training NATO forces in high altitude fighting in the Arctic. The last chapter ends on something of an upbeat, in Switzerland and how the diverse Swiss (four languages) have managed to create a real democracy. I'd rate the best chapters as those on Colombia, the Caucasus, Kashmir and the military mountain school.
Throughout, Matloff interviews people and experiences the climate, altitude and areas, with vivid character sketches and interesting historical context, as well as some current political context. I had to read it a chapter at a time rather than straight through as I normally do, I'm not sure why. Each chapter is really a kind of participatory journalism and can stand alone.