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Hezbollah: A Short History (Princeton Studies in Muslim Politics) 1st Edition

3.8 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0691141077
ISBN-10: 069114107X
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this remarkably thorough, articulate portrait of Hezbollah, Norton, a Boston University anthropology and international relations professor and former U.S. Army officer and U.N. military observer, analyzes how the organization was formed, how it evolved and its current role in Lebanese politics. More than just an Iranian-funded terrorist organization, Hezbollah is a comprehensive provider of social services to Lebanon's disenfranchised Shiite masses, and a highly respected political player, known to forswear corruption. Formed in 1982 under Iranian tutelage, and prompted by the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, Hezbollah has made a goal of fomenting Islamic revolution in Lebanon and authorizes violence to this end. In the 1990s, its policies in support of this goal began to include parliamentary participation. After the 2006 war with Israel, Hezbollah has emerged invigorated, flexing its military might and winning support through its rigorous postwar reconstruction. Norton's authoritative account is rooted in such important Middle East themes as the historical division between Sunni and Shiites and the origins of Iranian influence in Arab affairs. It is also personal, speckled with anecdotes from more than three decades of experience. Given the contentious subject, Norton's tone is remarkably even: Hezbollah is an organization he respects, but whose actions he does not condone. 10 b&w photos not seen by PW. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"In this remarkably thorough, articulate portrait of Hezbollah, Norton . . . analyzes how the organization was formed, how it evolved and its current role in Lebanese politics."--Publishers Weekly

"Augustus Richard Norton's timely Hezbollah chronicles [a] dramatic evolution and its sweeping implications for the region and beyond. His lucid primer is the first serious reappraisal of the radical Shiite group since [the 2006] war shattered six years of relative calm on one of the world's most volatile frontiers."--Jonathan Finer, Washington Post Book World

"Norton, who has been studying Lebanon, and especially the Lebanese Shiites, for longer than Hezbollah has been in existence . . . offers here a brisk and balanced history . . . of Hezbollah while situating the party in the larger Lebanese and regional contexts."--L. Carl Brown, Foreign Affairs

"This short, authoritative book, based on first-hand experience, efficiently analyses [Hezbollah's] status."--Iain Finlayson, The Times

"This excellent short history of Hezbollah . . . demonstrates that dismissing it as a 'terrorist organization' is both glib and dishonest. . . . . Everyone who wants to understand the complexities of the Middle East, and particularly those of Lebanon and Israel, and wants to reach the truth beyond the political rhetoric, should read this book."--Bruce Elder, Sydney Morning Herald

"How do you classify and develop policy toward an organization that has committed acts of terrorism in the past, that currently provides important social services . . . that defends its country from occupation . . . that plays by the rules in official Lebanese national politics? . . . Norton elucidates these domestic and international complexities in Hezbollah: A Short History. . . With other similarly complex organizations on the rise, such as Hamas in Palestine, Norton provides a model of how we might begin to think through their multidimensional, seemingly contradictory natures."--Allen McDuffee, In These Times

"In his new book Hezbollah, Augustus Richard Norton . . . provides a succinct account of the group's rise from the chaos created by Israel's invasions and occupation of Lebanon in the late 1970s and early 1980s, which ended only in 2000. Mr. Norton also explores the origins and political orientation of the group, now led by the Shiite cleric Hasan Nasrallah, in a complex web of religious and political identities in Lebanon--with a special emphasis on the role of Shia Islam in the organization."--Richard Byrne, Chronicle of Higher Education

"Augustus Richard Norton, an American academic and former U.S. army officer, has studied that Islamic fundamentalist organization since its formation. And now, in Hezbollah ... he offers a cogent analysis of its emergence and impact on Lebanese politics."--Sheldon Kirsher, Canadian Jewish News

"The most fluent survey of Hezbollah to date. This extremely accessible yet scholarly read covers the Lebanese resistance group from its inception to the current Lebanese political crisis, aided by a collection of poignant photographs and maps."--Margeret Hall, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

"The many complex and often changing dimensions of Hizbullah are presented in the book in a clear, concise manner that allows for a more accurate and complete understanding of what the group represents and aspires to achieve....Wherever one may stand on this spectrum of views, a vital starting point--offered in this small but rich volume--is an accurate, comprehensive view of why Hizbullah has succeeded as a political party, a sectarian representational group, a social services agency, and a resistance force, and why it continues to generate so much opposition at the same time."--Rami G. Khouri, Daily Star

"In an easily read, easily comprehended book, Norton traces the origins and history of Hezbollah.... The twisting allegiances of the players, the role of Syria and other neighboring states, the emergence of discord and sectarianism as the young movement matured and began to intrude on the elected government, all take place in the pressure cooker of a land and people long torn, used by factions for their own purposes."--Suzi Brozman, Atlanta Jewish Times

"In this highly informative, jargon-free book, Norton, one of America's top experts in Lebanese politics, provides an objective account of the genesis and development of Hezbollah, explaining its central role in contemporary Lebanon."--N. Entessar, Choice

"The book is a must read for anyone wanting to have an idea of the Lebanese puzzle and the role played in it by one of the most interesting political actors emerging in the Middle East."--International Spectator

"A good, concise survey by a perceptive student of the Lebanese Shia."--David Gardner, Financial Times

"A dedicated researcher and writer, Norton has contacts all across Lebanon who are both his friends and informants. He writes with the same fluency about Shi'a religious customs as he does about Lebanese politics. The book comes with advance praise from scholars who tell us Norton has written an accessible and balanced account of a movement poorly understood by many in the United States who too often view the Middle East through the 'terrorist' lens."--Donna Robinson Divine, Democratiya

"The book is a dynamic and multifaceted account. . . . Overall, Norton's book balances international political factors with the local and regional conditions that shaped the outlook and activities of Hezbollah. Norton deserves praise for writing an insightful and multilayered work accessible to a wide and often uninformed readership."--Rula Abisaab, Journal of Palestine Studies

"Norton has written a clear, concise history of Hezbollah with specific reference to its relevant sociopolitical context. Piquant anecdotes and richly textured details make the book enjoyable reading"--Kristian P. Alexander, Middle East Policy Council Fall

"Norton's work is essential for those more concerned with an approach that rejects the rhetoric of the 'war on terror.' His historical and social analysis of Hezbollah's origin and subsequent evolution into its current manifestation is as objective an analysis as one can hope for--not to mention timely and fascinating."--Michael Teague, Al Jadid Magazine

"Norton has done an impressive job by managing, in such a short book, to give a down-to-earth presentation of a complex organization."--Jørgen Jensehaugen, Journal of Peace Research


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Product Details

  • Series: Princeton Studies in Muslim Politics
  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press; 1st edition (February 8, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 069114107X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691141077
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 5.1 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,146,478 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By E. Beaver on May 12, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Lumped into the one size fits all portrayal of terror groups popularized by the media and the government, the author performs a valuable public service in removing Hezbollah from this fog of uncertainty and falsehood, portraying it accurately amid the context of radicalization and growing awareness within the Shia community in the 70's and early 80's. Norton highlights the inherent conflict within Hezbollah between pragmatism and dedication to the founding tenets of the organization.

It is the resolution of this conflict that will determine the fate of Lebanon amid the power struggles ongoing in the aftermath of the summer 2006 conflict that the author says split Lebanon into two groups; those who support the goals of the Cedar Revolution and those who feel victimized by the corrupt government and elites, seeking to share power at the expense of the Sunni power structure.

The pragmatism of Hezbollah seems without limits, whether cooperating with Communist or Christian groups in political parlays or in adhering to the "rules of the game" devised by them and the Israelis during the Israeli occupation of Southern Lebanon. It is this pragmatism that sets Hezbollah apart from other Islamist political organizations and Norton does a fine job of exploring it in detail.

A fascinating look that could have been far longer and examined far more but remains one of the best on the subject.
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Format: Hardcover
Dr. Norton's short history of Hezbollah provides a nice introduction to the birth, development, and evolution of this complex organization for American (and other English speaking) readers. The US media almost always portrays Hezbollah as an anti-Semitic, Islamofascist, terrorist organization that is opposed to Israel, America, and freedom because they are `evil'. The reality is, of course, much more complex. If you are tired of reading the US media's propaganda about Hezbollah and want to learn a bit more about reality, this is a good place to start.

There are several strengths to this book, and in particular, there are several key points that Norton addresses that I feel are especially significant. First, I think that the reader who is relatively new to Hezbollah and/or Lebanese history and politics in general will better understand the complexities and non-linearities amongst the various confessional groups. The relationships, both internal and external, between the various actors in Lebanon CANNOT be simply understood in terms of the Arab/Israeli, Shi'ite/Sunni, Muslim/Christian, and pro/anti Syrian forces. The alliances among all the major players inside Lebanon (e.g. Hezbollah, AMAL, the various Maronite and Orthodox groups, etc.) as well as with the outside players (primarily Syria, the US, France, and Israel) are constantly changing. Second, I think that the centrality of the Palestinian issue will become clearer to most readers. There are hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees living as non-citizens in Lebanon, and this was the most important (but certainly not only) cause of the disintegration of the Lebanese govt in the mid-70s. This problem still hangs over everything else in Lebanon.
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Format: Hardcover
In this short, but revealing book, Norton has provided an excellent overview of the history and politics surrounding Hezbollah. The book contains chapters on the founding of the group, its internal dynamics, as well as how it operates in the regional context. Unlike some analysis of the group, Norton freely discusses both sides of the group: the side that operates and behaves like an organized and effective political party, and the side that can be characterized as a terrorist organization. Norton does this with relative ease and a clear and direct writing style. He demonstrates that the group has evolved at a rapid pace and that no one can say with absolute certainty how the group will continue to evolve.

Unlike Harik's work on Hezbollah, Norton does a fine job of retaining some neutrality here and does not let a great deal of personal opinion seep into what should be a scholarly work. He has an impressive amount of experience working inside Lebanon and is thus very close to the subject he writes about, but this does not appear to have caused him to tilt one way or the other. His chapter on the July 2006 war with Israel is proof of that. His treatment of a highly controversial subject is remarkably balanced. He identifies what both sides were doing and thinking at the time and how it led to the outbreak of real hostilities.

The book is relatively short, but it was not meant to be a sweeping and comprehensive history. He deals with all of the important aspects of the group and the finished product should be read by all those seeking a greater understanding of Hezbollah. Anything Norton produces in the future will be essential reading for the field.
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Format: Hardcover
no one is innocent and no one is as evil as the other side's propaganda machine says.

As one who happened to be in South Lebanon at the time the fighting started in 2006, I can say that Norton's description most closely mirrors my experience.

You will benefit greatly by picking up this easy to follow gem. If you want one book to help you understand what's happening now in the Shi'a movement in Lebanon, this will do it for you.
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