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Night Draws Near: Iraq's People in the Shadow of America's War New title Edition

4.5 out of 5 stars 47 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0805076028
ISBN-10: 0805076026
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Most of the accounts of the Iraq War so far have been, to use the term the war made famous, embedded in one way or another: many officially so with American troops, most others limited--by mobility, interest, or understanding--to the American experience of the conflict. In Night Draws Near, Washington Post reporter Anthony Shadid writes about a side of the war that Americans have heard little about. His beat, for which he won a Pulitzer Prize in 2004, is the territory outside the barricaded, air-conditioned Green Zone: the Iraqi streets and, more often, the apartments and houses, darkened by blackouts and shaken by explosions, where most Iraqis wait out Saddam, the invasion, and three nearly unbroken decades of war.

Shadid is Lebanese American, born in Oklahoma, and he has a fluency in Arabic and an understanding of Arab culture that give him a rare access to and a great empathy for the people whose stories he tells. Beginning in the days leading up to the American invasion and closing with an epilogue on the January 2005 elections, he talks with Iraqis from a wide range of stations, from educated Baghdad professionals who look back on the country's golden days in the 1970s to a sullen, terrified group of Iraqi policemen in the Sunni Triangle, shunned as collaborators for taking jobs with the Americans to feed their families. (Perhaps his most telling and characteristic moment is when he trails behind an American patrol, recording the often hostile Iraqi comments that the soldiers themselves can't understand.) He takes the ground view and gives his witnesses the particularity they deserve, but the various voices share an exhaustion with a country that has seen nothing but war for 30 years and a frustration with a liberator that has not fulfilled its promises of prosperity and order. It's a despairing but eye-opening account, told with an understanding of the Iraqi people--hospitable, proud, and often desperate--that, were it more common, might have led to a different outcome than the one he describes. --Tom Nissley

Questions for Anthony Shadid

Anthony Shadid won a 2004 Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on the lives of ordinary Iraqis during wartime. His new book, Night Draws Near, tells the story of the runup to the war, the invasion, and its uncertain aftermath through the Iraqi eyes. He took a few moments from a busy week reporting on the Sharm el-Sheik bombings to answer some questions about his book.

Amazon.com: Where are you now? What sort of mobility do you have when you are in Baghdad? Have you been able to get back in contact with the people you follow in the book?

Anthony Shadid: I'm in Cairo right now and heading for Beirut, where The Washington Post has its Middle East bureau. From there, I'll head back to Baghdad. Getting around that city has become the most difficult aspect of reporting there. In 2003, after the U.S. invasion, reporters had almost unlimited access. We traveled to the Syrian border, Falluja, Samarra, Mosul, all places that are extremely difficult, maybe impossible, to visit now. I do still visit the people that I wrote about in Night Draws Near. At this point, many of them have become friends. I'm reluctant to visit too often, for fear of bringing unwanted attention. But I manage to keep up with their lives and how they're doing, particularly Karima's family.

Amazon.com: You are a Lebanese American, born in Oklahoma, fluent in Arabic, and well-versed in Arab culture. What has that background allowed you to see and understand? To what extent do Iraqis whom you meet see you as American or as Arab?

Shadid: In Iraq, I think I was seen as a little of both. I was always a foreigner, but maybe a foreigner who shared a sense of history, a common background. When references to history were made, to culture and traditions, it was expected that I would understand what was being said. Sometimes it was subtle, but I think my background probably helped foster a degree of trust that's so important to reporting.

Amazon.com: What have Americans, both in Iraq and back home in the U.S., most misunderstood about Iraqis and the situation in their country?

Shadid: My sense is that the biggest misunderstanding was perhaps a lack of appreciation for what preceded the invasion. I think some in the United States saw Iraq as a tabula rasa, a blank slate on which a new country would be built, a democracy that would serve as an example to a region mired in stagnation and authoritarianism. But a lot of what we saw after Saddam's fall was the consequence of what Iraq had already gone though. Not only Saddam, either. There was the war with Iran, one of the longest of the 20th century. There was a decade of sanctions, whose impact I think has always been underappreciated. There was a militarization of the society that made the culture of the gun and the logic of violence dominant in many regions of Iraq. The country that the United States inherited was brutalized, and the aftermath of that decades-long experience will probably define it far more than Saddam's fall, the insurgency, and the hardship that has followed. I guess I'm struck over the past years at how much Iraqis simply yearn for an ordinary life. Little has been ordinary in that country for the past 30 years. I always had the sense in conversations, especially in Baghdad, that people felt they were spectators to a play. They watched as actors read their lines, as the drama unfolded. There's still a sense of being in the audience today.

Amazon.com: What do Iraqis most misunderstand about Americans?

Shadid: I think it's less misunderstanding and more perspective. The sense of distrust of the United States is often powerful, and it colors much of what the Americans do in Iraq. As in much of the Arab world, the United States has inherited a reputation from past decades. Support for Israel, for authoritarian Arab regimes, for Saddam himself during the war with Iran in the 1980s has made many in Iraq and elsewhere suspicious of U.S. intentions. The refrain you hear so often is that the Americans are in Iraq for their own interests, and those interests include domination of the region, Iraq's oil, furthering Israel's interests, and so on. At another level, there's the very question of the U.S. presence. To some, the United States was a liberator. To others, it was an occupier. But to nearly all, it was the strongest actor in the country. That strength automatically creates a relationship of more powerful to less powerful. With a history of colonialism and repression, there was an acute sensitivity to that. American slights were seen as disrespectful, misunderstandings were seen as arrogance, and often, they both were read as the indignity of living under a power that is both alien and foreign.

Amazon.com: Your book closes with an epilogue on the January 2005 elections. What did that moment represent from the Iraqi point of view? Have the hopes of that time persisted at all through the violence that has followed?

Shadid: What struck me most during the election was the sense people in Baghdad had of staking a claim to their own destiny. On that day, Iraqis--not their overlords, not foreigners--were the agents of change; they themselves were deciding their fate. Watching those streets that day, I realized that it was the first time since I had been in Iraq, through dictatorship, war, and occupation, that Iraqis themselves were claiming the right to make their voices heard. It spoke to the trait that I think perhaps best defines Iraq: a stubborn, sometimes breathtaking resilience that drives life forward. To be honest, I think the moment was somewhat short-lived. Since the fall of Saddam, Iraq has been locked in a cycle of moments of optimism, followed by long, depressing months of brutality and dejection. There have been turning points, and Iraqis have often greeted them with hope and optimism. Disillusionment has typically followed. Resilience persists, but not always hope, and it goes back to the idea I mentioned earlier: a sense of watching a play unfold, in which most Iraqis find themselves spectators to forces beyond their control.

From Publishers Weekly

Born in Oklahoma and fluent in Arabic, journalist Shadid (Legacy of the Prophet) has the gift of a caricature artist, capturing personality in a few deft lines. In this set of reportage-based profiles from Baghdad pre– and post–March 2003, we meet Amal, a 14-year-old girl who moves from faith to fear to gallows humor in her diary; a long-married couple who bicker affectionately (the husband says George Bush is his hero; the wife wants to talk only about the lack of electricity); a Muslim cleric in Sadr City who has "the kind of swagger that a pistol on each hip brings." The portraits are intimate, often set in people's homes, and are rendered with such kindness they fall just short of sentimentality. Yet Shadid does not shy from the ugliness of violence, rendering the swollen corpse of a child left in the sun and the disarray of a bombed house, its front gate "peeled back like a can." The book, which moves among scenes and characters like a picaresque novel, is not only a pleasure to read but a welcome source of information. Shadid offers just enough history and context to orient the reader, and he includes the kinds of details—adages, prayers, lyrics from pop songs—that make a place come alive. In the end, Baghdad is the character he mourns most.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.; New title edition (September 7, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805076026
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805076028
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (47 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,300,257 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Grady Harp HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 8, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Anthony Shadid is a brilliant Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who has been covering the Iraq conflict since its beginning. And while much of his reportage of this tragically misguided effort on the part of the US to 'spread democracy around the globe' has either knowingly or unknowingly to us been from his pen (he writes for the Washington Post), here in this book he adds those elements of the war that have been either censored or edited so that at last we have an intelligent observer's report of what has happened. This is a story that will disturb and enlighten.

Shadid divides his book NIGHT DRAWS NEAR: IRAQ'S PEOPLE IN THE SHADOW OF AMERICA'S WAR into five sections. In the first section he surfaces the anxious dread of a people under the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein. In the second he mirrors the people's terror of the attacks by the American troops with the bombings of precious places as well as homes. In the third section he addresses that part of calamity that follows calamity - the criminal looting and destruction of museums and mosques and public facilities that most Iraqis viewed with embarrassed disgust. The fourth section raises the curtain on the debased hopes of a people told they were being liberated while instead they were erratically captured, questioned, disenfranchised and were deprived of the basic amenities of living. The final section studies the insurgency, the terrifying extremes to which the Iraqis have embraced such as suicide bombings, retaliation, guerilla warfare - all of those ends to which these people have been thrust as a means to regain dignity and identity.

Shadid has been there, has interviewed countless Iraqis, and has written a book that is jarring and shocking and insightful. What drives a man, woman or child to become a 'martyr'?
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Format: Hardcover
With all the coverage of Iraq lately, one of the things that has been conspicuously missing has been much coverage of the Iraqi people. Anthony Shadid provides a welcome glimpse into the lives, experience and views of ordinary Iraqis in NIGHT DRAWS NEAR.

Shadid's unique advantage as a journalist is that he speaks Arabic -- he is an Arab-American from Oklahoma, from an Orthodox Christian Lebanese family. Interestingly, he notes that as he has traveled back and forth, he feels more American when in Iraq, and more Arab when in America.

He has no axe to grind -- Shadid does not engage in cheerleading for nor critique of the Bush Administration. He simply lets the Iraqis he speaks with present their own perspectives, which are diverse. If there is a central theme, it is the sense of the historic importance and greatness of the city of Baghdad, one of the great centers of both the Arab world and the Islamic world, now fallen low. A common refrain among its residents is "Baghdad deserves better." And one cannot read NIGHT DRAWS NEAR without wishing better for its people.

Salaam alay-kum. Peace be with you. May justice and peace prevail soon for the people of Iraq!
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Anthony Shadid is a Washington Post reporter and a long-time writer on the Middle East. Born in the USA of an immigrant Lebanese family and a fluent Arabic speaker he describes himself as always feeling more Arab in America, more American in the Arab world. Beginning in 2002 and building through the tense days before the American invasion in March 2003 almost to the present, his story takes the reader as close as it is possible to get into the lives and thoughts of a whole gallery of Iraqi people of every shade of opinion and from every level of society. With unblinking, even-handed clarity he describes the violence and tragedy brought about by the Saddam regime, the Americans and the insurgents. But it is his encounters with ordinary people, Iraqi and American which make the book so wonderfully revealing

Shadid is a prize-winning journalist of a very high calibre. The historical background framing his encounters with leading clerics such as Muqtada el Sadr is a page-turning read while each of his encounters with a whole gallery of characters from Iraqi university professors to young American soldiers on patrol, to newly-joined hapless Iraqi police, caught between the occupation and the insurgency, all serve to push forward a compelling story and invite the reader to share the writer's understanding that 'Iraq is variegated, contradictory and endlessly confusing....Our televisable notions have never captured the haunting, ambivalent and bitter complexity of even one conversation, during war or in its shadow.'

This is most definitely NOT one more anti-war book on Iraq. It should be read in the White House, Downing Street and all over the world which badly needs the understanding of the Iraq tragedy which the day to day reporting of the mainstream media so signally fails to give.
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Some cautionary notes about this book are appropriate. It was so well-reviewed when it came out back in the autumn that my expectations for it were raised higher than they perhaps should have been. It's important to understand that Shadid focuses on a chunk of barely eighteen months in America's relationship with Iraq, starting in the fall of 2002 and largely concluding in the spring of 2004, although there is a very short and uncertain epilogue about the Constituent Assembly elections of January 2005. And the first six months of that roughly eighteen-month period - the period leading up to the war itself - are covered pretty spottily. My impression was that Shadid made only a couple of short trips to Baghdad in the latter part of 2002, and just didn't have much first-hand material to work from.

Likewise, there were other points in the earlier parts of the book when Shadid would be describing his interactions with an Iraqi family, and I found myself thinking that no terribly worthwhile insights were emerging from this encounter. I got the sense that Shadid had these old newspaper reports, and his publisher wanted them used to flesh things out, even if they didn't tell you that much in retrospect.

But hang in there, because at about page 156, the book really catches fire. In contrast to the somewhat stretched, spotty feeling of much of what precedes it, his almost 40-page chapter on Muqtada Sadr and his movement is a compelling, incisive, and revealing extended essay. And then Shadid gets to the Occupation, and here he really finds his voice.
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