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A Privilege to Die: Inside Hezbollah's Legions and Their Endless War Against Israel Hardcover – September 28, 2010

3.3 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“A valuable account. Cambanis is one of those rare foreign correspondents more interested in the impact of the carnage on human beings than in military maneuvers or bang-bang.” —The New York Times Book Review

“Brilliant and revealing. It positively frightened me. Interviews in which you can touch the people, coupled with a scholar’s command of Islam’s history, allow Cambanis to explain what Islamic moderates and the rest of the world are up against. A serious story with emotional power.”
—Leslie H. Gelb, President Emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations

“A revelation. Cambanis, one of the most talented foreign correspondents of his generation, has traveled far into the heart of Hezbollah, and what he has found there needs to be read about and studied by general readers and policy-makers alike. His reporting is not only fearless but sophisticated and penetrating, providing us with a vibrant image and unprecedented understanding of this powerful and secretive Islamist force.” 
Matthew McAllester, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Bittersweet: Lessons from my Mother's Kitchen and Blinded by the Sunlight: Surviving Abu Ghraib and Saddam's Iraq

“No global flashpoint today is more important than the Hezbollah-Israel conflict, and no book I know does a better job than A Privilege to Die in getting inside the thought-world of Hezbollah’s followers. Nuanced, textured, and brutally honest, the book should be required reading for anyone who cares about war and peace in the Middle East.” 
Noah Feldman, author of Scorpions: The Battles and Triumphs of FDR’s Great Supreme Court Justices and The Fall and Rise of the Islamic State

“A gripping, street-level view of Hezbollah. Cambanis brings Hezbollah out of the shadows to show how it has become the world’s most sophisticated resistance group.”
—Richard Engel, chief foreign correspondent, NBC News, author of War Journal

“Illuminating and terrifying. Thanassis Cambanis journeyed to the heartland of the most important, least understood armed actor in the Middle East. The souls he met along the way are rendered with compassion but not spared the same unflinching lens that Cambanis turns on his own biases.”
Quil Lawrence,  National Public Radio, Kabul bureau chief, author of Invisible Nation: How the Kurds’ Quest for Statehood Is Shaping Iraq and the Middle East

Cambanis combines extraordinary reportage with sharp analysis and a clear voice to explore the many sides of Hezbollah. A series of highly evocative portraits of the people who make up the core supporters of Hezbollah makes A Privilege to Die a must read for anyone who seeks a better understanding of the region and its people.”
—Farnaz Fassihi, The Wall Street Journal, Author of Waiting for an Ordinary Day

"Thanassis Cambanis, himself shrewd, brave, and determined, has produced ``A Privilege to Die,'' which shows us a Hezbollah with a human face that is nonetheless a grave threat both to Israel and Western interests in the Middle East."--The Boston Globe

About the Author

Thanassis Cambanis is a journalist who has been writing about the Middle East for more than a decade. His first book, A Privilege to Die: Inside Hezbollah’s Legions and Their Endless War Against Israel, was published in 2010. He writes “The Internationalist” column for The Boston Globe and is a correspondent for The Atlantic. Thanassis regularly contributes to The New York Times, The Boston Globe, and other publications. He is a fellow at The Century Foundation in New York City. Thanassis lives in Beirut, Lebanon, with his wife, Anne Barnard, a reporter for The New York Times, and their two children.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; First Edition edition (September 28, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9781439143605
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439143605
  • ASIN: 1439143609
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #838,041 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By L. Kaplow on October 23, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This book has received plenty of praise in The New York Times and elsewhere for the author's personal and rarely seen profiles of Hezbollah activists and supporters (the book explains the differences between the two groups and it's important). But what I found even more important and relevant was the way he explains, through Hezbollah and in layman's terms, so much about how the Middle East works - winding a thread from the hijackings of the '70s to the Iranian revolution to the fighting in Lebanon, Gaza and even Iraq.
(Disclosure - I'm a friend of the author's but I've got lots of friends who've written books and I've only reviewed one other.)
This book answers the questions an American newspaper reader asks: Why do these guys think they're winning even (or especially) when the Israelis keep pounding them? Why would someone want to be a "martyr?" What are the important roles women play in Islamist movements? Why do some radical movements succeed when others fade away?
Through it all, the author paints a fascinating picture of the mechanics of a radical militant movement (in this case, Hezbollah, of course). How do they control their members and win converts? What makes a strong leader? And, what's the kind of western journalistic mistake that can really anger the relatives of a "martyr?" It's told with great analysis that fills in the spaces around the usual hard-to-penetrate propaganda these kinds of groups present.
And, of course, there are fascinating details about Hezbollah - how they decided to "double down" after the 2006 war, how Hassan Nasrallah emerged to lead, how they keep their networks intact even while under attack. While it explains Hezbollah's effectiveness, it's not a glorification of the group.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This would have made a great long-form magazine article, but there is not enough substance for a 300-page book.

Cambanis certainly is a great reporter. He makes his interlocutors, the places he visits, the events he witnesses truly come alive. But when it comes to interpreting and analysing the facts he observes, he becomes vague, repetitive, contradictory. He makes lots of sweeping assertions on complex social issues - often plausible, but sometimes contradictory - but doesn't reveal their analytical underpinnings. Rather than coherent lines of reasoning, these analyse often resemble politicical speeches, plausible, eloquent, but essentially a very well-worded stream-of-consciousness. I think that the author would by hard-pressed to formulate the 3-5 principal arguments he wants to make about Hizbollah.

The accounts of the author's experiences would still be immensely enjoyable, if it weren't for the fact that these "analytical" forays often take the form of extended tangents interrupting the otherwise very readable reporting.

The worst part of all is the terrible editing. I have counted almost a dozen repetitions, sometimes of sentences, in one case of an entire paragraph (not literal but almost). Many of the "analytical" tangents should have been cut, streamlined and merged.

Contrary to other critical reviewers, I don't think Cambanis is biased or unobjective.

For a good history and analysis of Hizbollah, try Richard Augustus Norton.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I will just second, and not repeat , what the two reviews preceding mine have said about this book. I want to add that Cambanis meets with the people he reports of in their homes, in their cafes; shares a water pipe with while he interviews them, asks those he meets and interviews harder questions than we are used to in today's era of friendly, non-offensive reporters, and most importantly, is not afraid to challenge conclusions he had reached and published earlier upon learning new facts or discovering he made a mistake. This book is worth one thousand written by pundits, Washington based reporters, intellectuals and cubicle based think tank wonks. Hezbollah at this moment is run by unabashedly racist men who know they can ruin everything by overreaching, made up of followers who are willing to risk their and their families' lives and limbs in the belief that their reward awaits them in the next world, by fellow travelers starved for leadership and a reason to participate in the affairs of their country, and by international sponsors who think nothing of threatening the death of millions of innocents. That our government behaves the way it does in the Middle East with the knowledge that this group that encourages its followers to believe in the coming of and work to bring on an Islamic Apocalypse, leaving its friends in Lebanon in the lurch, is just one of the truly astonishing revelations and insights of this remarkable, and readable (and well-edited) book.
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Format: Kindle Edition
In his unusually clear-sighted and prescient book, Cambanis weaves the stories of everyday Lebanese who, initially caught up in the events of the 2006 war, find courage and pride in becoming members of Hezbollah, the Party of God. Hezbollah, the most powerful and influential movement to now emerge in the Middle East, is led by the charismatic and extremely popular Lebanese Shia leader Nasrallah. The indoctrination of scouts and the cult-like inner sanctum of Hezbollah read like a familiarly disturbing playbook. But it is the real stories of formerly moderate individual Lebanese and the party propaganda sophisticates that most chillingly brings home the reality of a country on Israel's northern border that, once considered a reasonably unthreatening mix of feuding parties, is now united in dedication to war without end. -from interview with Cambanis posted at the Albuquerque Judaism Examiner [...].
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