I’ve been remiss in posting my usual book reviews, so I’m going to briefly recap a few of the books I’ve plowed through this summer:
Persian Mirrors: The Elusive Face of Iran (Elaine Sciolino): An excellent account of post-Revolution Iran by a New York Times writer who was actually on the famous Air France 747 that brought the Ayatollah Khomeini back from exile in 1979! This was a true page-turner: I couldn’t put it down and ended up reading it in only a few sittings. A fascinating look at Iran by someone who spent the better part of the last 30 years living there.
Secrets of the Kingdom: The Inside Story of the Secret Saudi-U.S. Connection (Gerald Posner): What an awful book! I’m obsessed with Saudi Arabia and am well aware how bizarre the kingdom may be, but this book was over-the-top one-sided. In fact, it seemed so overwhelmingly biased, I actually felt bad for the House of Saud — an amazing feat by the author!
A History of Jordan (Philip Robins): A simple title and a boring academic-looking volume, but an excellent overview of Jordan — from the Ottoman and British Mandate days, through the period when the country was known as Transjordan to the present Hashemite Kingdom. Jordan is a fascinating place carved out of the Middle Eastern desert (like so many nations) and this easy read explains its evolution, the complexity of its relations with neighboring states, the roots of its liberal streak, and the unusual cast of characters who’ve played a hand in its development.
Zamalek: The Changing Life Of A Cairo Elite, 1850-1945 (Chafika Hamamsy): With the complexity of the Arab names that run throughout this book, Zamalek can be a bit of a slog. After visiting Cairo this spring and staying in the Zamalek neighborhood, I became obsessed with the place. (In fact, I picked up this book at Diwan, an excellent local bookseller in Zamalek!) The title is fairly self-explanatory; the book traces the changing mores and culture of Cairo’s upper-crust in the years when British and French influence were at their zenith. Like I said, it’s a slog, but interesting.