Review: The Only Language They Understand: Forcing Compromise in Israel and Palestine

The Only Language They Understand: Forcing Compromise in Israel and Palestine by Nathan Thrall

MY RATING: 5/5 Stars

FTC NOTICE: Free Review Copy from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers Program (in exchange for an honest review)

REVIEW: When undertaking the negotiations of, or simply reading about, the long-standing Arab-Israeli conflict, everyone becomes aware of how influences within and beyond the borders of the Middle East become a party to the issue. “The Only Language They Understand: Forcing Compromise in Israel and Palestine by Nathan Thrall, investigates the dynamics of these relationships and how they influence outcomes. His thesis establishes the element of force as core to achieving change, regardless of country and/or organization. “Compromise on each side has been driven less by the promise of peace than the aversion of pain…not limited to bloodshed. Economic sanctions, boycotts, threats, unarmed protests, and other forms of confrontation have been just as important in bringing about ideological concessions and territorial withdrawals. “Force” in this broader sense has, sadly, proved the only language “they” understand” (2).

Mr. Thrall explained the suppressive aspect(s) of the Oslo Accords, despite not being viewed that way by international courts because “the agreements” maintained a status quo. He made the reader think differently about the Camp David Accords, the Oslo Accords, Madrid Conference of 1991 and other related conference outcomes. I had viewed them as a tremendous amount of beneficial progress toward peace in the Middle East–especially after reading “The Path to Geneva: The Quest for a Permanent Solution, 1996-2003,” by Yossi Beilin. At the time of Beilin’s work, great achievements were made; but, in the long-run, it looked like situations eroded. To truly understand the making of each stage of agreements, readers needed more knowledge of the context, language, and time-frame in which the agreements were reached, and Nathan Thrall did an excellent job of covering those details along with some over-arching themes in support of his thesis:

*Intifadas, wars, terrorism, and other aggressions.
*Exporting the Holocaust to the Palestine Mandate.
*Zionism and the diaspora.
*Revisionist history and racism.
*Corruption.
*Frameworks for peace and statehood.
*Foreign powers and positioning.
*Decision making processes: short-term versus long-term reality.
*Periphery Doctrine effectivity.
*Collaborations between Palestinians and Israelis.
*America’s role the in the peace process: mediator or trouble-maker?

The author made it easy to recognize how themes played out repeatedly and ultimately existed as a form of force. He also made the reader ponder intelligent, though likely unpopular and uncomfortable, questions: Would the diaspora have survived without a separate Jewish state? Who truly had the right to promise Palestine to the Jewish people? Did America need to be involved in this peace process? Did the parties squander their opportunities to reach a two-state solution? Did some of the Palestinian leadership carry responsibility for continued nationlessness and some of the harm to their people? Was the author pro-Israel or in favor of the Palestinians? Ultimately, there was no denying that the author did a phenomenal job in supporting his thesis while writing a very interesting, fact-filled, thought-provoking book. Nathan Thrall’s “ The Only Language They Understand: Forcing Compromise in Israel and Palestine ” enveloped a highly-recommendable read that earned a well-deserved five-star rating.

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ARC Reveal: The Only Language They Understand: Forcing Compromise in Israel and Palestine

cvr_The Only Language They Understand- Forcing Compromise in Israel and Palestine by Nathan ThrallThe Only Language They Understand: Forcing Compromise in Israel and Palestine by Nathan Thrall

FTC NOTICE: Free Review Copy via LibraryThing Early Reviewers

BOOK INFO
*Genre: Political Science
*Published by Metropolitan Books (April, 2017)
*320-336 pages
*ISBN: 1627797092 / 9781627797092

CONTENTS
(Pages ix-x)
*Forcing Compromise
*Domination: Israeli Conquest and Its Justifications
*Collaboration: Easing Occupation as a Failed Strategy of Ending It
*Confrontation: Palestinian Pressure and Its Limits
*Negotiation: Political Horizons, and Other Euphemisms for False Hope

AUTHOR HIGHLIGHTS
*Analyst and Commentator: Arab-Israeli Conflict
*Senior Analyst: International Crisis Group
*Regular Contributor: The New York Review of Books
*Regular Contributor: The London Review of Books
*Regular Contributor: The New York Times

Review: Who Lost Russia? How the World Entered a New Cold War

cvr_who-lost-russia-how-the-world-entered-a-new-cold-war-by-peter-conradiWho Lost Russia?  How the World Entered a New Cold War by Peter Conradi

MY RATING: 5/5 Stars

FTC NOTICE: Free Review Copy from LibraryThing Early Reviewers Program (in exchange for an honest review)

REVIEW: Have you seen a film called, “The King’s Speech” (starring Colin Firth, Helena Bonham Carter, and Geoffrey Rush)? It delved into how the grandfather of England’s Prince Charles became king while building his nation’s confidence in him via a set of inspirational war-time speeches that reflected that he had overcome a stuttering issue and that the originally-intended king’s abdication would not adversely affect the nation. This film was based upon a book by the same name and was written by co-authored by Mark Logue and Peter Conradi (with the latter also serving as author of another book, “Hitler’s Piano Player”).

So, what lead me to read my first Peter Conradi book? At first glance, it was the book’s title, “Who Lost Russia?: How the World Entered a New Cold War.” It was written in large and bright, Russian-red, Cyrillic-like block-style letters.  The cover art intrigued me, so I had to read the work’s synopsis.  The paragraphs included some teasers that dealt with the reality of what happened after former U.S. President Ronald Reagan said, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall.”  “In reality, Russia emerged from the 1990s battered and humiliated, a latter-day Weimar Germany, its protests ignored as NATO expanded eastwards to take in ex-Soviet republics.  Determined to restore his country’s bruised pride, President Vladimir Putin has overseen rapid economic growth and made incursions into Georgia, Ukraine and Syria, leaving the Western powers at a loss.  Now a cold war threatens to turn hot once again” (back cover).  What a tease for someone, like me, who has an interest in modern Russian history, the aforementioned countries, and the enigmatic Putin–I had to read Conradi’s newest book!

Nobody could have chosen a better writing sample as my introduction to Mr. Conradi’s work. “Who Lost Russia?” did not disappoint!  The story-telling (which included the author being an actor in some parts of the text, too) made the Russian-to-Soviet-to-Russian Federation backgrounds so much more enthralling than any of those found in the average college textbook and many competing works. I greatly enjoyed reading about the Tsars and Lenin, tribalism, ethnic Russians and how they managed their colonies, Russification, unifying propaganda and other themes, with a few of my favorites as follows:

*US permissions and Russian leadership: Who’s your daddy?
*NATO’s changing size: Is bigger always better?.
*Russia’s propaganda portfolio: Serving trolls with a side of catfish.
*Gerasimov:  Just what the doctrine ordered.
*Russia’s former republics:  Relationship status–“Its complicated.”

Peter Conradi demonstrated his ability to take complicated histories and weave them into an easy-to-follow storyline; the enigmatic Vladimir Putin repeatedly became the core of those stories in this up-to-date epic.  When most people heard about “Russia,” didn’t they instantly think about “Putin?” The United States found his rise to Russia’s most coveted leadership position to be a mysterious one. “IF WASHINGTON INITIALLY STRUGGLED TO GET the measure of Putin, it was understandable. His path to the Kremlin had been extraordinary for both its speed and its unexpectedness. At the end of 1991, as the Soviet Union broke up, Putin had been in his native St. Petersburg, where he held a relatively minor post in the Mayor’s office as head of the committee for external relations. It was not until June 1996 that he had come to Moscow to become a deputy chief of the presidential property management department. Yet by July 1998 he was head of the Federal Security Service (FSB), one of the successor services of the KGB. In August 1999 he was named prime minister” (108).

Putin’s ascension to prime minister revealed a great dichotomy when comparing his present life with that of his past one; and, it was something in his childhood that aided me in connecting with this book. Conradi shared the following about Putin’s upbringing: “A flurry of biographies has been written about Putin, starting with is poor upbringing in Leningrad, as his home city was then known. The only child of a stern father, who was the Communist Party representative in a factory making railway carriages, he grew up in a run-down communal apartment in a once-elegant nineteenth-century apartment building in the centre of town. Amusement came from chasing rats around the courtyard. Accounts of his childhood have undoubtedly been coloured by his later career, yet he seems to have been an unremarkable boy and young man, who briefly went off the rails before finding redemption in martial arts” (108).

This story about Putin’s life reminded me of some stories my father (of Russian, English and Austrian descent) shared about his young years. Like Russia’s current prime minister, my father claimed to have had a poor childhood with a stern father; the family supposedly went from riches down to rags when they lost almost everything due to America’s 1929 “Great Depression,” which started a few months after my father’s birth. During my dad’s third year of life, his parents decided to move from Buffalo, New York, to Boyle Heights, CA for new opportunities. The new place boasted a large Russian-Orthodox Jewish community. In fact, in the early 1930s, advertisements labelled Boyle Heights as the largest Orthodox Jewish community west of the Mississippi River. The community seemed close-knit and my father shared some great memories of living there; but, what made me connect most with Putin’s childhood story came from stories of my own father finding dead rats in the streets. He claimed that he used to pick them up by their tails, swing the critters around and throw them at other kids. I remember simultaneously feeling disgusted and also laughing at the idea of my father doing something like that “back in the day.” He called those rats, “Depression Era Toys.” Thankfully he eventually grew out of (or became bored with) those toys, moved out of the neighborhood, and achieved his own successes.

Vladimir Putin moved outward and upward as well; and Peter Conradi expertly explained the reasons why Russia’s current Prime Minister ordered his military into Ukraine.  This specific area became another connection I experienced with the book, because Ukraine was not always “just Ukraine.”

My grandmother and her parents left a city specifically known as “Dolyna,” in order to the United States circa 1903. Their hometown sat within the confines of the province of Galicia, in the former Austro-Hungarian Empire. This territory later became part of modern day Ukraine; and, it could eventually become part of Russia, again.

Peter Conradi’s approachable writing style took complex histories and converted them into a modern compendium for multiple audiences. I found his book to be a highly recommendable read for every individual who would want to understand personalities of world leaders, complications created by colonization and empire, complexities of geo-politics, and dynamics of international relations (emphasizing those between the United States and Russia). The author made it possible for me to re-connect with my own personal experiences and family history. While the connections I found in this book may be rather unusual, other readers may relate to facets of the book as well, embedding this highly memorable piece of literature within them (and me) for many years to come. In the meantime, as to the question of “Who Lost Russia?” future readers need to read the book and decide for themselves.

Review: Face to Face with Jesus: A Former Muslim’s Extraordinary Journey to Heaven and Encounter with the God of Love

cvr_face-to-face-with-jesus-a-former-muslims-extraordinary-journey-to-heaven-and-encounter-with-the-god-of-love-by-samaa-habib

Face to Face with Jesus: A Former Muslim’s Extraordinary Journey to Heaven and Encounter with the God of Love by Samaa Habib, Bodie Thoene

MY RATING: 3/5 Stars

FTC NOTICE: Free Review Copy from the GoodReads Giveaways Program (in exchange for an honest review)

REVIEW: ”For many believers, particularly in the West, persecution is a foreign concept and experience–limited to unpleasant exchanges in the office or over social media. However, for many other believers, from Indonesia to Africa, in North Korea and throughout the Middle East, persecution is common. They suffer in many different ways, from social and economic exclusion to torture, rape, imprisonment and martyrdom for their belief in Jesus”(13).–Mike Bickle, Director, International House of Prayer

Face to Face with Jesus: A Former Muslim’s Extraordinary Journey to Heaven and Encounter with the God of Love,” existed as the story of a young, Egyptian female and her conversion from Islam to Christianity. The author, Samaa Habib, received an invitation, from one of her friends, to attend a Christian Orthodox Church service. She was fortunate to have parents who, despite being Muslim and deeply religious, were also open-minded about learning, seeing how others practiced their faith(s), etc. While there, she learned that the God of Christianity valued and loved females equally as much as males. This surprised her; because in Islam, females were worth half or less than that of their male counterparts.

Face to Face with Jesus” covered the wide-spread progression from Samaa’s Egyptian family living under a communist government, to displeasure of it and people’s desire to convert to generalized Sharia Law, and ultimately to being ruled by the cleric-mandated Sharia law. As things changed, her worth to her family also became devalued. Nonie Darwish, also a native of Egypt and whose father worked in the field of military intelligence under Gamal Abdel Nasser, noticed these extreme changes as well and shared them in her book, titled “Now They Call Me Infidel: Why I Renounced Jihad for America, Israel, and the War on Terror.”

In Samaa Habib’s case, it was the first time that she witnessed how religion became a divisive weapon: to “tear personal lives apart and divide and destroy nations” (51). She also saw “cruelty for the sake of cruelty ” (52). “In Muslim countries, women without male chaperones are targets of assault” (109), and she witnessed some of the terrible acts. One could easily understand how this girl’s new-found faith (in Christianity) made her feel protected and helped her to fight back against some fellow Egyptians who became her attackers.

At first, I thought that the “International House of Prayer” was unfairly targeting Egypt’s female population, using “free self-defense classes” as a way to gain recruits and converts from Islam to Christianity; however, the reality was that they did provide an undeniably valuable and life-saving service and skillset to the populace, which also saved the lives of this girl and her friends on multiple occasions. Not everyone would convert to Christianity, but they would convert from intended victims of sexual assault and other crimes to their own personal heroes.

SPOILER ALERT
As the chapters progressed, especially in the “Epilogue,” the soft-sell for Christianity became a hard-pushing one, and I found myself skimming the last parts. The hard-sell became distracting from the author’s amazing life story and the good deeds of her church. It seemed that the sole purpose of the book was to be a religious conversion piece, which varied greatly from what its synopsis conveyed to me; as such, this well-written book and amazing story lost some of its integrity, causing a reduced star rating.

Review: Unveiled Threat: A Personal Experience of Funamentalist Islam and the Roots of Terrorism

cvr_unveiled-threat-a-personal-experience-of-funamentalist-islam-and-the-roots-of-terrorism-by-janet-tavakoliUnveiled Threat: A Personal Experience of Funamentalist Islam and the Roots of Terrorism by Janet Tavakoli

MY RATING: 4/5 Stars

FTC NOTICE: Free Review Copy from Author (in exchange for an honest review)

REVIEW: Do not allow the small size of this book fool you into believing that it is not big on content. This is the first piece I have read by Janet Tavakoli, MBA, who utilized this work as a delivery vehicle to share her experiences when she found herself suddenly trapped in the middle of Iran’s Islamic Revolution. In one day she went from being an Iranian man’s, American-born, wife to becoming his property under that nation’s newest laws. “Unveiled Threat: A Personal Experience of Fundamentalist Islam and the Roots of Terrorism” delved into the author’s experiences, connected religious institutions to terrorism, and expounded upon the issues that developed due to the creation of a politically-correct world that began producing a global, fundamentalist, terrorist threat to the United States of America (USA).

Unveiled Threat” began with a focus on Iran and touched on tangentially-related topics in other countries due to their effect on the USA. Prevailing themes included the following:
1. “Poor men want to be rich” (1)
2. Political hypocrisy.
3. Hypocritical use of chador.
4. “Stalkers for Islam” (43)
5. Honor killings.
6. Female genital mutilation (FGM).
7. Islamic rule.
8. Muslim apologetics.
9. Sex abuse scandals.
10. Freedom of artistic expression and speech.

Ms. Tavakoli gave one example that specifically dealt with Muslim outrage pertaining to freedom of artistic expression/speech; I felt that it lacked sufficient context, causing me to be in disagreement with her. The story’s lack of details pertained to the year 2006, when a Pakistani cleric issued a death fatwa on a cartoonist who drew satirical images of Mohammad. I did not find their context to be fatwa-worthy nor good cause for riots. The situation created by the editors appeared repulsive and malicious. I associated this example with the Charlie Hebdo incident, though it was not clearly defined in the book.

The incident involved artistic representations of tied-up Muslims being raped by dogs (as had reportedly occurred to incarcerated people of the same faith). Dogs were utilized because due to their consideration as being the most disliked, lowly creatures in Islam. Other highly-inappropriate, disgusting, and insensitive illustrations went to print. I could not begin to imagine the uproar that would take place in a Westernized nation if, in the same context, there was a contest to draw a likenesses of God, Jesus Christ, or any other holy icon, in order for them to be printed amongst cartoons of children being raped by religious or other authority figures. In this situation, described as artistic expression and/or freedom of speech, moral and philosophical boundaries melted.

Unveiled Threat made for a compelling read that, at its core, focused on personal boundaries being legally melted by changing societal norms. This book contained elements of stories shared by Nonie Darwish, in her book titled, “Now They Call Me Infidel: Why I Renounced Jihad for America, Israel, and the War on Terror.” Plus, Ayaan Hirsi Ali stressed similar warnings in the three pieces I have read of hers: 1.) Nomad–From from Islam to America: a Personal Journey Through the Clash of Civilizations; 2.) Infidel; and, 3.) The Caged Virgin: An Emancipation Proclamation for Women and Islam.

Tavakoli’s book made me hold my breath quite a bit. At times I felt my eyes racing from one sentence to the next because of the energy that the author’s writing style created. The reading enjoyment factor caused the book to easily earn five stars; but, what I thought were minor historical discrepancies did cause me to reduce the work’s overall rating by that of one star. These minute differences in no way diminished the author’s experiences nor intensity of the situations covered in the piece. The most important factual fabric of this book maintained its integrity.

Review: Lenin on the Train: The Journey that Changed the Course of History

cvr_lenin-on-the-train-the-journey-that-changed-the-course-of-history-by-catherine-merridaleLenin on the Train: The Journey that Changed the Course of History by Catherine Merridale

MY RATING: 2/5 Stars

FTC NOTICE: Free Review Copy from Library Thing Early Reviewers Program (in exchange for an honest review)

REVIEW: Author Catherine Merridale became known for authoring several works involving Russian history. “Lenin on the Train: The Journey that Changed the Course of History” became her newest book. Its basis relied upon the premise that the author travelled the same train tour as V.I. Lenin did to give his speeches and rally followers for revolution. “In April 1917, at the height of the First World War, the exiled leader of the Bolsheviks, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, travelled back to Russia by train” (5); he had developed himself into a revolutionary with the intension of transforming the government via appealing to class struggle.

Merridale wasted no time getting to the rail station in order to begin Lenin’ s tour. But the pre-history would have better developed the story, properly setting the stage for what happened next. She rushed past the 1905 “Bloody Sunday” event, thereby downplaying its significance in the lead-up to the 1917 Revolution. I wished that she had delved into Rasputin’s power over the royal family, coupled with their excesses and assassination(s).  The author adeptly covered the effect of WWI on the country, and this was undoubtedly an incredibly important factor in understanding the mindset of many Russians.  From the impoverished to the bourgeoisie, and up through to royalty, Lenin also achieved a comprehensive understanding of the Russian mindset, which proved valuable in allowing him to develop highly-targeted speeches as his trip progressed.

Lenin on the Train” provided an in-depth approach, or micro-historical account, of a vital facet to the 1917 Russian Revolution. “For almost every socialist who witnessed it, what was happening in February 1917 was a march towards democracy and liberal reform” (225). “Socialism, which required the people take control of everything from economic life to war and peace, was not thought to be possible in a land of boorish peasants. In private, moreover, a good many socialists in Petrograd had been more than a little terrified of responsibility in any form” (225). Merridale’s work delved into these challenged and many others in a manner that reflected her thorough understanding of that historical era. My favorite components of her book that reflected her in-depth knowledge existed as follows:

1. The V.I. Lenin quotes set the tone for each chapter.
2. Notes regarding Russia’s calendar compared to that of Europe enabled the reader to understand travel time and date complexities.
3. A detailed map tracing Lenin’s train route created an additional way to engage the reader.
4. Details pertaining to the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, coupled with threats to the revolution, increased the story’s depth.
5. Stories of Germany’s and Britain’s influence increased the sense of international intrigue.
6. Feuds between Lenin and others demonstrated that his mission did not become easily achieved.

While the aforementioned numbered points served as my favorite aspects of the book, overall I experienced struggles in reading the compendium. There was a lot of back-and-forth in time, that I did not find to be respective to the calendar issue cited in the author’s “Notes on Text.” The dates seemed like they were thrown around without respect to a clearly delineated timeline. Dialectology challenges caused the writer’s style to come across as clunky, stuffy, and dry. Expression not typically encountered in the United States compounded these issues, for example:
1. The happy fortune of that lot must have made Switzerland seem more than ever like the white wolf’s wretched cage” (134). 
2. “Lenin had worked up an appetite, and back in the Regina’s dining room he tucked into a steak…” (197)

Additionally, I found that transitions between paragraphs seemed rough, while sentences within them did not always belong together. Unfortunately, despite the author’s delivery on her promises and demonstrated subject matter knowledge, I ultimately found this book to be difficult to enjoy and finish.

Review: The Drone Eats with Me: A Gaza Diary

cvr_the-drone-eats-with-me-a-gaza-diary-by-atef-abu-saifThe Drone Eats with Me: A Gaza Diary by Atef Abu Saif

MY RATING: 5/5 Stars

FTC NOTICE: Free Review Copy from Library Thing Early Reviewers Program (in exchange for an honest review)

REVIEW: “Since 1948–before that in fact, since the British mandate began in 1917–Gaza has barely gone 10 years without a war. Wars stand as markers in a Gazan’s life: there’s one planted firmly in your childhood, one or two more in your adolescence, and so on… They toll the passing of time as you grow older, like rings in a tree trunk.  Sadly, for many Gazans, one of these wars will also mark life’s end. Life is what we have in between these wars” (2). “The Drone Eats with Me: A Gaza Diary,” by Atef Abu Saif, Phd., exists as the author’s perspective of his community’s life during Israel’s retribution for the killing of three of its teenage citizens.

The synopsis of “The Drone Eats with Me” leads bibliophiles to ascertain that this manuscript specifically addresses one side of the on-going, multi-generational, and several decades-long Arab-Israeli Conflict. While this work serves as the Palestinian author’s perspective of that struggle, his piece produces a powerful, yet tender, treatment of universal wartime themes that evoke emotional and intellectual perspectives that anyone can find highly-relatable. The writer addresses the role of parent or spouse as superhero, changes in lifestyle, religious practices, and societal norms, access to resources, war categorization, technology, media manipulation, death, survival, and hope for the future.

Categorizing types of war depends upon one’s position—aggressor or defender. Populaces on the receiving end undergo war. Conversely, aggressors wield the power to brand the conflict; it may be “just’ a drone strike, an escalation of tensions, or an operation, etc. Regardless of the situation’s label, drone technology permanently affects the nature of warfare. Atef Abu Saif views the flying soldiers as an entire judicial system. It judges and executes without trial. “We are all guilty until proven otherwise, and how are we ever going to do that, whether alive or not” (12)? Throughout the book, the author establishes that death generates greater power because it appeals to a media-provided wider audience, thereby affording opportunities for the world to recognize the possibility of your innocence…even if it no longer matters to you.

Media outlets require escalating death tolls to maintain their audiences. “Everything is turned into numbers.  The stories are hidden, disguised, lost behind these numbers.  Human beings, souls, bodies–all converted into numbers” (76), and the author’s writing style created vivid and indelible visualization of death to his readers. “To watch as bodies are scattered about in piles in front of you like discarded exam papers outside of school at the end of term, like old letters torn up by a jilted lover, like the paperwork of a bankrupt businessman piling up at the back of his shop.  One leg here, one arm there, an eye, a severed head, fingers, hair, intestines…nothing belongs to anything in particular” (116). This book serves as a delivery vehicle to re-humanize all of the numbers and make many of the dismembered bodies whole.

Being made whole again did not simply equate to surviving a conflict with all body parts intact. Facets of one’s life experienced devastation, too. The author’s mother left her seaside home during the war of 1948, thinking that she would be able to return.  She never could, which unveiled an interesting irony to me. Israel’s policy of “the law of return,” (the right for every Jewish person to return to Israel and make it his/her homeland) did not apply to Palestinians. They had to live their lives under an unofficial “law of no return.”

Dr. Saif sometimes resorted to returning to Arab poetry, because his wife earned her bachelor’s degree in that field. He highlighted and quoted an author named “Darwish.” I immediately thought he referred to Egypt’s former head of intelligence under Nasser, whose last name was also “Darwish.” According to his daughter, Nonie Darwish, the Israelis aimed for a targeted assassination of Col. Darwish—it killed him; but, Nonie’s younger brother had gone with his father to the office that day and incurred significant injuries. The Israelis reportedly provided medical care to the child; the Egyptians did not…something that became a long-standing point of contention to Ms. Darwish. Regardless of this side story, I finally opted to do a search on Arab poets with that same last name. Mahmoud Darwish came up in the results as a Palestinian poet; after reading more about his writing style and themes, I realized that there existed similarities in how Atef Abu Saif and Mahmoud Darwish shared Palestinian concepts and, perhaps, in how they conveyed them. I could not help but wonder if Dr. Saif’s love for his wife motivated the author to become more influenced by Darwish. Either way, Saif influenced me to want to learn more about the older Palestinian author and read his works.

The Drone Eats with Me: A Gaza Diary,” could have been about a man who was angry with the Israelis and/or wanted to cheer on the Palestinian Liberation Organization; instead, he used this piece as a vehicle to share the semantics of war. The beauty with which he expressed himself caused the reader to understand the author’s most basic themes, instantly creating an avenue to connect with the writer and create an elevated level of compassion. There was a beauty to how he conveyed universal themes in his subtle delivery of strong analogies. This was a beautifully crafted book, and one that I found to be highly-recommendable.

Review: The Fall of Heaven: The Pahlavis and the Final Days of Imperial Iran

cvr_the-fall-of-heaven_the-pahlavis-and-the-final-days-of-imperial-iranThe Fall of Heaven: The Pahlavis and the Final Days of Imperial Iran, by Andrew Scott Cooper, PhD.

MY RATING: 4/5 Stars

FTC NOTICE: Free Review Copy from Library Thing Early Reviewers Program (in exchange for an honest review)

REVIEW:  At first glance (and final review), I loved the layout and research elements of this “The Fall of Heaven: The Pahlavis and the Final Days of Imperial Iran,” by Andrew Scott Cooper. Prior to the “Introduction,” the reader encountered a list of key people and their roles, a “Revolution Timeline” and a 1979 map of Teheran, Iran (a critically important inclusion for any book focusing on Iran’s Islamic Revolution. Each chapter included two short, pertinent, and impactful quotes from different sources. History buffs, analysts, investigative personality types, and nerds at-hearts can greatly enjoy that the author shared his detailed research notes. He “constructed a 242-page, color-coordinated timeline that spanned the crucial twenty-month period from January 1, 1977, through August 31, 1978, that decided the Shah’s fate. The timeline expanded to include everything from weather reports and traffic conditions to movie and theater listings—anything to help me re-create daily life on the eve of the revolution. The timeline meant that I could follow the Shah, Queen Farah, President Carter, Ambassador Sullivan, and other personalities on a daily and even hourly basis during a critical two-year stretch. The timeline yielded unexpected patterns, trends, and turning points forgotten, neglected, or otherwise overlooked by other scholars” (15).

Dr. Andrew Scott Cooper, an expert in U.S.-Iran relations, wrote this text to serve as a correction of historical records. His qualifications included being a: “former researcher at Human Rights Watch, the US organization that monitors human rights around the world” (11). Perhaps it was this specific life experience that motivated him to write this compendium, which focused on following:

1. Iran’s human rights record within the context of the behaviors of other nation’s Cold War era dictators/rulers.
2. The scene that set the final stage for the revolution, revealing “two different revolutionary narratives” (15).
3. Farah Diba’s as a non-stereotypical model of a ruler’s wife.

The Shah’s human rights record included rumors that SAVAK held thousands of political prisoners. The last Shah countered that the numbers were greatly inflated. Dr. Cooper specified that “the lower numbers do not excuse nor diminish the suffering of political prisoners jailed nor tortured in Iran in the 1970s. They do, however, show the extent to which the historical record was manipulated by Khomeini and his partisans to criminalize the Shah and justify their own excesses and abuses” (11). The author deconstructed false analogies that compared the Shah to “Chile’s General Augusto Pinochet, blamed for the deaths of 2,279 people and 30,000 torture victims, and also to the Argentine military junta, held culpable for 30,000 deaths and disappearances” (11). Further details revealed that “within the context of the Cold War battlefronts in the Middle East and southwestern Asia, the Pahlavi state was not particularly repressive, especially when we consider that Saddam Hussein, in neighboring Iraq, was credited with the deaths of 200,000 political dissidents, while in Syria, President Hafez al-Assad crushed an Islamic uprising with 20,000 casualties. That Iran never experienced violence on such a scale suggests the Shah was a benevolent autocrat who actually enjoyed a greater degree of popular support among the Iranian people than was previously assumed” (11). Several explanations throughout the book included how Khomeini and his followers slandered the regime to gain his own political power; he was quoted as follows: “I can summon a million martyrs to any cause” (103)—and he did.

While the author did debunk rumors regarding Pahlavi regime behavior and the context in which the stories developed, the questions that must be asked include whether or not the uncovered facts carried enough weight to alter the world-view of the Pahlavi regime; and, would the Islamic Revolution still have occurred? Or, were they simply historical little white lies in the whole grand scheme of things? Readers must also determine whether or not such clarifications were worthy of a several-hundred-page compendium. Andrew Scott Cooper’s collection of micro-histories kept its promise to the readers; but the writing style at times seemed a bit disjointed; and, coupled with seemingly unnecessary minutiae, the piece became a bit dry at times…slowing down the reading and enjoyment of this text. Where the author truly gained writing cohesion and an energetic traction that created reading momentum revealed itself after 400 pages. Had the author utilized the same writing style more pervasively, this text easily would have earned five stars in lieu of four of them.

Review: All American: Two Young Men, the 2001 Army-Navy Game and the War They Fought in Iraq

cvr_all-american-two-young-men-the-2001-army-navy-game-and-the-war-they-fought-in-iraqAll American: Two Young Men, the 2001 Army-Navy Game and the War They Fought in Iraq by Steve Eubanks

MY RATING: 5/5 Stars

FTC NOTICE: Free Review Copy from GoodReads Giveaways Program (in exchange for an honest review)

REVIEW: Steve Eubanks, changed how I viewed sports history and America’s war in the Middle East with his book “All American: Two Young Men, the 2001 Army/Navy Game and the War They Fought in Iraq“. He established himself as a highly-credible sports writer, former college golf player and PGA member. The first post-9/11 Army versus Navy football game became his focal point for introducing the reader to this biography of two incredibly brave men sent to fight in “War on Terror.” “It was the recent terrorist attacks on American soil that made this particular event the most watched college football game in the country. Four million American television sets tuned in early that Saturday afternoon, with another four million sets tuned in overseas” (xi). Additionally, “President George W. Bush had spoken in both locker rooms before the game: ‘Your opponents today on the football field will be the men you will be serving beside on the battlefield very soon,’ he said” (xiv).

This post-9/11 environment super-charged the football fans as well, showing a renewed and more intense patriotism that perhaps had not been demonstrated by the public masses since “Lake Placid, New York, at the 1980 Winter Olympic Games, when the U.S. hockey team upset the heavily favored Soviets, the game known as the ‘miracle on ice’” (46). I remembered that game…that moment, that physically-expressive surge of patriotism demonstrated by my family and me when I was a little girl. I remembered jumping up and down at the winning goal. Mr. Eubank’s analogy resonated with me and made my heart soar again; this historical comparison existed as one of several examples utilized by the author to connect on a deeper level with the reader and reach a much wider audience.

Emotions continued to “run high” as young men gave their hearts and all of their energies in devoting themselves to their military training in preparation for combat operations. Some training focused on leadership roles that mandated impeccable reputations. The author delved into the rigors of Army Ranger training and how easily a bad person can run someone’s life and/or career with a false allegation. Nobody cared about a person’s innocence. The author labelled this scenario as “availability bias”: favoring what was simply available without any regard for safety and other mitigating (and eventually, litigating) factors to resolve a problem.

The unfortunate realities of war existed as another problem that had basis in availability and/or bias: killing children and loss of our own children. One character identified the age at which Iraqi children had been brain-washed to dislike American soldiers. This served as an important piece of information for adults, especially Americans, to help understand the brutal cruelties of war and why there existed occasions when adolescents and teenagers experienced targeted death with their adult relatives. Mr. Eubanks explained such situations in a manner that made them somewhat more digestible for the American moral consciousness. Essentially, we did not have to like the situation; but, it was an unfortunate reality that we had to force ourselves to understand. War played by a different set of rules than American football, Olympic hockey, and/or any other sport…because its subsistence equated to more than that of a comparatively simple game.

Another tragedy of war came in the grown-up, deadly form of the game “Hide and Seek.” Unfortunately, many Americans moved in the open and without sufficient protection (and, seemingly) without strategically-planned safe transit times and/or routes. The story of Jerko “Jerry” Zovko, and others, who died in an ambush, detailed an example of such failures. “On March 31, 2004, four private security agents working for Blackwater were guarding a food convoy when they were attacked by insurgents in downtown Fallujah. Zovko was killed by machine gun fire and then dragged through the streets by a mob” (165). When I read this story, I instantly thought of the interview with Zovko’s mother, in the film “Iraq for Sale”. Mr. Eubanks and the film highlighted the games played by our enemies as well as with American families when our personnel became injured or happened to be killed. Re-watching the film created a multi-faceted supplement to this book. The movie provided additional context and re-enforced the lives sacrificed by the characters and their families in this biography.

If you do not like football, I encourage you to look past that opinion and focus on what this book is really about: Americans battling each other on the sports field, one of them being attacked by a domestic enemy and additionally by his professional associates due to availability bias, leading into the story of both guys, and many other Americans, sacrificing their lives in the Middle East…fighting the “War on Terror.” “All American: Two Young Men, the 2001 Army/Navy Game and the War They Fought in Iraq” revealed itself as an emotionally-rich, content-heavy, compassionately-written biography that leveraged the author’s expert-level, sports history writing skills, with football as its delivery vehicle for a heart-felt war story based in the Middle East.