Thursday, March 2, 2017

Book Review: And Then All Hell Broke Loose

I think everyone has seen a news clip of a foreign correspondent in the midst of a dangerous war zone or riot in some faraway foreign country. I consider these guys and gals as the rock stars of the journalistic community with exciting stories that could make fiction seem boring. I’m also a child of the 90’s, so geopolitical happenings in the Middle East have been a dominant theme in news coverage through almost my entire life – from the Gulf War, to the September 11 terrorist attacks and subsequent invasion of Iraq, to the current rise of ISIL and turmoil in Syria and Libya. Richard Engel’s “And Then All Hell Broke Loose: Two Decades in the Middle East” covers both of these bases as a personal account of being a foreign correspondent covering the Middle East through a tumultuous period. 

The book starts with Mr. Engel as a young freelance journalist trying to make a name for himself in the midst of a failed democratic uprising in Egypt. He then moves on to cover the 2003 Iraq Invasion, the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine, the “war on terror” in Afghanistan, and the Arab Spring that eventually leads to the rise of the infamous ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant). Along the way, Mr. Engel provides sometimes very personal insights into his thoughts and feelings, and I gain a new admiration for the danger and sacrifices that come with being the rock stars of the journalistic community. Over his two decades in the Middle East, Mr. Engel has suffered a kidnapping, a failed marriage, and the death of friends, yet continued his work to bring the world information that would otherwise go unreported. He also offers excellent insight into the complex history and dynamics of the region and Islam, supported by his first-hand experiences. 

The Middle East is complex....
Given the complex relationships and changing dynamics of the Middle East, I have admittedly developed only a surface level understanding of the situation in the region. Although the book doesn’t cover any new ground that hasn’t already been covered in the numerous texts that are available on the region, Mr. Engel's explanations and history lessons are able to distill a complex subject into a manageable read.

I found Mr. Engel's book to be highly educational and informative, while also being very engaging and entertaining. The book isn’t a light or easy read, but I would highly recommend it to anyone with an interest to better understanding a region that has shaped geopolitics of the past 20 years.

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