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Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone

4.0 of 5 stars 4.00  ·  rating details  ·  3,711 ratings  ·  499 reviews
An unprecedented account of life in Baghdad’s Green Zone, a walled-off enclave of towering plants, posh villas, and sparkling swimming pools that was the headquarters for the American occupation of Iraq.

The Washington Post’s former Baghdad bureau chief Rajiv Chandrasekaran takes us with him into the Zone: into a bubble, cut off from wartime realities, where the task of rec...more
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published September 19th 2006 by Knopf (first published 2006)
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13th out of 246 books — 123 voters
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Community Reviews

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Jun 26, 2013 sckenda rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Those Wanting to Understand Iraq
Recommended to sckenda by: National Book Award Finalist; New York Times Book Reveiw Best Book of the Year
Shelves: current-events, movie
The Green Zone was the Baghdad headquarters of the Coalition Provisional Authority (“CPA”)--the civilian administration that attempted to govern Iraq during the first year of occupation. The CPA built the Green Zone around one of Saddam Hussein’s palaces on the banks of the Tigris and separated the compound from the rest of Baghdad with blast-proof walls.

The title, “Imperial Life in the Emerald City,” reflects the author’s opinion that the Green Zone was "a combination of the fantastical Wizard...more
Apr 01, 2007 Megan rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: americans
The short take: bad organizational structure and writing that is really just mediocre journalistic prose.
Although Chandrasekaran begins with a narrative "I," he never really identifies himself, and then launches into details about things like relationships between State department members and Pentagon members back in Washington, making one wonder where the information is coming from. There is little direct quotation, and his presentation and interpretation of events are so mixed that it's diffic...more
Alternate Titles for this book could have been:

1. How not to rebuild a nation you just bombed the sh*t out of
2. How to F*ck up everything you touch, the Neocon way
3. Corruption, cronyism and good old fashioned incompetence on an unforeseen scale
4. Southern Efficiency in the Middle East
5. A Confederacy of Dunces
6. Beavis and Butthead Do Iraq

You get the message. In other words, if 10% of what Chandasekaran writes is 10% true, then this was the greatest con job in the history of the American Republ...more
A brilliant satire on the occupation of a Middle Eastern country....well it would be, if it weren't true. This gives the reader a fairly shocking insight into the incompetency, arrogance and corruption involved in the Iraq occupation.

The Coalition Provisional Authority sets up shop in one of Saddam's palaces and creates a little bubble of Americana called the Green Zone surrounded by a Baghdad teetering on and, subsequently, falling into an abyss.

The author, Rajiv Chandrasekaran, restrains hims...more
I knew the war was hatched by a fantasy driven cabal, but this book really laid it out in detail. It's an interesting contrast to another book I recently read, titled "Muqtada," by Patrick Cockburn. Cockburn's book deals with the Iraq almost exclusively from the standpoint of (anti-U.S.) Iraqi Shias. This book deals with the war almost exclusively from the standpoint of the U.S. crew than ran Iraq up until the elections in 2005. Both compliment each other well.

The gist of the book is that as so...more
Will Byrnes
Baghdad’s Green Zone is a world unto itself, with its own power supply, water, restaurants. One need never leave, and many never do. The author describes the separateness of the place but uses that as a base from which to foray out to related subjects. Some of his examples are particularly poignant. One enterprising fellow built a pizzeria just outside the compound, only to discover that the Americans all eat inside. He talks much about the plague of outsourcing and how it resulted in oddities l...more
I read this during Spring Break. A very informative book. It is kind of depressing to see how the U.S. Government has allowed private contractors carte blanche as well as establishing a bureacracy in the middle of the war zone in Iraq that would compare with any on Capitol Hill. It made this die-hard Conservative wonder about the effectiveness of our involvement in Iraq.
Steven Peterson
A review of the book when it first came out a few years back:

Rajiv Chandrasekaran is with the Washington Post; he has spent time in both Afghanistan and Iraq since the American missions in both places. His experiences in Iraq as well as his interviews with those in Iraq during the time of the CPA (Coalition Provisional Authority, under the control of Paul Bremer) and the precursor organization (under Jay Garner)provide important bases for this work. The picture is not pretty, and ties in with ar...more
Troy Blackford
This was a well-researched and shocking look at the attempt to provide Iraq with a democratic, capitalistic government and way of life after its US invasion/liberation. That such a massive undertaking was began without a clear idea of the next step is a strange truth that is drilled home again and again. Missteps, misguided actions, and good-but-not-thoroughly-thought-through-intentions make up most of this book, but the insights into day-to-day life in the green zone are no less compelling.

Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone is the compelling story about the U.S. occupation in Iraq and the culture of inexperience, arrogance, and cronyism within the U.S. Green Zone. My previous impression of the Iraq war was that U.S. officials were well-meaning but sometimes misguided and the U.S. media portrayed a sugar-coated view rather than the reality of life on the ground. Listening to this audiobook, I felt shocked by just how much worse the situation had been than I...more
Written by the former Baghdad bureau chief of the Washington Post, this book is simply what he saw in Iraq between the "end" of combat in 2003 and Paul Bremer's ignominious departure in 2004. Mostly what he sees is the complete mismanagement of basic postwar planning; the first raised, then dashed, hopes of Iraqis who have already suffered through the destructive rule of Saddam Hussein; and the arrogant approach of American political appointees, institutions and companies that are intent on tran...more
Rajiv Chandrasekaran brings depth to the story behind the headlines. He has certainly taken a large body of knowledge and distilled it for easy consumption.

Now I know why stories of reconstruction were so fuzzy and few. Tommy Thompson (Secy of Health and Human Services) provides a photo-op for a new hospital --- opened in the Green Zone but not presented as such. Now I know how Casey (son of Cindy) Sheehan (and 7 others) died --- Bremer closed Moqtada al-Sadr's paper without alerting the US patr...more
Jun 26, 2011 Ms.pegasus rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone interested in current affairs, political science, or the middle east
Recommended to Ms.pegasus by: saw it mentioned in connection with movie, Green Zone
Shelves: nonfiction, history
Rajiv Chandrasekaran's book is journalism at its best, and the loss will be irreparable if newspaper journalists fade into extinction. The Emerald City is an image reminiscent of the Raj – Americans relaxing around a swimming pool, in a 7 square mile enclave, enjoying drinks, eating American food, relaxing in clean clothing in the middle of Baghdad. The segregation from the real Iraq was genuine; the relaxed lifestyle an illusion. The occupation of Iraq brought a flood of ill-prepared, idealisti...more
Apr 16, 2009 Sydney rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Sydney by: Joe
Never in all of the years of reading have I been as outraged as I was while reading this book. The matter of fact recitation of the never-ending list of inept post-Iraq war decisions, incompetent staffing, corrupt contractors' waste of now-sorely needed tax dollars caused me fits of apoplexy.

Beyond defeating Saddam there were few other identifiable victories during the period covered by the book. Post-war planning occurred organically, as messes developed strategies were eventually devised to co...more
This is primarily a collection of anecdotes of the tenure of the Coalition Provisional Authority under Bremer in Iraq, and to a lesser extent the shorter tenure of Jay Garner preceding the CPA. The purpose of the book is to illustrate how badly the U.S. screwed up the occupation of Iraq. While a few of the anecdotes don't strike me as being nearly as negative as the author colors them, on balance this book basically makes one ill, just by emphasizing how badly we were served by our government.

I started reading on a Friday night and could not put it down until on reaching page 274 I simply couldn't keep my eyes open.

This is a shocking, damning picture of the idealogically driven attempts of the Coalition Provisional Authority to rebuild Iraq after the fall of Sadaam Hussein. The utter naivity of some at the highest levels is sad, but unforgivably there is also deliberate refusal to engage with the country's actual situation in lieu of creating a utopian America of the Middle East.

Everyone knows the American occupation of Iraq has been anything but a success, but if you really want to know how and why it spiraled into a free-fall, read Imperial Life in the Emerald City. It’s an enraging document of spectacular failure--about how, during the first year of the occupation, virtually every effort to restore food rationing, medical care, electricity, factory production, traffic law, the university system, the police force, the Iraqi news media, and the writing of a new constit...more
This book was well done; however, a lot of focus was on the negative. MSM tends to already be trying to drag down what is going on there; Not saying it's all rosy, but as a retired Military person, I know exactly what the cost is in combat and "occupation" force, and really would like to see someone not use this war (and that's what it is) for political badgering because you don't like how the administration is doing things, so much as an opportunity to observe and report and let smart people de...more
Apr 26, 2012 Anna added it
Hey, I've got an idea. We've got a big project. An important one. Actually, an impossible one. But we're Americans, and we've done some great things in the past. Let's grab our friends and head out. No need to hire selectively and look for highly qualified people. There are 300 million people in this country, but our friends are probably as good as it gets, so we'll use them. No need to train them. Now that they're over there, let's make sure that they can't possibly get their hands on the resou...more
Bookmarks Magazine

Rajiv Chandrasekaran, assistant managing editor of the Washington Post and its former Baghdad bureau chief, knows the landscape in Iraq as well as anyone, having spent two years in-country as a reporter. His careful, evenhanded reportage amplifies the seriousness of the problems that America still faces in Iraq. As Adam Dunn points out, "the Iraqis don't fare much better than their occupiers" under Chandrasekaran's judicious gaze. The book covers ground similar to that of Larry Diamond's Squande

Steve M.
So I have avoided Iraq -- professionally, personally, etc -- forever. I thought going into Iraq was absurd from the get-go and have only had that initial opinion reinforced as all the Iraq shenanigans -- and not the fun kind -- dragged on for year after year. I think the war in Iraq was the biggest own goal in American history. That said, I became interested in reading more than NY TImes articles and so on about and figured this was a fine way to start. And it was. That said, with non-fiction bo...more
Sadaam is toppled. Iraq has fallen. The US rolls in on chariots of fire with trumpets blaring about how we are absolutely awesome and will rebuild everything to make it the model of democracy. Except, via a comedy of errors in so many ways, we fail. And why? Imperial Life in the Emerald City lays out a multitude of issues in post-war Iraq; terrible organizational structure, positions for US individuals in the rebuilding effort are granted via favors (and political leanings), money is haphazardly...more
Although not a supporter of the US administration that entered Iraq under the pretense of finding and destroying WMDs that never existed, this author expresses an unabashed bias against the administration and virtually everything the team in Iraq, and Washington, did during the days immediately following the invasion and the chaos that ensued.

At times the author was contradictory. Criticizing in earlier chapters that some things moved too quickly, the author would, in later chapters, criticize t...more
B.J. Alexander
I thought I was over being infuriated about the Iraq war. Nope. Not even close. Reading this book was like throwing kerosene on embers.

I'm sure some will question the author simply because he works for the Washington Post. But, if you look at exactly what he talks about, it has nothing to do with where he works. The real sins in the book are the facts. While Stephen Colbert reminds us that "facts have a liberal bias" - let's put that aside.

Here's what I question: how can we as a nation allow bri...more
Paul Kearney
The American run green zone with its rocket launched hotel and daily mortar attacks is the safest area of Baghdad.To keep it this way few Iraqi's are allowed.They've never seen the Americans of the CPA sent to improve their lives But then they haven't seen their lives improve either.The ideological mindset of Iraq's new foreign rulers is frightening and recognizable.You slowly understand how men can take away a city's free to all electricity(they think their helping).Talented and experienced Ame...more
An interesting look into the way the CPA did (or didn't!) manage Iraq between the fall of Saddam Hussein and Iraqi sovereignty. It was well written, with a unique style that ensured it was never boring. The subject matter does make it a frustrating read- there was a chance to do something really good in Iraq, but a combination of cultural ignorance, disorganisation and a "jobs for the boys" mentality got in the way.

Like many American books, this one didn't really describe the roles and relations...more
Joseph Stieb
An outstanding and fair account of the CPA's largely disastrous 1 year tenure as the governing body of Iraq. Several key mistakes and delusions are presented here as a setup for the chaos that engulfed Iraq from 2004-2007. Along with a policy critique of mistakes like disbanding the Iraqi Army and police, relying on inept and duplicitous exiles, and heavy de-Baathification, Rajiv provides a sense of the culture, personalities, and delusions of the CPA. A few aspects of this culture (read: delusi...more
Should have been an article or maybe a series of articles. A somewhat repetitive account of the many things that the Coalition Provisional Authority did wrong in Iraq. It's a valuable exposé, but after 20% of the book I'd already digested the fact that incompetence and unpreparedness were rampant, and yet the book continued to tell me the same story for the remaining 80%.

Real value comes not from merely reciting the facts, but from illustrating ideas from which we can learn:

- Should we never h...more
without a doubt, fred flinstone would have done a better job in iraq that paul bremer
who needs satire when you have the coalition provisional authority?
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Rajiv Chandrasekaran is an Indian-American journalist. He is currently assistant managing editor for continuous news at The Washington Post, where he has worked since 1994. Originally from the San Francisco Bay area, Chandrasekaran holds a degree in political science from Stanford University, where he was editor-in-chief of The Stanford Daily.

At The Post he has served as bureau chief in Baghdad, C...more
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“History will judge the war against Iraq not by the brilliance of its military execution, but by the effectiveness of the post-hostilities activities.” 2 likes
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