Szplug's Reviews > The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East

The Great War for Civilisation by Robert Fisk
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Nov 16, 2012

bookshelves: intermittently-reading

I'd love some day to settle into this behemoth and accompany Fisk through a decades-long recollection of futility, hope, hatred, bravery, cynicism, and internecine strife and betrayal as it uniquely existed, and exists, in the forlorn Middle East. However, I've yet to make that lengthy commitment - in part due to the sheer size of Fisk's monstrosity of a book and in another because of my younger brother's antipathy to TGWFC, which he perceived as a questionably accurate encomium to the British journalist rife with endless self-reference and egotism. Said brother is one of those somewhat rare Eastern Ontario right-wing hawks, and so his dislike of Fisk could be appropriately discounted; yet he has a taste in books very similar to mine and I take his negative reviews seriously. Add to that the fact that reading about the endless and rampant bloodshed, bad faith, hatred, propagandizing, and righteousness that has blighted this unfathomably tormented corner of the world is an exercise in weary despair and it's perhaps more understandable why Mr. Fisk's great affair stands, firm but forlorn, in a corner shelf off of the far window.

Thus, I've been reduced to flipping through chapters that intrigue me, while leaving this hefty beast mostly unread. One day, Señor Fisk, I shall dedicate myself to two or three weeks beside you as you stentoriously display the morbid wages of a savage accounting - just don't count on that day coming soon.
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message 1: by Jim (new)

Jim Coughenour I bought Fisk's magnum opus the week it came out – and I made it through the first couple chapters. A fear years later, I tried again. But I've kept it. I share your aspiration & admiration for Fisk's principled journalism.

By the way, have you seen the video on YouTube, "Robert Fisk Retires"? In an interview, he asks himself why he's spent "31 years covering war and blood and dead children." It's funny in a dark dark way.

message 2: by Szplug (last edited Feb 16, 2011 11:12AM) (new) - added it

Szplug No, I haven't seen it - but thanks for pointing me towards it.

It's not even just Fisk - I've been unable to stir myself to read Rosen's chronicle of Iraq or Filkins trek across two war zones, though I also bought both of them immediately upon publication. I've a weariness about the Iraq-Afghanistan-Middle East miasma that I can't shake off. I recently tackled Rashid's withering critique of the Afghan adventure and, really, I'm in no hurry to venture back into those bloody waters. I feel guilty about it, but then I start reading another book and the guilt quickly disperses within the milder melancholy of my everyday existence.

BTW, I noticed you mentioned that you've had similar problems with finishing Kolko's Century of War - a very apt title - and I too have had this one on the shelves, untouched, for over a decade now. Since you've actually ventured within, was it a case of the fatigue engendered by the topic that bogged you down, or more to do with the way Kolko approaches and/or writes about it?

message 3: by Jim (last edited Feb 16, 2011 10:09PM) (new)

Jim Coughenour I know exactly what you mean. I've bought a small stack of these doorstop books over the past few years - Steve Coll, Lawrence Wright, Seymour Hersh, Jane Mayer - and most recently Rashid's book, Seth Jones, Thomas Barfield. At least I'm buying the ebooks now, so they're not sitting in useless piles. I've picked up and put down Peter Bergen's new book a couple times, thinking: I really should read this. But there's a sense of grinding futility – rage at the waste, ignorance, hubris, outright criminality (that continues unabated under Obama) – that shuts me down. I take refuge in John Keay's history of China or in all those other books that pop up here. Tonight I'm finishing another one in the Martin Beck series - which has been my favorite nightcap lately.

I thought Kolko's Another Century of War? was a small masterpiece when it first came out, but you're right – I can't read its predecessor. (I still have it though.) I did march through his history of Vietnam, years ago. It was enough.

message 4: by Szplug (last edited Feb 17, 2011 01:26PM) (new) - added it

Szplug I've done Coll and Wright; likely won't get around to Mayer or Hersh. Figure I should read Chandrasekaran, but can't summon the impetus to do so. Really, that grinding futility and rage that you mention reached its apogee, for me, with Jon Lee Anderson's brilliant The Fall of Baghdad : curiously detached politically to concentrate upon the rampant paranoia of the penultimate days of Saddam and the various levels of destruction visited upon flesh-and-blood people of the Iraqi capital. After that, I've been blasé about the entire misadventure.

At the moment I'm nominally pursuing two avenues of reading material - ancient Rome and the pre- and post- WWI era, with the inevitable - in my case - digressions across timelines into other areas of interest. So, Fisk gets shelved - bring on* Adrian Goldsworthy or Charles Taylor, Robert Wohl or Ronald Syme or Roberto Calasso, with complementary fictional forays in-between.

I'm finishing another one in the Martin Beck series

I've noticed your passion for crime fiction, specifically from these Swedish masters. I've never yet been able to conceive a similar taste for them, but I always enjoy reading your reviews.

*With the caveat that these titles may be substituted for others subject to Sastrean vacillation.

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