The Middle East!
I have found the threat of al Qaeda and Islamo-fascist terrorism so frightening for the last 18 years that I tried to ignore the entire thing. But now I feel like it’s safe enough to read about it without having nightmares for six weeks, like when I read I Am Pilgrim. Those brave Kurds and Kurdesses have more or less got ISIS on the run and we can safely blow raspberries at the lot of them.
So I came out from behind the sofa and read Manhunt by the CNN journalist Peter Bergen, which is the most terrific romp through the hunt for and the capture of Bin Laden.
The book is at times reminiscent of Team America: World Police, but only in a genial, patriotic way. I took huge comfort from the pen-sketch of Bin Laden as faintly dotty rather than an evil genius and al-Qaeda as a sort of ridiculous Secret Club for Boys that just had too much money – like the Bullingdon gone really bad.
Anyway the detail was mesmerising and Bergen can really tell a story, which isn’t easy with the amount of primary sources he had access to. If you’re remotely interested, have a look. It’s gripping, reading it will make you feel clever and at times it is genuinely funny.
Finding myself suddenly an expert on the Middle East from the years 1991 – present, I turned for fun to My War Gone By: I Miss It So by Anthony Lloyd. Not least because I thought I ought to do him the solid of downloading his book, following his sensational scoop of finding poor old Shamima Begum in al-Hawl. And doubly for then admitting that it was sheer dumb luck.
The prologue is a long apology from Lloyd for what a total bellend he comes across as – (the book was written in 1997 but unpublished until 2015) – which is strange because in the prologue he sounds absolutely identical to the bellend in the general prose, in no way different in writing style or world outlook.
But it doesn’t matter; I adore bellends. Lloyd is exactly the sort of dashing twit I would fall for in a heartbeat and I was prepared to read the whole thing despite the ludicrous, keffiyeh-tossing sunset-gazing style.
But as it turns out, (it covers the Bosnian war and a bit of smack addiction), it was just too gruesome and graphic. I know what happens to women and children in wartime and I don’t want to read about it. Added to that, the Bosnian war was hellishly complicated, such a crazy scrap, it would take someone with a much better gift for explicatory storytelling – (anyone got Peter Bergen’s email?) – to unravel the whole mess. But even then I’m not sure I’d want to know.
Before I ditched the book, I did get to enjoy Lloyd’s solid diss of all war reporters as revolting death tourists. I’m sure it’s not true in all cases, (though I could point a few fingers), but still – always fun to read a good slagging-off.
Can you recommend book that, like Manhunt, captures and explains simply and effectively a complicated global topic, while remaining interesting? Please leave a recommendation in the handy comment box below.