Review: The Great War for Civilisation by Robert Fisk

This huge volume always used to catch my eye in the Readers Feast Bookstore in Melbourne CBD (got to know that it has now relocated due to slowing down of business). I used to wonder what this book must be about but hesitated to pick it up for I had formed an impression that such huge books have unnecessary details for a casual history reader. That opinion has long been shredded, no longer do I not read huge books but on the contrary get attracted to them, and finally casual is an adjective which is not anymore associated with my history readings. So before buying it, I thought of reading its reviews on Amazon back in 2007. They were encouraging and one fine day, probably a Thursday or Friday, I went to the basement store and bought it and tugged it along to the office in the summery afternoon. I started reading it only a couple of months later.

It begins with the author’s meeting with Osama bin laden. And that set the tone. A man who has met Osama twice must be an important and big man. How on earth can someone be otherwise? And what a master story teller Fisk is. In fact I found lot of similarities in the writing styles of Attenborough and Fisk. They both kept me engaged to the hilt. By the way this is not a history refresher book. It follows a zig-zag path and is an intricate firsthand account of many important events in the Middle East. I use the title Middle East rather than West Asia because the title mentions so. Innumerable personal accounts make you wonder about the life of a journalist. Incidents which make your hair stand abound in the narration; when he is almost killed on the border of Iraq, if I remember correctly; when his hotel is shelled in Kabul.

This masterpiece deserves a couple of more reads, not because I couldn’t understand but only because of its richness. The sad state of affairs for the people caught in the wars of Middle East is reflected in Fisk’s careful and deliberate analysis. This book is less about history and more about the events that make history. Read it if you care to know what lies beneath the jingoistic newspaper headlines, and what goes behind making them.

Robert Fisk lives in Beirut, Lebanon.