What We Are Reading Today: State of Repression — Iraq Under Saddam Hussein

Updated 13 July 2018
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What We Are Reading Today: State of Repression — Iraq Under Saddam Hussein

  • In her book in State of Repression, Lisa Blaydes challenges this belief by showing that the country’s breakdown was far from inevitable.  

How did Iraq become one of the most repressive dictatorships of the late twentieth century? The conventional wisdom about Iraq’s modern political history is that the country was doomed by its diverse social fabric. But in State of Repression, Lisa Blaydes challenges this belief by showing that the country’s breakdown was far from inevitable.  

Drawing on archival material captured from the headquarters of Saddam Hussein’s ruling Ba’th Party in the wake of the 2003 US invasion, Blaydes illuminates the complexities of political life in Iraq, including why certain Iraqis chose to collaborate with the regime while others worked to undermine it, says a review on the Princeton University Press website.

She demonstrates that, despite the Ba’thist regime’s pretensions to political hegemony, its frequent reliance on collective punishment of various groups reinforced and cemented identity divisions.

At the same time, a series of costly external shocks to the economy—resulting from fluctuations in oil prices and Iraq’s war with Iran—weakened the capacity of the regime to monitor, co-opt, coerce, and control factions of Iraqi society.

In addition to calling into question the common story of modern Iraqi politics, State of Repression offers a new explanation of why and how dictators repress their people in ways that can inadvertently strengthen regime opponents.


What We Are Reading Today: Chaucer: A European Life by Marion Turner

Updated 20 March 2019
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What We Are Reading Today: Chaucer: A European Life by Marion Turner

  • Marion Turner reconstructs in unprecedented detail the cosmopolitan world of Chaucer’s adventurous life

More than any other canonical English writer, Geoffrey Chaucer lived and worked at the center of political life—yet his poems are anything but conventional. Edgy, complicated, and often dark, they reflect a conflicted world, and their astonishing diversity and innovative language earned Chaucer renown as the father of English literature. Marion Turner, however, reveals him as a great European writer and thinker. To understand his accomplishment, she reconstructs in unprecedented detail the cosmopolitan world of Chaucer’s adventurous life, focusing on the places and spaces that fired his imagination, according to a review on the Princeton University Press website. 

Uncovering important new information about Chaucer’s travels, private life, and the early circulation of his writings, this innovative biography documents a series of vivid episodes, moving from the commercial wharves of London to the frescoed chapels of Florence and the kingdom of Navarre, where Christians, Muslims, and Jews lived side by side. The narrative recounts Chaucer’s experiences as a prisoner of war in France, as a father visiting his daughter’s nunnery, as a member of a chaotic Parliament, and as a diplomat in Milan, where he encountered the writings of Dante and Boccaccio. The book also offers a comprehensive exploration of Chaucer’s writings.