Book review: Insightful Middle Eastern journey through a changing region

In a Time of Monsters: Travels Through a Middle East in Revolt, by Emma Sky. (Supplied)
Updated 03 April 2019
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Book review: Insightful Middle Eastern journey through a changing region

BEIRUT: Brit Emma Sky fell in love with the Middle East from the moment she first set foot in the region aged 18.

On returning to the UK in September 2010 after serving in Iraq as political adviser to a top US general, the country no longer felt like home.

Perhaps it was no surprise that not long after, Sky found herself back in the Middle East travelling through a region in transition.

Her book “In a Time of Monsters: Travels Through a Middle East in Revolt” is one of the latest accounts of the aftermath of the Arab Spring, sparked on December 17, 2010, when Tunisian street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in protest over municipal authorities withdrawing his trading license.

The revolution that followed saw three strongmen ousted from power, Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia and Muammar Qaddafi in Libya. However, the social, economic and political reforms that people had hoped for did not happen, and the movement’s effects are still reverberating today.

Sky had always felt a warmth and sense of belonging in the Middle East that she found lacking in the West, and so she set out to make sense of the great upheavals taking place in the Arab world.

Between 2010 and 2016 she travelled across the Middle East and North Africa, from Syria to Iraq, Egypt to Sudan, and documented what she witnessed along the way. Embarking on risky and tough journeys to remote places, she has been compared to Gertrude Bell, the British political adviser who helped create the state of Iraq.

“In a Time of Monsters,” with its sharp insights, daring encounters and incisive writing, sheds light on “a region in transition during a time of changing world order.”

One of the most intense moments in the book features Jaber Al-Jaberi, an adviser to then Iraqi finance minister, Rafi Al-Issawi, asking why America had allowed Iraq to fall under the control of Iran.

Sky admits her inability to provide an answer at the time. In view of what is happening today, it is clear that Iran’s meddling in Iraqi politics added considerable weight to its designation by US President Donald Trump as a rogue state.


What We Are Reading Today: Jefferson’s Legal Commonplace Book by Thomas Jefferson

Updated 24 April 2019
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What We Are Reading Today: Jefferson’s Legal Commonplace Book by Thomas Jefferson

  • This authoritative volume is the first to contain the complete text of Jefferson’s notebook

As a law student and young lawyer in the 1760s, Thomas Jefferson began writing abstracts of English common law reports. Even after abandoning his law practice, he continued to rely on his legal commonplace book to document the legal, historical, and philosophical reading that helped shape his new role as a statesman. Indeed, he made entries in the notebook in preparation for his mission to France, as president of the US, and near the end of his life. 

This authoritative volume is the first to contain the complete text of Jefferson’s notebook, says a review on the Princeton University Press review. With more than 900 entries on such thinkers as Beccaria, Montesquieu, and Lord Kames, Jefferson’s Legal Commonplace Book is a fascinating chronicle of the evolution of Jefferson’s searching mind.

Unlike the only previous edition of Jefferson’s notebook, published in 1926, this edition features a verified text of Jefferson’s entries and full annotation, including essential information on the authors and books he documents. 

In addition, the volume includes a substantial introduction that places Jefferson’s text in a legal, historical and biographical context.