What We Are Reading Today: Pity the Nation by Robert Fisk

Updated 01 May 2018

What We Are Reading Today: Pity the Nation by Robert Fisk

  • The book is about the civil war that ravaged Lebanon, a country splintered by factions, bedevilled by betrayal from within and without
  • Author Robert Fisk, an award-winning foreign correspondent, not only reported on the conflict, he lived through it

As Lebanon holds its first elections for a decade, the civil war that ravaged the country from 1975 to 1990 is far from forgotten.

Fisk, an award-winning foreign correspondent, not only reported on it, he lived through it, so this account of that conflict is not simply a historical and political analysis by a detached, scholarly observer.

Context is given but this is history recorded as it happened by a reporter who not only finds many witnesses but also was a witness himself.

This is a tale of a country splintered by factions, bedevilled by betrayal from within and without and by the West’s limitless ability to ignore what it finds inconvenient or does not wish to know.

By definition, it is a personal testament of the savagery of those 15 years.

Some have criticized the author for putting too much of himself in it, accusing him of self-aggrandizement.

But despite its faults (and it does have them) it has become a classic of its genre and is widely regarded as required reading for anyone wanting to understand the Middle East — especially if you are not from the Middle East.

The title is from the poem of the same name by the Lebanese-American writer Khalil Gibran (1883-1931), who is revered in Lebanon.

As a title for a war memoir, it could not be more apt. 


What We Are Reading Today: The Outlaw Ocean by Ian Urbina

Updated 16 September 2019

What We Are Reading Today: The Outlaw Ocean by Ian Urbina

The Outlaw Ocean represents a four-year project, built on a series of deeply reported features for The New York Times that brought Ian Urbina from the Antarctic to Somalia — but most of it takes place in the impenetrable vastness of the high seas, a region that begins 13 miles from shore. 

Each chapter tells a different story, in locations ranging from the City of Lights, a glowing patch of the Atlantic where hundreds of poachers shine light into the water to catch squid, to unmarked pirate ships and even cruise ships, which Urbina calls “a kind of gentrification of the ocean,” said Blair Braverman in a review for The Times. 

He said: “There is no clear solution to the ocean’s problems because our entire world — our economic system, our geography — is the cause. I’d always assumed the greatest threat to the ocean was the greed of the rich, but in fact it’s the desperation of the poor, which is, of course, the flip side of the same coin.” 

Braverman added: “As long as there is desperation, there will be exploitation. And people, good and bad, will always be able to use the ocean to disappear.”