Tony Horwitz is one of my favorite writers, probably my favorite nonfiction writer, and his Baghdad without a Map and Other Misadventures in Arabia did not disappoint. Written prior to our Persian Gulf War, it is a collection of interwoven essays about his travels around the Middle East as a freelancer while his journalist wife (the Geraldine Brooks) was working as a correspondent.
When I first started reading I didn’t realize the time period of the book and at points he refers to the Gulf War. It took me a moment to realize that he was talking about the other Gulf War, the Iran-Iraq War. It is especially ironic to read about Iraq’s close relationship with the US during this war.
Throughout the book you can see the signs of the coming disastrous relations. In the epilogue, when he discusses our Gulf War with Iraq, he mentions Iraqi soldiers surrendering “to an unmanned U.S. drone plane–a sort of airborne robot.” Considering the ubiquitousness of drones in our news now, you can definitely see how much things have changed.
My only criticism is that you can tell it is one of his early works. While his trademark humor and storytelling abilities are evident, the chapters aren’t as polished or as researched as his other works. But still, it is worth a read, especially to get a snapshot of life in these countries and our relations with the Middle East in the early 1990s.
In contrast, The Way of the Knife by Mark Mazzetti examines our secret wars through our ongoing use of drones. Primarily he is looking at how the CIA and the Defense Department have begun switching roles–the CIA has increased target killings, despite restrictions by the Ford administration, and the Defense Department has begun developing spying efforts.
I enjoyed this book because it gets into the tension between the bureaucracies and the group think tendencies within the Department of Defense and the CIA. That part is really fascinating. The difficulty is that his book isn’t quite chronological and it can be confusing to follow. I would have rather had a more historical approach for such a complicated story.
In addition, he maintains a journalist’s remove throughout, which is good for getting several sides to the story, but can be dissatisfying to read, especially when you can tell that he has a viewpoint. I wish that in the epilogue he had given his perspective on this controversial issue.
Horwitz will make you laugh while Mazzetti will certainly not (unless you are sadistic), but both provide interesting perspective on a critical region for the United States.