four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
35-July-Aug-2008
By: 
Robin Wright
user_rating: 
0

A-Dreams and ShadowsRobin Wright, an award-winning foreign affairs correspondent for the Washington Post, has covered conflicts in the Middle East for more than three decades and has written several books about the region and its politics, including Sacred Rage: The Wrath of Militant Islam (1985). Here, she shares her cautious optimism about the region’s future.

The Topic: For some Americans, "the Middle East" is more a collection of stories than a place—"the Iraq War" or "the Israeli-Palestinian conflict" or "militant Islam" or "the rising cost of oil." Wright helps us to regain our bearings by firmly grounding her contemporary tour of the region in specific countries, their political realities, and the groups of dreamers who are trying to change those realities. By telling the stories of groups as diverse as moderate Islamists, feminist reformers, and digital activists, Wright shows that each of the countries in the Middle East has its own kind of problems as well as its own potential movement for change. At the same time, Wright keeps in mind the grim realities that keep that change from happening—and the West from accepting it.
Penguin. 464 pages. $26.95. ISBN: 1594201110

Christian Science Monitor 4 of 5 Stars
"Absorbing accounts of brave activists are interwoven with relevant context and history in clear, vivid language. These elements make the book an engaging read, and a useful one for people who want to better understand this important part of the world." Carol Huang

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"Wright has long been one of the best-informed American journalists covering the Middle East, and her reputation is borne out here. She is refreshingly skeptical of conventional wisdom about what is happening in the region, and her book will be essential reading for anybody who wants to know where it is heading." Patrick Cockburn

St. Petersburg Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Overall, Dreams and Shadows: The Future of the Middle East is a resounding success. The introduction—in which Wright deftly encapsulates both the achievements of reformists and the challenges that remain—is worth the price of the book." Rayyan Al-Shawaf

Boston Globe 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Dreams and Shadows: The Future of the Middle East is a thought-provoking and eminently readable look at the current and future generation of leaders in that important, politically troubled region. … Her neglect of Israel is an unfortunate omission, given the current fights there about the country’s future direction." Claude R. Marx

Dallas Morning News 3.5 of 5 Stars
"In collapsing the complex histories of so many different people into an approachable whole, Ms. Wright occasionally glosses over important pieces of the story, such as the impact of Israeli occupation and military operations on Palestinian society and the Palestinian Authority. But in an America that is likely to be defined by our government’s Middle East policies for years to come, any voter interested in knowing why would be well-advised to pick up this vital book." Emily L. Hauser

Washington Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Readers sometimes complain that newspapers print only bad news. Well, Wright is in fact an optimist, and she has done her best to give the good news. … [But she] cannot conceal the truth that change is slow to come when it comes at all." Geoffrey Wheatcroft

Critical Summary

Plenty of books are published on the Middle East each year, but critics describe few as "optimistic" or "balanced." Wright earns such praise from nearly every reviewer. Even those who clearly disagree with some of her conclusions assert that Dreams and Shadows is one of the best recent books on the region and its struggles. The most common complaint is that Wright did not devote enough attention to a particular topic—from recent developments in Israel or Iraq to the influence of the international community. But those same reviewers still embrace an account that addresses the politics of seven individual nations (the Morocco chapter is outstanding) without getting bogged down in minutiae. No matter what their take, critics recommend Dreams and Shadows as a book that every informed citizen should read.