New York Times Book Review
March 3, 2008
It is one of the chief values of Dreams and Shadows, Robin Wright’s fluent and intelligent book about the future of the Middle East, that it is not solely concerned with the war in Iraq and its consequences. In describing the struggles of
people from Morocco to Iran to reform or replace existing regimes she draws on three decades of experience in covering the region for The Washington Post and
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. (Pdf of the review 214k)
New York Review of Books
May 15, 2008
If there is such a thing as a pinnacle in the landscape of international journalism, Robin Wright surely stands atop it. The Washington Post's chief diplomatic correspondent has braved thirty-five years of wars, crises, and famines, not to mention bureaucratic sniping in Washington, to illuminate the world's darker interstices. She has scored many scoops, captured a stack of awards, authored a half-dozen books, and accumulated a star-studded Rolodex that must be the envy of every hack within the Beltway...And when she sets her sights on a topic as weighty as the future of the Middle East, that most tiresomely troubling corner of the globe, it should be time for armchair analysts to take cover and policymakers to listen.
Wright's latest book, Dreams and Shadows: The Future of the Middle East delivers plenty of what one would expect from so experienced an observer. Roaming through Morocco, Egypt, Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Palestine, she recounts her impressions with wisdom, clarity, and a sharp critical eye.
Despite having lost several of her friends in the 1983 US Embassy bombing in Beirut, Wright (The Last Great Revolution: Turmoil and Transformation in Iran) is guardedly optimistic for the Middle East's future: "a generation [after the Beirut bombing], Islamic extremism is no longer the most important, interesting, or dynamic force in the Middle East." Her observations, of a "budding culture of change"-even, perhaps, a "renaissance"-are bolstered by platinum credentials; for more than 30 years, Wright has been covering the region for major American publications including The New York Times, Atlantic Monthly and Foreign Affairs. She illuminates her assessment with stories of the new "voices in the region" pushing for a more open, democratic society: activists, reformers, political leaders and ordinary citizens (like an Egyptian "middle-aged soccer mom" so outraged to learn of female government agents beating female demonstrators that she became an activist). Wright also tackles the big targets; though a staunch supporter of Israel, Wright sees the potential for reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah, in an effort to maintain democracy in Palestine, as a positive harbinger of change for the entire region. Further interviews, anecdotes, a crystalline sense of the area's multifarious history and a clear message-practical, progressive change requires "sorting out the past or at least trying to move beyond it"-make this a vital, compelling and surprisingly uplifting piece of reporting.
February 28, 2008
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… Wright's skills at old-fashioned shoe-leather reporting are very much in evidence as she mostly lets her sources speak for themselves… This kind of reporting-based analysis makes "Dreams and Shadows" a valuable addition to the bookshelf of those who want to get their arms around the political and religious conflicts that roil the Middle East. (Read the whole review.)
The Washington Post
March 16, 2008
Absorbing...A compelling narrative... Robin Wright's book ought to teach our rulers a thing or two, but they often seem quite unteachable. (Read the whole review.)
The New York Times
February 28, 2008
Few American journalists are as familiar with the Middle East as Robin Wright. Having first visited Iran in 1973, lived in Beirut in the 1980s and chronicled the region on repeated trips since then, she has a deep mix of on-the-ground knowledge, awareness of the historical background and step-back policy perspective.... Having interviewed and befriended some enormously brave people there who have been pushing for liberty and democracy, Ms. Wright decided a few years ago that enough signs of progress were emerging to merit a deeper look at the phenomenon…There is much to be gained from joining her on her trip. (Read the whole review.)
The New York Sun
March 21, 2008
This is a remarkable collection of subjects, notable particularly for their extraordinary physical courage. Ms. Wright inadvertently conveys an admirable (or perhaps insane) sangfroid in her account of traipsing alone through the slums of Beirut to see what the Hezbollah gunmen have to say for themselves. (Read the whole review.)
Christian Science Monitor
February 26, 2008
Wright's journalistic skills are on full display in these 400-plus pages. 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. The region's energetic reformists won't necessarily succeed, Wright warns. "A trend struggling for decades to take root has finally begun - and, I stress, only begun - to have impact.... When I started out on this latest journey, the region was full of dreams. As I finished it, serious shadows loomed in many places." These shadows are what usually dominate Western headlines: insurgents killing civilians in Iraq, Egypt's leaders manipulating election laws to stay in power, the Syrian regime jailing dissidents indefinitely. By drawing attention instead to the people who no longer want these forces to dominate their country, Wright provides a refreshingly different account of the region - even though hers is a cautious optimism at best. (Read the whole review here.)
Readers interested in a broader perspective on conflict in the Middle East will appreciate Wright's absorbing, insightful book.
December 15, 2007
An astute assessment of the state of the Middle East, by a longtime reporter and observer of the scene.
Washington Post foreign-policy correspondent Wright brings some good tidings from the region: “In the early twenty-first century,” she writes, “a budding culture of change is...imaginatively challenging the status quo—and even the extremists.” Some members of this culture—they've been called the “pyjamahedeen”—blog, write letters to the editor, protest on the street; others exercise subtle resistance, as with the Iranian women who wear their headscarves “precariously at the crown of the head to expose as much of a beautifully coifed hairdo as possible without falling off.” Whatever their form of protest, these men and women face much danger as ignorers of fatwas and potential heretics. Wright travels widely across the region to seek out these agents of change, though her profiles often concern those whom they are fighting. One militant, for instance, set the tone of decrying the supposed licentiousness of Western women half a century ago—his acolytes today press the charge, even as their female compatriots flock to see Hollywood movies and dress in Western fashions. That does not dissuade the true believers. As Wright notes, they're still busily seeking to transcend the Arabic world with an Islamic superstate, a caliphate that will rule the whole of humankind—once they settle such pesky problems as whether Sunni or Shia Islam is to prevail, drive America out of Iraq and force women to don the veil. Despite them, and despite the overwhelming view that America will be defeated in Iraq, there is even better news. Wright reports that “the majority of the people in the Middle East still [want] the kind of political change that has swept the rest of the world over the past quarter century.”
A fine set of dispatches from the front.
San Francisco Chronicle
March 27, 2008
(Wright's) reporting does what good reporting should do: It describes, interpreting only where necessary, stopping short of heavy-handed opinion.
April 6, 2008
Arguably America's foremost Middle East journalist, Washington Post correspondent Robin Wright returns with an ambitious investigation of change in the world's most volatile region. 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. This book brims with rousing stories of dedicated individuals struggling against overwhelming odds. (Read the whole review.)