The blog of Chicago-based freelance writer David Johnsen.
Sunday, April 26, 2009
Who Hates Whom
This informative yet amusing book by Bob Harris (Trebekistan), subtitled "Well-Armed Fanatics, Intractable Conflicts, and Various Things Blowing Up: A Woefully Incomplete Guide", provides a grand overview of trouble spots around the world. The author goes from continent to continent, describing wars and tenuous peaces. He does an admirable job of wading through and summarizing a lot of complicated ugliness. Americans need this information because our media ignore so much of it -- the author points out several events that we "missed" because they occurred on the day Anna Nicole Smith died, for example.

Although the subject matter is often grim (dictators, oppression, genocide), Harris injects humor here and there. I read this book aloud to my wife, and we particularly enjoyed this passage about Nicaragua:

In 1956, [Anastasio] Somoza was fatally shot by a poet, proving that the gun is mightier than the pen. One of Somoza's sons, also named Anastasio, became the new dictator. Nicaragua clearly needed more poets.
The plentiful maps (quite useful for such unfamiliar regions as Sri Lanka and Sierra Leone) strike a similar wry tone.

Incredibly, Harris manages to remain positive about humankind after all of this awfulness, concluding with an expression of hope. He points out that although war seems inevitable and never-ending, we really have evolved rapidly -- just 150 years ago, the U.S. had slavery, European nations had colonies, and women couldn't vote (by the way, those colonial days figure prominently in a lot of current conflicts).

I'd recommend Who Hates Whom to anyone who wants a general understanding of conflicts around the world. Though certainly not comprehensive (the subtitle admits that), this engaging, entertaining book is a good place to start.

Current tally: 35 books finished, 29 books acquired

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