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Legacy Of The Prophet by Anthony Shadid (thoughts)

March 19, 2012


Like the rest of the world, I was stunned to hear about journalist Anthony Shadid’s recent death. I read his excellent book on Iraq, Night Draws Near back in 2007, and his intelligence, compassion, and ability to capture the people he met all impressed me. I’ve kept an eye out for his byline since then, and I hoped he had another book in the works. It turns out he did, a memoir that has since been released early by the publishers (House of Stone, but he also had an earlier book on Middle Eastern politics. I could think of no other way to pay tribute than to read Legacy of the Prophet and blog about it, and after a short wait (I had to submit an interlibrary loan request), I had it ready to begin.

Out of curiosity, I first checked the copyright page; it turns out, Legacy of the Prophet was published just months before 2001. I can’t imagine how Shadid felt on that September 11th; he must have known that a lot of the reasons for optimism he wrote about were now in danger. Perhaps he winced at his characterisation of bin Laden and the mujahideen as increasingly marginalised players. Anyway, there was something quite bittersweet about reading this book with the hindsight of 2012; I couldn’t help but think of the second intifada, the Hamas/Lebanon-Israel war, the escalating tension between the US and Iran, the current violence in Syria, and of course the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan/Pakistan. So much has happened in a decade, much of it for the worse. That being said, there’s also the ‘Arab spring,’ and the grassroots move towards democracy that recently swept through the Middle East and Maghreb. And Legacy of the Prophet does an excellent job of describing the background to that kind of ‘home-grown’ Islamic democracy. It’s based on Shadid’s five years of living in Cairo during the late 90s and reporting on the area, and it wonderfully combines more personal interviews and stories and profiles with broader political analysis. Also, it was rather refreshing to read a book on Middle Eastern politics that didn’t have the 9/11 lens.

Unfortunately, I can’t go into much detail due to my typing limitations. But suffice it say that I found this book to contain more of Shadid’s excellent writing and fascinating political insights. Journalism, and all of us who depend upon journalism, have lost a good man. But his books live on. I urge you to pick up either this or Night Draws Near; I haven’t yet read House of Stone, but I’m willing to bet it’s also well worth a read.

(P.S.: when I was looking up this book’s publisher, Basic Books, for a link on my books read page, I found myself quite intrigued by its tagline: “Renowned publisher of serious nonfiction by leading intellectuals, scholars, and journalists.” So I did a search in my library, which yielded a ton of tempting titles! I managed to narrow it down to three, which you’ll see in my upcoming Library Loot, and which I hope I also enjoy. It’s also fun to find publishers with values similar to my reading ones.)

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. A Bookshelf Monstrosity permalink
    March 19, 2012 8:48 am

    As I read your post, I realized I’ve never read a non-fiction book concerning the Middle East written before 9/11. That is eye-opening! Added this book to my reading list.

    I love when a new-to-you publisher brings great new reads to light…

  2. March 19, 2012 10:55 am

    Great review. Yes, A Stone House is excellent, as I noted in my review. I know you will enjoy it. It doesn’t feel post-9-11, although of course it is. His understanding of the region goes back longer and deeper than that event, unlike so much that has been written since. Which was why I particularly liked A Stone House. And part of why I like Leila Ahmed’s writings.

    I have long been drawn to Basic books, for excellent books on the types of subjects I care about.

  3. Ash permalink
    March 19, 2012 12:51 pm

    Thanks to your lovely review, I’ve added this to my TBR. I haven’t forayed much into non-fiction of late but reading your reviews certainly helped me pick the best ones.

  4. boardinginmyforties permalink
    March 19, 2012 5:57 pm

    The world lost a great reporter/journalist/human being when he died. I’ll look out for this book. I’ve been meaning to read one of his old ones.

  5. March 19, 2012 11:46 pm

    I love love love Basic Books! I have quite a few of them on my shelf! :)

    This book sounds really great. Shadid is one of those authors I’ve always wanted to read and just haven’t gotten around to yet. I was shocked to hear about his death.

Thank you for commenting! For a long while, my health precluded me replying to everyone. Yet I missed the conversation, so I'm now making an effort to reply again. It might take a few days though, and there will be times when I simply can't. Regardless, I always read and value what you say.

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