by David Hirst
(New York: Nation Books, 2010), 489 pages
Reviewed by Nir Boms
In choosing the title of his book Beware of Small States, David Hirst harks back to the words of Mikhail Bakunin, the Russian anarchist who in 1870 wrote to a friend about the European wars. Small states, Bakunin wrote, are “particularly vulnerable to the machinations of greater ones,” but “they are also a source of trouble to their tormentors” (p. 2). This is, in a nutshell, the tragic story of Lebanon, the “small state of the Middle East” that is described elsewhere as “other people’s battle ground” (p. 117).
This is an impressive work that showcases its author’s well-honed journalistic skills. Hirst, a former Middle East Correspondent for The Guardian, lived in Lebanon for almost fifty years and reported extensively on the region. He was kidnapped twice, and expelled from half a dozen Arab countries because of his work. In this thick and thorough account—that he boldly calls a “definitive history of Lebanon”—Hirst offers a detailed narrative of this battleground that is arranged in chronological order and supported by copious footnotes. It is both a good read for the general public as well as a sourcebook for serious students of the Middle East. Continue reading