David Hirst has written a carefully documented, clearly argued and elegant book that deserves to become the standard reference work on Lebanon and its neighbours for years to come. That does not mean that all readers will like what they find; in fact, it will challenge many of their assumptions.
For Hirst, The Guardian’s veteran Middle East correspondent, Lebanon is not the region’s sideshow. Rather, this Wales-sized country is, in the words of his new book’s subtitle, ‘the battleground of the Middle East’. That battleground remains the site of one of the world’s most intractable and long-lived conflicts. It outlasted the Cold War by a generation and the end is not in sight.
The book’s title is an apt quotation from the nineteenth-century Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin. Were he still alive Bakunin might have added contemporary Lebanon to the Belgium and Latvia that prompted his remark, which Hirst describes as a warning about ‘diminutive polities peculiarly vulnerable to the machinations of