Monday, December 8, 2008
Lion of Jordan : The Life of King Hussein in War and Peace by Avi Shlaim
An Israeli intelligence report once described King Hussein of Jordan (1935-99) as a man trapped on a bridge burning at both ends, spanning a crocodile-infested river. Assuming the throne at 17, Hussein soon discovered that you can't please everyone all the time, especially when you are dealing with Israelis, Palestinians, the Arab world, Britain and America. Yet he displayed a remarkable ability to survive in this snakepit. Avi Shlaim's openly partisan portrait reveals a thoughtful man whose efforts to secure peace in the Middle East were constantly thwarted by American ignorance and Israeli duplicity. It's a detailed and informative diplomatic history that bears out Hussein's own observation that "The problems of the Arab world are almost always the fault of its leaders and politicians, not of the people." The survival of the Hashemite dynasty was the king's abiding obsession, says Shlaim, but for all Hussein's pragmatism it should not be forgotten that he was an absolute monarch, firing prime ministers at will and cancelling elections.