Sunday, May 8, 2016

And Then All Hell Broke Loose. By Richard Engel.

Richard Engel is the Chief Foreign Correspondent for NBC News. He earned this position by covering various conflicts in the Middle East over the last 20 years. This book is a record of that coverage along with political histories describing events that led up to each flashpoint. Since it was just released on February 9, 2016, its observations are fairly current.

The conflicts reported by Richard Engel have been among the most important of our time: the Palestinian-Israeli deadlock, the post-9/11 War in Iraq, Arab Spring and the rise of ISIS. Engel’s interviews are numerous and varied. He spoke with political leaders on both sides of each conflagration, and civilians caught-up in the struggles. As a result, his perspective is free of patriotic jingoism or western one-sidedness. He understands the grievances of the people in the Middle East, why they fight, and what they wish to achieve.

As with any reporter’s account, a reader must be aware of the author’s self-promotion. Most correspondents do not write simply to inform. Television reporting is as much acting as it is journalism.  Motivations of media personalities are a complex blend of aspirations. They may wish to inform; but they also want to acquire fame and improved employment in their field. Engel is no different. His stories are full of bravado, but he knows his audience is composed on non-fiction readers. So the bravado is intentionally off-hand and muted. You won’t read any bathos-laden scenes where the cub reporter says “I have to go through the hell of enemy fire so that the public gets the story,” while an alarmed bureau chief cries “No! Don’t do it! Its suicide!” Instead, this reporter says things like “Whenever we thought we had a way in, our editors back in New York thought it wasn’t safe enough” (Engel, p. 164) and “Not a lot of hands went up when I asked who was game for the trip” (Engel, p. 158). Engel’s references to his gambling winnings will leave one with the impression that James Bond had switched to journalism. To be fair, the situations were dangerous. Reporting under fire was how the author became Chief Foreign Correspondent. The audience will witness scenes of immense destruction and loss of life. Just don’t expect Engel to be self-effacing in his descriptions.

And Then All Hell Broke Loose is a useful, colorful account of Mid-East chronology and current issues. While the history it offers is a tad simplistic, and the focus on action a bit distracting, one will finish this book with a fair synopsis that is up-to-date. Engel’s twenty years of living and working in that violent storm have not resulted in an inability to see beyond the whirlwind. He offers cogent explanations of occurrences that have led us to where we are now. He depicts the present with unvarnished realism. A reader seeking to round-out their understanding of this strife-ridden area would benefit from his version of where it stands in 2016.

Engel, Richard. And Then All Hell Broke Loose. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2016.