5. Baghdad Without A Map by Tony Horowitz
Such a good, interesting book. Baghdad Without A Map is the best kind of summer book reading, and the absolute best travel book, particularly about the Middle East and North Africa. So many books about the Middle East rely on terrible stereotypes, generalizations, and are written by mostly uninformed dilletantes. I’ve read a lot of these types of books, and have been to a few countries in the MENA – enough to know these books are grossly exaggerating the charms of living in the Middle East, but don’t explain the real reason the region draws you in – the weird, strange, amazing people, the hospitality, the great adventures you can have, so different from life in America.
Each chapter is about a different country, with a few doubled sections, and they tell different short stories about the author’s experiences throughout the region. Horowitz is aware of his ignorance and writes in a way that allows the reader to discover the region as he learns more about it. The chapter about chewing qat in Yemen is one of my favorites, and the one where he drives into backwoods Yemen to investigate buying huge tanks and machine guns is also pretty terrifying, hilarious, and interesting. Horowitz’s description of Cairo is amazingly accurate, and seriously, I don’t think I’ve ever read something that conveys the energy, dirt, sheer number of people and really, how lively the city is, even at 2AM.
Horowitz reported on conflicts in Lebanon, Libya, the Gulf, Iran and Iraq, and his stories about these countries are also interspersed throughout the book – it’s nicely balanced between absurd stories about paying an Egyptian man to take you on a sinking boat ride or chewing so much Qat you can’t feel your face, to heavier stories about going into Beirut by boat as shells fall in the water around you, or seeing bodies piled everywhere during the Gulf war.
This is such a terrible review of such a great book. I’m not sure what to say, except that anyone who has ever been to the Middle East or wants to go there, or knows someone who has been there and wants to know why they keep going back (or need a break) should read this. Everyone should read this book. Instead of handing your parents another dull memoir of ‘traveling in the Middle East’ which orientalizes and exoticizes the region, give them Baghdad Without a Map. It’s entertaining, thought provoking, informed, self-aware, and by far one of the best (and most entertaining) books I’ve read on the region.