Guide to the blog and the books by Hugh Pope
This blog started with updates on the themes of my most recent book DINING WITH AL-QAEDA: Three Decades Exploring the Many Worlds of the Middle East, published in March 2010 by Thomas Dunne Books/St Martins Press. Now I use it to review other people’s books and talk about my personal impressions from Turkey and Middle East in general.
I started studying Persian and Arabic at Oxford University in the late 70s, and a decade later moved to what is now my home base in Istanbul, Turkey. During this time I have been deeply involved in and have reported from 30 countries in the broader Middle East. For 25 years I was a foreign correspondent for various newspapers including UPI, Reuters, the Independent and The Wall Street Journal. Since 2007, I have worked as the Turkey/Cyprus Project Director for International Crisis Group, the conflict prevention organization, specializing in reports on the triangle of disputes between Turkey, Cyprus and the European Union. My op-eds and other work for Crisis Group can be followed here.
My latest book Dining with al-Qaeda begins with my adventures as a wide-eyed student of Persian and Arabic literature and history, illustrates my growing understanding of the Middle East as a reporter, and then shows how frustrating it was to try explain those realities in media reports, particularly for American readers. Ranging from Istanbul to Islamabad and Khartoum to Kabul, Dining with al-Qaeda consists entirely of stories that happened to me, avoids didactic political theories and labels like “Islam”, “moderates” or “terror”, and aims to help bring down some of the wall of incomprehension that divides Westerners from Middle Easterners.
The Economist said Dining with al-Qaeda is “a very good book“. The Guardian in the UK said it’s “terrific“. Publishers’ Weekly called it a “fascinating memoir” with “exquisite photos”. Kirkus Reviews said the writing was “charming” and “a rich life’s work”. Booklist reckons many readers will “enjoy Pope’s bold curiosity.” On Amazon.com, Suzannah McGee said “anyone with any interest in the Middle East should read this.” In Le Monde diplomatique, French professor and expert on jihadism Jean-Pierre Filiu praised its “deceptively innocent humour” and the way it “searches out the dead angles of Western curiosity”. And a review by German Mideast insider Walter Posch counted it “among the handful of books that explain the road to the Arab Spring.”
Additionally, best-selling writer Tony Horwitz says it’s “darkly fun”; musician David Byrne thinks it’s a “great book”, and hopes people listen to its insights on the region; top US diplomat Morton Abramowitz calls it “a great learning experience”; Iranian-American writer Azadeh Moaveni paid it the compliment of being “a page turner”; Mariane Pearl, widow of my late colleague Danny Pearl, believes it “raises essential questions”; and one of my war correspondent heroes, Jonathan Randal, believes it will make a reader “laugh, cry and learn”.
Above is the original of the dust jacket author photo. It was taken in a U.S. Black Hawk helicopter over southern Iraq in 2003 by Thomas Foley, who, since life is full of strange twists and turns, is now the Republican candidate to be the next governor of the State of Connecticut.
A ten-minute podcast of me telling stories from Dining with al-Qaeda to my International Crisis Group colleague Kim Abbott is available here, and a second 15-minute podcast of me talking about the problems faced by reporters in the Middle East is here. For an original, five-minute video guerrilla-style interview about the book by social media guru Thomas Crampton, click here.
A full chronological listing of reviews and comments can be seen here. The musings section are offbeat pieces on themes from Dining with al-Qaeda that I’ve written for the blog – about films like ‘The Hurt Locker’, about Turkish restaurants, about flagellation, about anything really. The Mr. Q’s News is when I see the same problems I describe in the book resurface in today’s news coverage of the Middle East.
The book launch tour in the U.S. from 28th March to 4th April 2010 felt non-stop. In New York, I did talks on the book at Strand Book Store with Prof. Rashid Khalidi (Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia University) , at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, at the NY School of Visual Arts, for the 20:20 Network. I talked about the book with Brett Winterble at Covert Radio (here) and on NPR’s popular Leonard Lopate show (here). In Washington DC, a large crowd turned out at Politics & Prose bookshop (the talk was filmed by C-Span). I also discussed the show with Susan Glasser at Foreign Policy/New America Foundation (webcast on their new Middle East Channel here), and gave a book presentation at the Middle East Institute. I was also able to talk about the themes of the book with VOA’s Mohammed Elshinnawi, as well as on MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough Show, Kojo Nnamdi’s WAMU lunchtime talkshow, ABC-7’s Federal News with Philip Stewart, and Wolf Blitzer’s ‘Situation Room’ on CNN.
You can order Dining with al-Qaedaat Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, direct from the publisher here or from your local bookstore. The book is not yet published in the UK, but is available in Britain on amazon.co.uk, or bookstores like Daunt Books and the London Review Bookshop. (For review copies and more, Thomas Dunne/St Martins publicist is Joseph Rinaldi — his email is Joseph.Rinaldi[at] stmartins.com). In electronic media, the book is available in an Amazon Kindle edition here, or on an Audiobook CD read by American actor Paul Boehmer. Sony books has an electronic version downloadable here for $12.99.
A French translation of Dining with al-Qaeda was published in November 2012 by Presses de l’universite Laval, Quebec. World translation rights are held by Thomas Dunne/St Martins.
My previous book is called Sons of the Conquerors: The Rise of the Turkic World (Overlook, New York 2005), which follows my journeys in two dozen lands from Central Asia to West Virginia in search of the essence of Turkishness. It was an Economist magazine ‘book of the year’, and Foreign Affairs magazine listed it top of 20 titles it judged essential to read to understand Turkish politics. It has been translated into Turkish (Vatan Kitap, 2005) and Dutch (Atlas/Olympus 2006) and a French translation appeared in 2011 (Presses de l’univeriste Laval).
My first book is called Turkey Unveiled: A history of modern Turkey (John Murray/Overlook Duckworth, 1997-2004), and is a New York Times ‘notable book’. Co-authored with my first wife Nicole Pope, it has been translated into Turkish. The New York Times put the first chapter of the book on its website here.