“Highly readable and informative” – Library Journal Review
I guess the title Dining with al-Qaeda was always going to attract attention, at least that was the idea! But as the Library Journal reviewer cited below says, it might make some people that I was going to give an inside scoop on terrorist mechanics or perhaps even a good recipe or two (thus competing with the new book ‘Tea with Hezbollah’ or another volume with the inviting subtitle, ‘Recipes from the Axis of Evil’).
I even had a reader from Canada write in and say he’d taken Dining with al-Qaeda off the shelf because he was a foodie, but that when he discovered its real ingredients he began enjoying it anyway.
I settled on the title because of the core chapter in which I meet a missionary from an al-Qaeda camp in Afghanistan where the Saudi hijackers of 9/11 trained, and secondly, because a major theme of the book is a personal look at what gives rise to Islamist extremism in the Middle East and why anyone there would want to join such a group.
I actually wanted to call the book ‘Mr. Q, I Love You’, but everyone told me that was too vague to give any message to anyone (it’s the title of the first chapter instead, describing the scene in an Aleppo brothel when I learned that my name Hugh is often pronounced Q in Arabic-speaking countries). Then it was ‘Eating Chinese with al-Qaeda’, but my former Journal colleague Andy Higgins, now of the Washington Post, persuaded me that would make it sound like a handbook for cannibals. So it became ‘Eating Out with al-Qaeda.’ Then my theater director daughter Vanessa Pope declared that it could only be ‘Dining with al-Qaeda’, and that was that.
As intended, lots of people have said the title does seize their attention — and so far two have told me they bought the last copy in a bookshop. However that, I suppose, is what every author wants to believe.
Review by Library Journal Review
Pope (former staff correspondent, Wall Street Journal; Turkey Unveiled) is an Oxford-educated scholar who has worked and lived in the Middle East. Using a storytelling style and avoiding theoretical cliches and confusing jargon, he presents everyday life in the Middle East to general readers, introducing the nuances of Middle East culture, politics, and society in the first few chapters of the book. He then delves into a detailed description of his own travels and explorations in key parts of the Middle East. He also discusses the process of state formation and the rise and persistence of authoritarian dictatorships in parts of the region as well as the broader issues of effective governance there. The final five chapters cover Iraq, both during Saddam Hussein’s regime and after the U.S. invasion and occupation. Ultimately, the choice of title is perplexing: with the exception of a brief talk Pope had with an al Qaeda operative in Afghanistan, this book has nothing explicitly to do with al Qaeda. VERDICT This is a highly readable and informative book, recommended for interested general readers so long as they understand that it has a misleading title.-Nader Entessar, Univ. of South Alabama, Mobile Copyright 2010 Reed Business Information.