cover image Faces of Lebanon: Sects, Wars, and Global Extensions

Faces of Lebanon: Sects, Wars, and Global Extensions

Rudolf Steiner, William Harris. Markus Wiener Publishers, $16.95 (0pp) ISBN 978-1-55876-116-2

If there's a gaping hole in your knowledge of the Middle East just north of Israel, Harris's straightforward, thorough guide to Lebanon will more than plug the gap. Harris, a visiting professor of Near Eastern studies at Princeton University, past faculty member of Haigazian University College in Beirut and author of Taking Root: Israeli Settlement in the West Bank, the Golan and Gaza-Sinai, 1967-1980, makes no attempt to hide his affection for the troubled country (his wife is a Shiite Muslim, and his family frequently visits Lebanon). Yet he presents a relatively unbiased overview of Lebanon since 1920, from geography and land squabbles to political leaders and their maneuverings. Harris manages to find a harmonious balance between the wry asides of taxi drivers and floating local tales (he lists one as ""perhaps apocryphal but illustrative of Beirut's nuances"" in his detailed Notes section) on the one hand and interviews with such luminaries as a former deputy director of Israeli military intelligence and the chairman of the Palestine National Council on the other. He is as cognizant of others' works as he is thorough: he skips over some specific incidents, he tells the reader, ""because there are detailed accounts... by other authors,"" then lists them. Especially engrossing, but all too infrequent, are the paragraphs in which Harris inserts himself into the action rather than acting as the responsible journalist and hanging back. It is only in his conclusion that the author really lets loose his anger about the troubles he has studied, observed and painstakingly recorded. (Sept.)