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Bob Harris – Who Hates Whom: Well-Armed Fanatics, Intractable Conflicts, and Various Things Blowing Up: A Woefully Incomplete Guide

November 16, 2009

135. Who Hates Whom: Well-Armed Fanatics, Intractable Conflicts, and Various Things Blowing Up: A Woefully Incomplete Guide by Bob Harris (2007)

Length: 218 pages

Genre: Non-Fiction

Started: 04 November 2009
Finished: 07 November 2009

Where did it come from? The library.
Why do I have it? I read Harris’s first book, Prisoner of Trebekistan, several years ago and thought it was wonderful, hilarious, and surprisingly moving, so he’s got carte blanche now.

Well, I know for sure
where I’m not going on my
next big vacation.

Summary: Who Hates Whom is essentially a Cliff Notes guide to current events. Ever hear about some conflict on the news and can’t remember which side is which, who’s giving money and arms to whom, and what they’re fighting over/about anyways? This is the book for you. Each of the world’s current conflict hotspots gets a list of the main factions fighting; a map showing the area with factions, resources, bombings, religious tensions, pirates, and other relevant features clearly marked; and a short (5-10 page) write-up in which Harris gives the relevant history and explains the current state of each conflict.

“A more accurate title might have been Who’s Currently Blowing Up Whom, or Did Recently, or Is Probably About To, but the cover isn’t big enough, and too many people might miss the fourth word.” (p. 2)

Review: I am not a huge news-reader; it would not be an exaggeration to say that I get more of my current events knowledge from NPR’s Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me than I probably should. (It used to be The Daily Show, but I no longer have cable TV.) So, while this is not my ordinary kind of book, I am perhaps one of its target audience. And Harris does a very good job of presenting global politics at a level that even the chronically-underinformed like me can appreciate. Not only is he clear, concise, and informative, but he’s also funny as heck, and manages to inject some much-needed humor – and a surprising amount of hope – in amongst the death tolls and lists of atrocities. Even the maps manage to have a sense of black humor to them: in the chapter on Haiti, Haiti is in white, and the Dominican Republic and Cuba are in grey – colors which, as the legend informs us, indicate “areas where the Spanish never found giant assloads of gold” and “countries that still have trees”, respectively.

Another example: “Along the way, Al-Bashir has also abolished Sudan’s parliment and named himself prime minister, president, chief of state, and defense minister. I haven’t checked, but he’s probably also the sole judge and winner of each year’s Sudanese Idol.” (p. 66)

This isn’t exactly your average coffee-table book, but it would be an excellent reference, and I think it would work best as something that was dipped into on occasion. Reading it straight through in large chunks got pretty depressing, not to mention that the various rebel groups in all start to blend together (not a lot of creative naming power, there.) On that same tip, this book could really have used an index; as it is, if you see a news report about the Revolutionary United Front blowing something up somewhere and want more information, you’re just going to have to thumb through until you see the right acronym. But, overall, while it wasn’t the kind of book that had me dying to dive back in and read more, it did a very nice job at its stated purpose: providing an accessible and entertaining layman’s guide to wars around the world. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: I can see a news buff really enjoying this, but even for those who aren’t big into current events, it’s a pretty painless and interesting way to get up-to-speed.

One last bit that made me laugh: “Up rose a nationalist party called the Plaid Cymru, which involves nothing plaid. Incomprehensibility has been Wales’s main weapon ever since. (Cymru means “Wales,” and you are about to mispronounce it badly. Really. The Welsh alphabet doesn’t care what you think. Take your best shot.) [. . .] Cymru, finally, is pronounced “Kum-ree.” Told you. The Welsh name for the UK is Teyrnas Unedig Prydain Fawr a Goledd Iwerddon. You can pronounce this correctly by gargling a Styrofoam ball while hitting your neck with a mallet.” (p. 191-2)

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Links:Bob Harris’s Website/Blog
– One of Harris’s videos (unrelated to this book) that makes me giggle like an idiot every time I watch it: Some Contestants Also Receive

Other Reviews: Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: Visiting a museum in Turkey, I once stumbled across the oldest surviving peace treaty, inscribed in clay more than three thousand years ago.

Cover Thoughts: I wouldn’t pick it off the shelf based on its cover alone, but I’ve got no real problems with it, either.

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • p. 90: “The Organisation of African Unity (OAU) and the UN brokered a truce in 1991, with a plebiscite slated for 1992.” – a direct vote of the qualified voters of a state in regard to some important public question, often to do with autonomy or affiliation.
    .
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5 Comments leave one →
  1. November 16, 2009 9:30 am

    Love the title. I feel like it would have been a great temptation to call it “Who Hates Who” just because of the palindrome, and I applaud the author’s dedication to grammar. :P I am actually really interested in current events, but there are only so many hours in a day, and I can’t keep track of all the countries and what they are up to. Thanks for the review – adding this one to the list!

  2. November 18, 2009 6:16 pm

    I tend to get the big news stories from various places online. I never could sit through the actual news on TV.

    • November 20, 2009 9:24 am

      Ladytink – Oh, for sure, no TV news for me. My news is mostly gotten online, or occasionally from NPR or from skimming a newspaper someone else has bought.

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