Home | Reviews | Blog | Daily | Glossary | Orrin's Stuff | Email

    Some men follow their dreams, some their instincts, some the beat of a private drummer.  I had a habit of following my wife.
        -Tony Horwitz, Baghdad Without a Map

Tony Horwitz has a pretty good shtick going; he follows his journalist wife (Geraldine Brooks) from assignment to assignment, across the globe, and then wangles freelance assignments in the new locale.  In the meantime, he's produced three excellent books set in these widely varied ports of call : One for the Road relates his adventures hitchhiking through the Australian Outback; Confederates in the Attic is a very amusing account of Civil War reenactors in the American South; and Baghdad Without a Map takes him through the Middle East in the year or so just prior to the 1991 Gulf War.

At a time when all of us are scurrying around trying to figure out what makes the Arab world so much different than the West, Horwitz is an excellent guide.  Whether listening to Egyptians denigrate Gulf Arabs ("The Gulfies had oil but they didn't have a civilization to rival that of Egyptians, who were tossing up pyramids five thousand years before the Gulfies moved out of goat-hair tents"); getting whacked on qat, the narcotic leaf that is the national passion of Yemen; or describing the oppressive atmosphere of Iraq--he compares entering Iraq to "walking through the gate of a maximum-security prison"--Horwitz always manages to both make us laugh and scare the bejeezus out of us.  His portrait of the region is one of unrelenting paranoia on the part of the Islamic world.  The title of the book refers to the fact that no maps are available in Iraq, because Saddam is afraid to share such basic geographic information with potential enemies (which, of course, includes everyone), and, if that's not enough, even the weather there is classified information.

All of this though is mere prelude to the fascinating, but frightening, closing section of the book, in which Mr. Horwitz and his wife travel to Iran to attend the funeral of the Ayatollah Khomeni, along with what may well, as he suggests, have been the largest crowd of people ever assembled in human history.  This event turned deadly, with literally millions of crazed mourners crushing each other, then devolved into bizarre spectacle, with the faithful tearing apart the dead imam's corpse.   But even here, with religious frenzy at its worst, Mr. Horwitz offers this nearly surreal exchange :

    One of the demonstrators peeled off to rest by the curb, and I edged over to ask him what the mourners were shouting.

    'Death to America,' he said.

    'Oh.' I reached for my notebook as self-protection and scribbled the Farsi transliteration : Margbar Omrika.

    'You are American?' he asked.

    'Yes. A journalist.'  I braced myself for a diatribe against the West and its arrogant trumpets.

    'I must ask you something,' the man said.  'Have you ever been to Disneyland?'

    'As a kid, yes.'

    The man nodded, thoughtfully stroking his beard.  'My brother lives in California and has written me about Disneyland,' he
    continued.  'It has always been my dream to go there and take my children on the tea-cup ride.'

    With that, he rejoined the marchers, raised his fist and yelled 'Death to America!' again.

This kind of great good humor and a genuine affection for the people he meets characterize Mr. Horwitz's writing throughout.  But, the overwhelming sense that he leaves the reader with is that Islam and its adherents face a wrenching restructuring of their closed, corrupt,  and sectarian societies, as they confront a modern world (whose defining features are freedom, pluralism, and openness) for which they are utterly unprepared.

Other recommended books by Tony Horwitz :
    -One for the Road : An Outback Adventure
    -Confederates in the Attic : Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War (1998)


Grade: (A)


Tony Horwitz Links:
    -BOOK SITE : Confederates in the Attic (Random House)
    -EXCERPT : Chapter One of Confederates in the Attic
    EXCERPT: from Blue Lattitudes
    -ESSAY : Battle Acts : The Civil War mania that has made weekend war games a national pastime. (Tony Horwitz, 2/16/98, New Yorker)
    -REVIEW : of Ecology of a Cracker Childhood By Janisse Ray (Tony Horwitz, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of APOCALYPSE PRETTY SOON Travels in End-Time America. By Alex Heard (Tony Horwitz, NY Times Book Review)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: Tony Horwitz: Blue Latitudes (Diane Rehm Show, October 1, 2002, NPR)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW : Tony Horwitz, author of "Confederates in the Attic" (Terry Gross on "Fresh Air," March 18, 1998)
    -INTERVIEW :  A Conversation with Tony Horwitz  . . . author of Confederates in the Attic (Random House)
    -INTERVIEW : Risky Business With Tony Horwitz:  Pulitzer Prize winner Tony Horwitz talks about America's obsession with the Civil War and how he finds great stories by taking chances.  (Dawn Simonds Ramirez, Writers' Digest)
    -PROFILE: Captain Cook's new mate: The British mariner was too modest for his own good. (Peter Fray, October 5 2002, Sydney Morning Herald)
    -INTERVIEW: Retracing the Voyages of Captain Cook (National Geographic News, October 1, 2002)
    -ESSAY : Damning Undercover Tactics as Fraud' : Can Reporters Lie About Who They Are? The Food Lion Jury Says No. (Russ Baker, March/April 1997, Columbia Journalism Review)
    -ARCHIVES : "tony horwitz" (Find Articles)
    -READING GROUP GUIDE : Confederates in the Attic (Random House)
    -REVIEW: of Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before by Tony Horwitz (Adrienne Miller, Esquire)
    -REVIEW: of Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before (Steven Martinovich, Enter Stage Right)
    -REVIEW : of Blue Latitudes (John McMurtrie, SF Chronicle)
    -REVIEW : of Blue Latitudes (Outside)
    -REVIEW : of Confederates in the Attic by Tony Horwitz (Roy Blount Jr., NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of Confederates (MARYANNE VOLLERS, Salon)
    -REVIEW : of Confederates  (William Porter, Denver Post)
    -REVIEW : of Confederates (Kurt Jensen, USA TODAY)
    -REVIEW : of Confederates (Tom Vincent, Charlotte Observer )
    -REVIEW : of Confederates (Peter Baniak for the Lexingon Herald Leader )
    -REVIEW : of Confederates (Thomas J. Brady for The Philadelphia Inquirer)
    -REVIEW : of Confederates (Patricia Holt , SF Chronicle)
    -REVIEW : of Confederates (Tracy Jones, Metro Pulse)
    -REVIEW : of Confederates (Austin Chronicle)
    -REVIEW : of Confederates (Catherine Clinton, Civil War History)
    -REVIEW : of Confederates (Kara Fitzgerald, Ace Weekly)
    -REVIEW : of Confederates (David Madden, Book Page)
    -REVIEW : of Confederates (Elisabeth Sherwin)
    -REVIEW : of Confederates in the Attic (Shawn Rider)
    -REVIEW : of New Gilded Age: The New Yorker Looks at the Culture of Affluence (Sandra Block, USA TODAY)

    -PROFILE : A wonderful year indeed : Former war correspondent Geraldine Brooks is shunning her old job like the plague after a triumphant crossover to fiction with a story about the Black Death (Susan Wyndham, September 1, 2001, Sydney Morning Herald)
    -REVIEW : of Year of Wonders (Alfred Hickling, The Guardian)

Book-related and General Links: