Reading up on gulf conflict

Wiley A. Hall 3rd

January 24, 1991|By Wiley A. Hall 3rd

In area book stores, the hottest book on the Persian Gulf crisis right now appears to be "The Rape of Kuwait," a newly published paperback by Jean P. Sassan.

"We had a waiting list for it before we even put it on the shelves," said Nancy Russell, the book manager at Greetings and Readings bookstore near Towson.

"We just received 50 copies and we've already sold them all. We're expecting more in any day now."

The author interviewed refugees in England, Saudi Arabia and other places to receive firsthand accounts of Iraqi's invasion of Kuwait as well as details of the Iraqi occupation. "Rape of Kuwait" was published only a few weeks ago.

"I'm not sure what makes that particular book so popular" said Sara Hill, manager of B. Dalton's Booksellers in Owings Mills. "It sold out so quickly that I never really got a chance to look at it. It is a paperback. It has a good cover, with a picture of Saddam Hussein on the cover. And maybe it's the title. Maybe that's what people picture Hussein doing."

The Persian Gulf war apparently has inspired a lot of people to go out and learn more about what's going on over there -- which is heartening news when you think about it. Even newspapers report a surge in circulation.

Of course, we have to be realistic: A tidal wave of readers is not the same as a tidal wave of television viewers, or movie goers, or video game players. Everything is relative.

But it is good to know that some people-- maybe we can even say "many" people, relatively speaking-- take their responsibility to be informed seriously.

Not everyone, it appears, is content to rely on radio talk shows to form their opinions. I don't know about you, but I was getting worried.

"There is always a surge in interest in response to whatever's going on in the news," said Debora Kick, buyer for Gordon Books, "but this one has been much more visible than anything I can remember.

"It started with the invasion in August," Kick continued, "and has remained pretty consistent since then. And publishers are rushing books into print in response."

And it's not just books on the subject. Local bookstores report a run on maps, world globes, American flags, even yellow ribbons.

After much soul-searching about taste and propriety, Greetings and Readings decided to bring in T-shirts and sweat shirts expressing support for the war effort, although they have rejected anything humorous or offensive.

Other book stores report increased demands for a wide range of Middle East-related books, including the Holy Koran.

"The Rape of Kuwait" may be one of the hottest books on the crisis, but it is not necessarily the one Middle East experts or even book sellers, recommend.

"The best introductory study, the one I use in all of my classes, is 'From Beruit to Jerusalem' by Thomas Friedman," said Robert Freedman, a professor of international politics and Middle Eastern studies at Baltimore Hebrew University. He added that Friedman's book makes for good bedtime reading.

"It is very, very impressive, written by a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist." Freedman said. "It gives you a good feel for what makes the Arabs tick, what makes the Lebanese and the Israelis and all the other players in that region tick, and it is written by a guy who seems sympathetic to both sides.

"I would even recommend it as an introduction over my own book ['The Middle East from Iran Contra to the Intifada']," Freedman continued, "and you know that is hard for a scholar to do." Freedman, by the way, recommended his own book.

At Johns Hopkins University, Ashraf Ghani, a professor of anthropology, immediately chose, "The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the Middle East and North Africa" as the definitive reference book.

Fred Marks, manager of the New Era Bookstore on Park Avenue, recommended several books that he said would provide good background to the problems in the Middle East.

Desmond Stewart's 1982 book, 'The Palestinians, Victims of Expediency', Marks said, would help people understand issues from the Palestinian point of view.

Other book sellers note that "Saddam Hussein and the Crisis in the Gulf", by Judith Miller and Laurie Mylorie has just made the New York Times bestseller list. Published last October, the book was written by a New York Times reporter and a Harvard professor.

Of course, reading a couple of books at bedtime isn't going to make anyone an instant expert.

But -- and read this very, very carefully -- those radio talk shows offer a whole lot less.

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