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Most historians would have us believe that the twenty-first century began in 1989, with the fall of the Berlin Wall. But the world we live in today and the problems that plague it can actually be traced back a decade earlier. 1979 was the year that the postwar order evaporated, reshaping the international system and making way for a new era of global history. Christian Car Most historians would have us believe that the twenty-first century began in 1989, with the fall of the Berlin Wall. But the world we live in today and the problems that plague it can actually be traced back a decade earlier. 1979 was the year that the postwar order evaporated, reshaping the international system and making way for a new era of global history. Christian Caryl discusses each of the year's five major counterrevolutions in turn, weaving together the dramatic stories into a paradigm-shifting revision of our recent history. The result is a startling new argument about the hinge on which the twentieth century turned.


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Most historians would have us believe that the twenty-first century began in 1989, with the fall of the Berlin Wall. But the world we live in today and the problems that plague it can actually be traced back a decade earlier. 1979 was the year that the postwar order evaporated, reshaping the international system and making way for a new era of global history. Christian Car Most historians would have us believe that the twenty-first century began in 1989, with the fall of the Berlin Wall. But the world we live in today and the problems that plague it can actually be traced back a decade earlier. 1979 was the year that the postwar order evaporated, reshaping the international system and making way for a new era of global history. Christian Caryl discusses each of the year's five major counterrevolutions in turn, weaving together the dramatic stories into a paradigm-shifting revision of our recent history. The result is a startling new argument about the hinge on which the twentieth century turned.

30 review for Strange Rebels: 1979 and the Birth of the 21st Century

  1. 4 out of 5

    Laurie Anderson

    Fascinating look at a few trends in modern history (chiefly Communism, capitalism, and the rise of Islamic extremists) seen through the lens of the year 1979 and four political leaders: Margaret Thatcher, Ayatollah Khomeini, Deng Xiaoping, and Pope John Paul II. While the author's tone seemed to lean to the right a bit, his ability to give concise histories of these four and then trace how their decisions changed our world was impressive and very much appreciated. This is not light reading; I of Fascinating look at a few trends in modern history (chiefly Communism, capitalism, and the rise of Islamic extremists) seen through the lens of the year 1979 and four political leaders: Margaret Thatcher, Ayatollah Khomeini, Deng Xiaoping, and Pope John Paul II. While the author's tone seemed to lean to the right a bit, his ability to give concise histories of these four and then trace how their decisions changed our world was impressive and very much appreciated. This is not light reading; I often found myself re-reading paragraphs until I could ferret out the crucial details. But it was well worth the effort.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Nils

    Caryl's narrative history focuses on the pivotal year of 1979, skillfully wending back and forth between five different locales where history turned on a diamond hinge: China, where Deng Xiaoping took political power and decisive action in favor of economic liberalization; Afghanistan, where a Marxist coup collapsed, precipitating a hamfisted Soviet attempt at repression and the rise of a jihadist islamism; Poland, where the advent of a crusading young Pope inspired an uprising against Communism Caryl's narrative history focuses on the pivotal year of 1979, skillfully wending back and forth between five different locales where history turned on a diamond hinge: China, where Deng Xiaoping took political power and decisive action in favor of economic liberalization; Afghanistan, where a Marxist coup collapsed, precipitating a hamfisted Soviet attempt at repression and the rise of a jihadist islamism; Poland, where the advent of a crusading young Pope inspired an uprising against Communism in the name of human rights; Iran, where the collapse of the Shah's legitimacy opened the door to Ruhollah Khomenei's imposition of a Shia theocracy; and Great Britain, where Margaret Thatcher's election heralded the end of the postwar consensus in favor of state- and union-based collective control over the commanding heights of the British economy. The strength of the book resides in its balancing of an account which shows the deep and unique structural fissures that were in play in each country that were all but forcing crucial changes, on the one hand, against stories that emphasize the great importance of individual actors in determining the particular way that these tensions resolved themselves. In each case, Caryl makes clear, things could have turned out very differently had different decisions been made by the leaders in question. Two central points become clear on reading this account, even though Caryl himself is never quite explicit about either point. The first is that the thread interlinking all five of these crises is the ideological collapse of the idea (or perhaps ideal) of socialist modernity—that is, of the idea that the goal of politics is to achieve material prosperity and that collectivist models of political economy represent the best way to achieve that end. By focusing on these five cases and their divergent responses to what comes "after" socialist modernism, Caryl implicitly undermines the simplistic narrative that casts the 1970s as nothing more than the birth time of "neoliberalism." Yes, neoliberalism was one possible response (the one arrived at in Britain), but in these other cases different choices were made. In Afghanistan and Iran, the rejection was of modernism as such, in favor of making the purpose of statecraft to enforce an invigorated (or arguably invented) set of religious traditions. In China, on the other hand, Deng was committed not to rejecting but to realizing sociotechnical modernity, and aimed to do so by moving decisively away from collectivism in favor of economic flexibility and openness, while retaining an unwavering commitment to the primacy of the Communist Party as China's political lodestone. Poland, by contrast, went precisely the opposite direction, rejecting the Communist Party (rightly seen as a foreign imposition) in favor of civil society institutions, again in the name of realizing rather than rejecting modernity. (Poland's turn towards economic (neo)liberalization would only come much later, in the 1990s, when Jeffrey Sachs and his IMF confreres decided to make the Polish people the subject of a mass "shock therapy" experiment unbounded by human subjects limitations -- policies unimagined by either the Pope or Solidarity in 1979-80.) The second key point the follows implicitly from Caryl's narrative of the diverse ways that various socialisms were collapsing in 1979 is that the end of the Cold War was not decided in Washington or Moscow. Although it is a work of journalistic rather that academic history, Strange Rebels in this respect exemplifies the recent globalist turn in international history, which has tended to question the causal primacy of the Great Powers and traditional diplomatic leaders in shaping world historical outcomes. Though Caryl never says so, the metahistorical point that he makes is that Reagan deserves credit for the end of the Cold War in the same way that the rooster deserves credit for the coming of daybreak. Indeed, Reagan's role in Caryl's narrative is almost non-existent, cast as a minor follower of Thatcher. Caryl's selection of key episodes ignores other events of this year that might have complicated the narrative. Why not also focus on the dramatic events in 1979 in Nicaragua, where the Sandanistas took power from a terrible forty year right wing dictatorship? Or Vietnam's invasion of Cambodia that same year, which put an end to the Khmer Rouge's genocide? Or on Cuba's adventures in Angola? Such stories, which were just as dramatic in their moment as the ones Caryl chose, would have complicated the picture of 1979 as the year that socialism died. What this latter point suggests is that it is not quite so simple to find "the seeds of our times" in the dramatic events across the periphery in 1979. Yes, it's true that the various forms of post-socialist utopianisms that are dominant in our own time did come to dramatic form in that year, it is also true that these alternatives were not yet sure to emerge as the keystones to the geopolitics of the early 21st century. For that to happen, it took the even more dramatic events of 1989-1991, as Caryl himself acknowledges by having the last five chapters of the book address revise this period in each of these countries. For it was in this crucial moment that the possibilities embedded in the events of 1979 found themselves consolidated. In Afghanistan, Communists continued to rule through the 1980s, and it was only the departure of the Soviet Union in 1989 that led in due course to the collapse of heir puppets and the ascension of the Taliban, providing a hinterland for global jihadis. In Poland, likewise, Solidarity appeared to have been repressed, as a military dictatorship under Jaruzelski held sway through the 1980s; only the collapse of the Soviet Union made possible he shock therapy that would ensure the inability of Communism ever to return. In China the decisive moment in favor of economic liberalization under continued CCP hegemony was only settled in the Tienanmen bloodbath in 1989. In Iran, it was only with the death of Khomenei (on the very same night as the Tienanmen massacre) that would reveal that the Iranian Revolution had succeeded in institutionalizing its form of Shiite theocracy. Indeed, it was only in Britain where the neoliberal die cast in 1979 can be said to have been definitively consolidated prior to the 1990s. None of this is to dispute Caryl's identification of 1979 as a decisive turning point in history, an argument that he makes in wonderful, fluent prose. Rather, it is to say that he seedlings that first emerged in different sites in 1979 only really flowered after 1989, when the indubitable institutional collapse of the Soviet alternative to democratic capitalism prompted Fukuyama to declare the end of history. Throughout the 1980s, Thatcher and her sympathizers had declared that There Is No Alternative, but this claim had found plenty of dispute among western intellectuals who could continue to point to "actually existing socialism" as an "actually existing" alternative. What Caryl shows, however, is that while the collapse of the Soviet alternative in 1989 led to the perception in the West that Thatcher had been prophetic and Fukuyama was right, elsewhere in the world the end of the Soviet antinomian alternative cleared the field to allow other forms of radical alterity to emerge in full flower without rival.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Marks54

    This is an ambitious book that argues for 1979 as a critical year in which several important trends of the 21st century first became apparent. It is a story of five separate events that all happened during that year with consequences that changes the world. The events are - in no particular order - 1) the election of Margaret Thatcher to be the British Prime Minister; the election of John Paul II to the papacy; 3) the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan; the Iranian revolution of Khomeini; and 5) the This is an ambitious book that argues for 1979 as a critical year in which several important trends of the 21st century first became apparent. It is a story of five separate events that all happened during that year with consequences that changes the world. The events are - in no particular order - 1) the election of Margaret Thatcher to be the British Prime Minister; the election of John Paul II to the papacy; 3) the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan; the Iranian revolution of Khomeini; and 5) the return to power and introduction of market reforms in China by Deng Xiaop ing. The book proceeds by relating the context and background of each event, followed by the details, followed by the consequences. The narratives of each event are interwoven with those of the other events, with particular chapters focusing on one event or another. So it is sort of like a focused biography of the year 1979. OK, I admit it, it is an interesting premise for a book. The general line of the book's argument is that these events are best seen as reactions to dominant trends in the world of the 20th century and especially the world after WWII. Thatcher's victory and subsequent actions were a reaction against the welfare state. Deng's economic reforms were a reaction against decades of totalitarian chaos and economic stagnation under Mao. Pope John Paul was a reaction against the prior noninvolvement of the Catholic Church in world politics and a particular reaction against the stagnation of communism in Poland - since the Pope was Polish. The Iranian revolution was a reaction against both the modernizing development economics of the Shah and against the materialism and secularism of the West and Imperialism, as imposed on Iran by its ruler and his Western patrons. The invasion of Afghanistan was prompted by similar trends in Afghanistan and was a reaction by the Soviet Union to perceived threats to its empire and geopolitical position. The reaction to this invasion further galvanized militant Islam in the world and helped spawn global terrorism, especially by Bin Laden, who launched the 9/11/2001 attacks on the US from Afghanistan. The punchline of the book is to not discount the importance of reaction and counter-revolution, which can become real revolutions themselves. What to think about this? I enjoyed the book immensely and think Caryl was largely successful. Each case is fairly well documented, although all of these stories are very involved. None of the accounts in the book are definitive, but they are rich enough. The author is excellent at providing just enough detail and context to make this valuable even if you have read a lot about these events. The book made me think about 1979 much more than I did during the year itself, and it is interesting to juxtapose these different events and compare and contrast them. I personally did not remember 1979 fondly -- bad job, no money, student debts, etc. I also remember walking by the various "death to the shah" protests in DC at the time and viewed them more as a nuisance than a matter of world historical importance. Limitations? Sure. This is largely a journalistic account and the big meta questions are raised rather than answered. These five story lines are all important and defensible, although the Afghan story is the weakest of the five in terms of how it fits with the other story. I wish the author had tried some more engaged thinking about what this all means. I can do that myself, however, so it is not a big problem. It is interesting what was not included. 1979 was the year in which Saddam Hussein came to power in Iraq. Why leave him out? If 1980 had been chosen, then Reagan's election would have figured in with on impact on several of these lines of activity. These are minor issues, however. Throughout much of the book, I was wondering how the author would handle issues of individual agency (role of "great individuals") as compared with longer term issues of context and history. Caryl does not overdo the importance of individuals, although a few are especially important (Thatcher, John Paul II, Deng, Khomeini). It is harder to see how individuals dominated the Afghan situation, which appears to have been a mess forever. It is reassuring that the author is not pushing a philosophy of history here, but a more limited line of how events can occur and interact in ways that have lasting consequences. Some readers may feel dissatisfied with the limited accounts, but that is OK. For example, the story of Deng here will likely spur me to go back to Vogel's excellent (and huge) recent bio. Overall, this was a fine book.

  4. 4 out of 5

    C Manuel Contente

    This definitely has sparked an interest in reading more about Margaret Thatcher. This is a very insightful book and Caryl is quite the wordsmith; however, it can get a little tedious and tiresome, at points.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Kevin Kazokas

    "Strange Rebels" is a good read, not a great read. Author Christian Caryl focuses on 1979 as a year of dramatic awakening, a volatile and pivotal historical nexus at which point traditional values became reborn and were melded both into new experimental systems of governance and new political ideologies. Caryl persuasively argues the effects of this transformative year still ripple within the tributaries of today's interconnected world. But his examination of the factors that led up to and were "Strange Rebels" is a good read, not a great read. Author Christian Caryl focuses on 1979 as a year of dramatic awakening, a volatile and pivotal historical nexus at which point traditional values became reborn and were melded both into new experimental systems of governance and new political ideologies. Caryl persuasively argues the effects of this transformative year still ripple within the tributaries of today's interconnected world. But his examination of the factors that led up to and were integral to 1979 as a year of change fails to connect the year's many divergent events into a cohesive thesis. Caryl explores the earthshaking events of 1979 through five disparate nonfictional narratives. He endows each narrative with a convincing protagonist. So we see how Margaret Thatcher managed to divest an entire welfare state of consensus thought and impact British values and politics for decades to come. We learn how Ayatollah Khomeini exploited the myriad of divisions among the Iranian religious and secularists to his advantage in forging an entirely new, almost mystical based theocracy with borrowed socialist elements. We see how China managed to meld a market economy with authoritarian rule under the discerning guidance of Deng Xiaoping. We come to understand how Pope John Paul II captured the hearts and sensibilities of Eastern European Catholics, long forgotten by the church and who became awakened and inspired by his election and visit to Poland in 1979 -- so much so that they dismantled the Iron Curtain not with ironclad force but with near silent resistance. And we discovered the mysteries that divide the people of Afghanistan yet had them incongruously united in staving off Soviet occupation in the late 1970s and 1980s. Yet as intriguing and profound as these events were, Caryl fails to demonstrate their connectedness. He posits that all of these events were led by these titanic counterrevolutionary historical protagonists. But he never sews the connecting thread. Granted there are parallels. For example, he effectively shows how free-market thought came to prominence both in Britain and in China thanks to events of 1979. And he also relates the mythical ethos that can sometimes dominate politics across segments of society, as evidenced in the Iranian revolution as well as in the jihadi resistance in Afghanistan and concessions made by Communist rulers as the Cold War waned in Poland. Despite traces of commonalities, Caryl fails to deliver a convincing overarching thesis. While there's certainly merit to his characterization of his protagonists as true counterrevolutionaries and agents of change, the reader seeking unifying traits or principles would be left searching. It seems these topics, these figures, may have been explored better if chunked out into two or three separate works. There's certainly enough detail and intrigue among their scenarios and personalities to substantiate deeper exploration. But jumping seemingly haphazardly from one's story to another loosens the powerful grip these figures should hold in the reader's mind and in the historical consciousness.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Cora

    (Not for the first time, there was a longer version of this that got lost when Chrome crashed. Stupid Chrome.) STRANGE REBELS is based on an interesting idea: that 1979 marked a turning point from a more left-leaning political culture in the world (marked by Communism, social democracy in Europe, and New Deal liberalism in the United States) to a more right-leaning system marked by market reforms, globalization and the rise of political religion (particularly in the Middle East). Caryl makes his (Not for the first time, there was a longer version of this that got lost when Chrome crashed. Stupid Chrome.) STRANGE REBELS is based on an interesting idea: that 1979 marked a turning point from a more left-leaning political culture in the world (marked by Communism, social democracy in Europe, and New Deal liberalism in the United States) to a more right-leaning system marked by market reforms, globalization and the rise of political religion (particularly in the Middle East). Caryl makes his case by telling five parallel stories: the selection of John Paul II and the impact of his first papal visit to Poland; the Iranian Revolution; the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan; the election of Margaret Thatcher; and Deng Xiaopeng's market reforms in China. I should say that this is a classic instance of history written by a journalist, by which I mean, it is strong on narrative and light on analysis (which is shoved into a breezy epilogue). I found Caryl's individual accounts very interesting (although I did not have a lot of prior knowledge), and I thought that Caryl was a careful and insightful storyteller. He is particularly strong on the stories in Afghanistan and Iran, which lended themselves more naturally to a narrative approach. The series of betrayals and poor judgment calls that eventually prompted the Soviets to invade Afghanistan was darkly compelling; as was the account of roads not taken in Iran. I also felt sometimes as if there was an obvious question that he wasn't answering: why 1979? Why were market reforms appealing to Chinese elites and English elites at the same time? Caryl is very good at explaining the wide variety of beliefs that fell under the rubric of Islamist in Iran and Afghanistan, but he doesn't explain why political Islam should have been so appealing at that point. This is particularly striking when you consider that political Christianity was on the ascendance in the United States at around the same time. This raises something else that's striking. STRANGE REBELS seems to be obviously geared to an American audience (as things are often explained with analogies to current American politics), and yet there isn't even a chapter to tell the story of developments in the United States that parallel the stories that Caryl is telling elsewhere. The tax revolt took place in 1978; Carter embraced monaterism at around the same time, alienating liberal critics; and the Moral Majority was founded in 1979, signaling the rise of the Religious Right. This is an old hobby horse of mine, but it bothers me when American history is considered in isolation (crediting Barry Goldwater with the rise of conservatism, for example) when arguably larger forces played a role that Americans don't consider. I think the bottom line is that this felt like a introduction to the various stories that Caryl wants to tell. I enjoyed it, because I needed an introduction, but I don't know how it would play for somebody who already had a grounding in the subject matter.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    I'd really prefer to give this book 3.5 stars really because of the journalistic style and because he offers too much detail about some events but really raises lots of unanswered questions about why all these economical, social, and political conditions aligned to make the events of 1979 occur. I am old enough to recall the events but not quite old enough to have followed the politics and economics of the time so the book was great at filling in gaps for me. The author outlined 5 major world ev I'd really prefer to give this book 3.5 stars really because of the journalistic style and because he offers too much detail about some events but really raises lots of unanswered questions about why all these economical, social, and political conditions aligned to make the events of 1979 occur. I am old enough to recall the events but not quite old enough to have followed the politics and economics of the time so the book was great at filling in gaps for me. The author outlined 5 major world events that occurred as reactions to what were current conditions. He presented: 1) Margaret thatcher's election as the British Prime Minister, 2) Pope JP2's selection, 3) the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and resulting Islamic uprising, 4) Khomeini's Iranian revolution, and 5) Deng Xiaoping's move to introduce market reforms in China. He reminded me that market and religious forces were in effect throughout the world in reaction to social democracy and had the effect of reversing progress in many ways. I don't know why he excluded Regan as a story. It is otherwise thorough in accounts but his thesis isn't very well followed through after an excellent prologue.

  8. 4 out of 5

    MBJ

    Tucked away in the Diwang Mansion skyscraper in the city of Shenzhen is a wax sculpture of Margaret Thatcher and Deng Xiaoping sipping tea while engaged in groundbreaking negotiations regarding the future of Hong Kong and the New Territories. The legacy of these figures goes well beyond the historic event frozen here in time. Both were devout advocates of market economies who swam upstream against the tide of accepted economic policy, Thatcher in a socialist arena, and Deng in a communist one. T Tucked away in the Diwang Mansion skyscraper in the city of Shenzhen is a wax sculpture of Margaret Thatcher and Deng Xiaoping sipping tea while engaged in groundbreaking negotiations regarding the future of Hong Kong and the New Territories. The legacy of these figures goes well beyond the historic event frozen here in time. Both were devout advocates of market economies who swam upstream against the tide of accepted economic policy, Thatcher in a socialist arena, and Deng in a communist one. This is only one of the splendid juxtapositions of events and personalities that we discover in Strange Rebels. The year 1979 is one of perhaps many dates that could be singled out as the fulcrum for examining events leading up to and shaping the new millennium. But Christian Caryl's choice of this year is a particularly appropriate one. He convincingly argues that revolutionary forces of a social, political, and economic nature boiled over in that year with a ferocity that is still being felt in the second decade of the 21st-century. It was in 1979 when the most powerful monarch on earth, the Shah of Iran, was toppled from on high by Ayatollah Khomeini and the Islamic revolutionaries of whom Khomeini was the visionary leader. For years this exiled Islamic cleric, a devout and brilliant man, watched patiently from the wings as Western values invaded and transformed Iran. As a critic of the Shah, Khomeini taught that Islam and politics were inseparable, a concept too radical even for many of his fellow clerics. But in response to the policies of the Western-backed dictator blinded to the importance of traditional values, Khomeini was inexorably swept to the top of a new and unprecedented theocratic regime. Religious fervor took a different tack in Poland, where John Paul II in the same year delivered symbolic messages of the Catholic faith from behind the Iron Curtain, messages that subliminally galvanized hope that Soviet authority might someday be thwarted. Soviet officials stood by dumbfounded as the unflappable Pope appealed to crowds to turn inward and search for their own individuality and spirituality. This message flew in the face of a regime that had always sought to tamp down the passions of religion in favor of devotion to a faithless State. Ten years after his historic visit to Poland, John Paul II's voice still resonated as the Berlin wall came tumbling down, and along with it, the Soviet empire. Meantime in England, a more subtle form of revolution was unfolding. Margaret Thatcher had railed for years against the socialist nature of England's government, embraced not only by the Labour Party, but, to her dismay, by her own Conservative party. In 1979 came her opportunity to move forward: following the massive labor strikes of the so-called Winter of Discontent, and with little political support from her own party, Thatcher forced a no-confidence vote which brought down the Labour government. As the new and improbable Prime Minister, Thatcher proceeded with single-minded determination to dramatically alter England's course. Rejecting Keynesian economics of government largesse that had dominated British policy since World War II, she introduced with unyielding tenacity policies of monetarism, turning the wheels of England's sclerotic economy and transforming it once again into a humming financial powerhouse. Although many of her opponents have focused on what may have been other shortcomings of her tenure as Prime Minister, Thatcher shook the status quo to its foundations and ushered in a new era of prosperity and stature. In China, the Work Conference and the Third Plenum of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, held in December 1978, launched China on a pivotal trajectory towards world superpower status. Those who had previously trembled under the omnipotent and paranoid hand of Mao Zedong quickly yielded to the iron will of Deng Xiaoping when he astonishingly dared to expose flaws of the Cultural Revolution, particularly with respect to economic policy. He opined, amongst other things, that some inequality of wealth was necessary to lift hundreds of millions of Chinese people out of poverty. Such a declaration would have been heresy resulting in quick execution when Chairman Mao was still at the helm. Indeed, in an astonishingly short period of time, Deng's prophesy has come to pass. But by far the most violent revolution examined in Strange Rebels exploded in Afghanistan, where even a stunned Soviet Union was thrown off guard by the sudden communist overthrow of the government and the execution of its President. Thus began the bloody civil war amongst Afghan communists, Islamist mujahideen, and numerous tribal factions. The Soviet Union thrust itself into this quagmire in 1979. This previously sleepy and backwater country suddenly became the chessboard of superpowers, and remained so for over 30 years. The author injects his own personal sense of nostalgia for the simple and carefree days that preceded the earth-shattering events of late 1970's when Afghanistan began its descent into complete social and political chaos. Parallels and contrasts abound in Strange Rebels. On one hand, we witness examples of strong leadership bringing about dramatic changes in the course of history. Whether or not one agrees with the outcomes in their respective spheres of influence, Margaret Thatcher, John Paul II, Deng Xiaoping and Ayatollah Khomeini were all visionaries who participated in monumental changes. The outlier presented by Mr. Caryl is the case of Afghanistan. It was the complete void of leadership that allowed chaos to unfold in this hornet's nest with continuing catastrophic consequences for that country, its people and the region. As Mr. Caryl points out, "The only certain thing is that political and economic trends do not travel in straight lines." How true this is with events and the larger-than-life figures whom he identifies as the strange rebels of 1979. Take, for example, the role that religion played in shaping political events of that era. In Iran and Eastern Europe, religion was a central theme that significantly set the stage for the new millennium. Quite to the contrary, despite Deng Xiaoping's reformist agenda, neither he nor subsequent party leaders in China ever lost sight of the impact that John Paul's II's message delivered behind the Iron Curtain had in the downfall of the Soviet regime. Looking back on the first decade and a half of the 21st-century, the underlying premise of Mr. Caryl's book holds true. Well into this century, the powerful and transformative events of 1979 still hold sway. Me. Caryl's is a well written and very readable account of momentous forces, events and, yes, strange rebels that helped shape the dawning of this millennium.

  9. 5 out of 5

    CaldoHendo

    In the Islamic calendar, in the year we in the west would know as 1979, the figure of Mahdi is supposed to make himself known and rid the world of injustice. Needless to say this didn’t happen, although as Christian Caryl investigates in his book Strange Rebels, something of huge significance still took place within the Islamic world in the 1970s. In the west, 1989 is generally considered to be the most important year in the second half of the twentieth century, what with the fall of the Berlin In the Islamic calendar, in the year we in the west would know as 1979, the figure of Mahdi is supposed to make himself known and rid the world of injustice. Needless to say this didn’t happen, although as Christian Caryl investigates in his book Strange Rebels, something of huge significance still took place within the Islamic world in the 1970s. In the west, 1989 is generally considered to be the most important year in the second half of the twentieth century, what with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse and unquestionable death of Communism as a credible ideology. But 1979 saw the birth of a new threat, one that is arguably more dangerous than even the most destructive Soviet missile in the dark days of the Cold War. 1979 was the year in which an elderly scholar by the name of Ruhollah Khomeini, incensed at the sight of young men and women laughing and enjoying one another’s company on the streets of his country, took it upon himself to overthrow the Shah of Iran and establish the world’s first Islamic republic. Khomeini once said that he’d kill his own children were they to break Islamic law, which tells you quite a lot about him. He also took the view that the Shah, installed by a US-backed coup in the 1950s, was a secret Jew intent on destroying Iranian culture and tradition by deviously allowing women the right to vote, drink, and sleep with unmarried men. Caryl is right to devote most of his lengthy book to examining the Iranian uprising, as it was a part of a wider revolution taking place throughout the Islamic world. Something in the religious mind-set seems to have snapped: no longer would the view that west was best and that Islam was backward and toxic be accepted. Scholars such as Ari Sharitati had studied Islamic history and saw it in revolutionary potential, believing Abu Zarr, a companion of the Prophet Muhammed, to be the world’s first champion of the oppressed. This view was shared by many other religious intellectuals in the same era, including Hussein al-Banna, founder of the Muslin Brotherhood, and Abul Ala Mawdudi, a Pakistani who popularised the notion of the ‘Islamic State’, where the word of the Quran was law. To bring such a country about, the existing order would have to be destroyed through jihad, a holy war. Here Caryl draws interesting parallels with that other great failed revolution, the Bolshevik uprising of 1917. Like Lenin, Khomeini and his followers decided that fundamentalism in belief and brutality in action was the only way forward. This rather intense combination had the effect of toxifying many within post-revolution Iranian society. Thus when President Jimmy Carter reluctantly allowed the deposed Shah to enter the US for medical treatment in October 1979, Iranian students had the gall to storm the US embassy in Tehran and begin a hostage crisis that was to go on for 444 days. Khomeini may not have actually known the students had planned such a stunt, but the ayatollah, always praised for being ‘above politics’ by his devotees, used the hostage crisis to humiliate the west and silence his own internal critics, much in the same way Lenin had done when he ordered troops to dissolve the constituent assembly in 1918. But this book is not just about Iran. This newly hostile Islamic force, argues Caryl, was the strength behind the resistance to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979. This foolish decision, made by the elderly generals in charge of the U.S.S.R in order to prop up a crumbling puppet regime, began a violent and pointless war which was to last for ten gruelling years, as the Afghan mujahedeen, despite the odds they faced, were firmly of the belief that their religion was superior to Communist ideology. The Soviets found an equally tough and relentless opponent in the form of the Polish trade union movement Solidarity, a non-violent and democratic movement Caryl argues was inspired by Pope John Paul II’s visit to Poland in the summer of 1979. By subtly yet unmistakably spreading the message of change, the Pope instilled a much-needed sense of confidence in his home country’s people, who realised, when they turned out in their millions to watch the pontiff pass through their neighbourhoods, that their greatest strength was their numbers. The same could not be said for China, another country Caryl examines, which, much like Russia, may be a vast and multitudinous nation but has long been controlled by a tiny coterie of men. Change, as the Buddha nearly said, would have to come from the top. Deng Xiaoping may have been an ally of Chairman Mao’s but he was smart enough to realise that windy delusions about ‘permanent revolution’ were no match for the changes that could be brought about by eliminating stuffy bureaucracy and over-centralisation. I kept thinking, reading this book, that the chapters on Margaret Thatcher’s Britain were out of place next to grim passages detailing the birth Iranian theocracy, although the changes Britain and China endured at the end of the 1970s were in some way analogous. Both Thatcher and Deng lifted economic restrictions and enhanced and expanded their country’s markets, with impressive results. But it is there that the similarities end: China is still one of the world’s most controlled societies. Despite its size, Deng mastered the balance between a vibrant economic and an arid and unaccountable government, a situation which remains in place today. If the narrative of this book sometimes seems a little schizophrenic, it is because the author is going to great lengths to prove his thesis: that 1979 was the year of the counter-revolution, when emboldened reactionary forces challenged what they believed to be a discredited status quo. Generally, he is convincing although I would hesitate to lump Thatcherism in with the likes of Khomeini. Margaret Thatcher, her many faults aside, improved and re-energised British society, just as Deng did to a certain extent with China. Khomeini, on the other hand, although he may have succeeded in establishing a theocratic dictatorship, suffocated Iranian civilisation, in much the same way the proponents of today’s ‘Islamic State’ wish to do. This book would have worked just as well had it discarded the discussions of the economic revolutions in China and Britain and the political one in Poland, instead solely on the mutation that took place within Islam at the end of the 1970s, the consequences of which were are dealing with today. Strange Rebels is worth reading for this reason alone: to better understand what motivates the jihadi, and understand and accept the important fact that he is not merely the invention of western foreign policy mistakes, but is the product of a wicked ideology with which no compromise or collusion can be made.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Martin

    This is an excellent book that explains how our world became what it is. I grew up in the Eighties, and looking back on that decade, I’m always struck by the outsized personalities who populated the political world at time (or perhaps they just seem larger than life because of their portrayals by puppets in “Spitting Image”). The titular rebels are among those tremendous figures: Margaret Thatcher, Ayatollah Khomeini, Deng Xiaoping, and Pope John Paul II. The book focuses heavily on the first th This is an excellent book that explains how our world became what it is. I grew up in the Eighties, and looking back on that decade, I’m always struck by the outsized personalities who populated the political world at time (or perhaps they just seem larger than life because of their portrayals by puppets in “Spitting Image”). The titular rebels are among those tremendous figures: Margaret Thatcher, Ayatollah Khomeini, Deng Xiaoping, and Pope John Paul II. The book focuses heavily on the first three, and gives somewhat rounded accounts of their actions and what made them tick. The Pope’s story here is mostly about his contribution to Poland’s Solidarity movement. There is a fifth story as well, one greater than the Pope’s, about Afghanistan’s history of modernization and civil war, leading up to the Soviet war. However, there is no central figure upon which to hang this narrative, unlike the other four, whom he constructs as outsiders formerly relegated to the sidelines, coming from backgrounds that did not preordain their eventual rises to power. The author posits that there was a huge shift to the right after at least a hundred years of increasing social justice and social tolerance (meaning liberal views about social issues, not to be confused with racial/ethnic tolerance, which is not a trend we would associate with the 20th century), and increasing government intervention (the author skews right, but yeah, whatever), coinciding with the western world’s accumulating wealth, reaping the fruits of industrial labor and then passing said fruits back down to the laborers who could then buy homes, send their children to college, etc. The leftward drift of societies reached its limitation at the end of the 1960s with various social movements imploding and the general stagnation of industry, which is what the author says can lift people out of poverty. In the U.S. we tend to look upon the 1970s as a time when the dust was allowed to settle on societal rifts, proponents of certain liberal ideals were discredited (not to discount Nixon’s temporary blight upon his own party), and in less developed parts of the world certain modernizing or revolutionary impulses were seen as ineffectual. In particular, Afghanistan’s goals with the communist revolution of 1978 bore little resemblance to the society it was supposed to change, had few resources to educate the rural poor, so, following the example of the Soviets’ brute force, they sent teachers out to villages equipped without books, and they ultimately took to haranguing locals for their backward ways, especially the segregation of women, whom the communists wanted to enfranchise. Ultimately, a variety of tribes rose up all over the country to oppose the regime, both what it stood for and how it was being administered. The USSR’s investment in its Afghan war made it impossible to roll into Warsaw the way it had with Hungary and Czechoslovakia in previous decades, and gradually the Cold War ended. I do not believe it happened quite as simply as portrayed in this book, but it’s nice to connect the dots nonetheless. This is where Pope John Paul comes in, but he is not examined in depth, the focus is more on the consequences of his actions rather than the contradictions in his character. The author explained very clearly how/why Iran’s Islamist Revolution happened, and describes to the best of his ability the Ayatollah Khomeini, who seems like a person impossible to know anyway. The author view Margaret Thatcher quite favorably and explains the theoretical underpinnings of her policies, while also saying she was not incredibly academic and did not necessarily have all of this theory in her head. He sums up her beef as this: public companies had no incentive to run more efficiently as they could always come to the government for more aid, which fueled upward prices and spiraling inflation, and states that when she broke the unions she was dissolving a second government that 99 percent of the voters had no hand in electing. The author makes sure to point out that she did not go after entitlements such as the National Health. I hate to admit, but with this European meltdown of the past ten years, Thatcher’s policies have been vindicated to some degree. But I will still roll my eyes when leaders of other countries invoke Thatcherism as their solution, because it will probably not work as well as it did for Britain, and for a variety of reasons. Deng Xiaoping is portrayed as the guy who got China back on track after the Cultural Revolution, though the author spends time explaining how it was Hua Goufeng who decisively ended the Cultural Revolution and tried the Gang of Four. Deng wanted to modernize China along the lines of Peter the Great two centuries before. That this has actually happened is nothing less than extraordinary. In Iran the clerical reaction against the Shah was supposed to be the first step in the ascendancy of the proletariat, but politicized religion became the only thing that could stand against liberal democracy of the west. The author ends by stating that what makes these figures counter revolutionaries, and not mere conservatives, are their abilities to make the old and discarded ideas feel new and embraceable. Enough time has passed since 1979 that we can see the consequences of these shifts of power, both good and bad. I would give this book five stars, but somehow the thrill I felt at the beginning turned to impatience and occasional confusion by the end.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

    I was excited to read this, but Strange Rebels quickly proved an example of how history should not be written – drawing tenuous connections from scant evidence, relying on a discreditable great-man thesis lifted straight out of the 19th Century (and one woman, because Maggie Thatcher proves that bloodless Tory fucks can yass-queen too), and fully carrying all the assumptions of the author's own milieu in which the neoliberal order is deemed to be the best of all possible worlds. In no uncertain I was excited to read this, but Strange Rebels quickly proved an example of how history should not be written – drawing tenuous connections from scant evidence, relying on a discreditable great-man thesis lifted straight out of the 19th Century (and one woman, because Maggie Thatcher proves that bloodless Tory fucks can yass-queen too), and fully carrying all the assumptions of the author's own milieu in which the neoliberal order is deemed to be the best of all possible worlds. In no uncertain terms, FUCK THIS SHIT. On a bitchy sidenote, you can learn a lot about a person by who they retweet. If you stan Anne Applebaum, David Frum, and Max Boot, I reserve the right to call you utterly worthless as an intellectual force.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Chris Walker

    The central conceit of this book sounds a bit like one of those old jokes - 'The Pope, The Ayatollah and Margaret Thatcher walk into a bar...' - what could the above have in common with Deng Xiaoping's economic transformation of China and the rise if the Afghani Mujahideen? I came to this book both intrigued and suspicious. Intrigued because I knew a reasonable amount about the collection of historical individuals and events that are the subject of this book and was keen to see how the author li The central conceit of this book sounds a bit like one of those old jokes - 'The Pope, The Ayatollah and Margaret Thatcher walk into a bar...' - what could the above have in common with Deng Xiaoping's economic transformation of China and the rise if the Afghani Mujahideen? I came to this book both intrigued and suspicious. Intrigued because I knew a reasonable amount about the collection of historical individuals and events that are the subject of this book and was keen to see how the author linked them together. Suspicious in that the idea that these events of a single year could be defining in shaping the modem world seems a shade too convenient. In the end, although I wasn't entirely convinced - the weakest point is the argument for John Paul II's impact on the fall of Communism - there is a lot in the idea of the forces of reaction and counter-revolution (as opposed to conservatism - a distinction Caryl is keen to make) taking control and shaping subsequent decades, for better and worse. I found this a fascinating read and one that challenged a number of my assumptions about politics, economics and religion. The epilogue of the book is a brilliant read in itself. Here Caryl lifts the hood on the assumptions behind his work, raising questions about the idea of progress in history, the relative importance of religion in society and the idea of historical contingency, to name a few. There is a lot for the reader to ponder and discuss and I'll definitely be returning to this one.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Simon Koefman

    A fascinating and original insight into 1979 -a momentous year of political and economic change. The book focusses on four key figures/events-the election of Margaret Thatcher, the Iranian revolution and rise of Khomeini, the impact of the Polish pope John Paul II and the rehabilitation and return to power of Deng Xiaoping.Caryl explores the backgrounds of each figures, their personalities and motivations and ideologies. His style is engaging and informative, and this helps to understand just ho A fascinating and original insight into 1979 -a momentous year of political and economic change. The book focusses on four key figures/events-the election of Margaret Thatcher, the Iranian revolution and rise of Khomeini, the impact of the Polish pope John Paul II and the rehabilitation and return to power of Deng Xiaoping.Caryl explores the backgrounds of each figures, their personalities and motivations and ideologies. His style is engaging and informative, and this helps to understand just how much impact these unique figures had on their respective countries. The main theme of the book is that modernising political ideologies such as Marxism and communism do not always lead to progress for mankind-hence Dengs economic reforms that lead to a huge increase of economic output following the catastrophic effects of collectivisation , the 79 election may have been a watershed in the UK in that Thatcher rolled back state intervention in the economy, and Blair/Brown did not reverse this .The book also explores the impact of religion and values, explaining why the Shah's Western modernising was rejected by Iranians and how the Pope's visit to Poland in 1979 lead the way to the eventual overthrow of communism. I think Caryl has a conservative viewpoint-the book skates over the socio-economic impact of Thatcherism for instance- but Its a very interesting exploration of the impact of political ideas that challenged prevailing consensus /Marxist politics.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Puri Kencana Putri

    Economics certainly shapes politics, but politics is ultimately a category unto itself. These 5 revolution situations, you should never underestimate the power of reaction of modern world history which occurred in 1979. A meticulous non fiction book that you'll be missed to reread in the future. Economics certainly shapes politics, but politics is ultimately a category unto itself. These 5 revolution situations, you should never underestimate the power of reaction of modern world history which occurred in 1979. A meticulous non fiction book that you'll be missed to reread in the future.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Ekul

    I was super excited about this work, but in the end, I was a bit disappointed. Caryl does a fair job of discussing each of these five major stories: the coming of Margaret Thatcher, Deng Xiaoping's reforms, the Iranian Revolution, the coup in Afghanistan and the Soviet War in Afghanistan, and the rise of Pope John Paul II. That being said, these stories mostly function as discrete phenomena. There is some overlap between any two of them, but Caryl ultimately fails to articulate some sort of broa I was super excited about this work, but in the end, I was a bit disappointed. Caryl does a fair job of discussing each of these five major stories: the coming of Margaret Thatcher, Deng Xiaoping's reforms, the Iranian Revolution, the coup in Afghanistan and the Soviet War in Afghanistan, and the rise of Pope John Paul II. That being said, these stories mostly function as discrete phenomena. There is some overlap between any two of them, but Caryl ultimately fails to articulate some sort of broad "counterrevolution." I think the idea of counterrevolution is a fair schematic to think about these events, but more time should have been spent drawing together their similarities and developing a truly comparative piece of historiography.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jay Hinman

    Historical inflection points only appear in historical rear-view mirrors, so while you might think you're currently living through the most boring year on record, you really never know, do you? 1979 certainly seemed like a nadir at the time, especially in the United States. I remember the term "malaise" being thrown around, and recall that the chances of then-President Carter being elected for a second term being about nil. (Note: he wasn't). The US may have been a glum global actor at the time, Historical inflection points only appear in historical rear-view mirrors, so while you might think you're currently living through the most boring year on record, you really never know, do you? 1979 certainly seemed like a nadir at the time, especially in the United States. I remember the term "malaise" being thrown around, and recall that the chances of then-President Carter being elected for a second term being about nil. (Note: he wasn't). The US may have been a glum global actor at the time, but was still an international prime mover, in the throes of the Cold War and learning to deal with international shame and humiliation vis-a-vis the taking of American hostages by Iranian students. Elsewhere, important inflections were proliferating in 1979 that profoundly impact the world we live in today – sometimes almost by chance, as it turns out. Christian Caryl's admirable book does some strong historical reconstruction that helps us to see this pivotal year in context by grabbing hold and wrestling to the ground five key storylines. First is the aforementioned rise of what we now call Islamic fundamentalism in Iran. After decades of kleptocrats and dictatorial quasi-democracies, the middle eastern religious world of Islamic belief was beaten down and left for permanently battered, while religion itself was still a driving force in middle eastern families and communities. Most pundits and observers of global events had little inkling of the holy groundswell that was taking place in Iran (and to a lesser extent, in other Islamic countries like Egypt) in the mid-1970s. Caryl describes the rule of Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran, and how he and other 50s, 60s and 70s leaders in the Islamic world saw themselves as near-secular modernizers of Islam, in the vein of Turkey's Kemal Atatürk. This is an engrossing story, told over multiple brisk chapters, since we all know what happened in 1979 to turn that completely on its head: the return of Ayatollah Khomeini from exile in Paris, the people's revolution, the immense groundswell of suppressed, messianic Islamic religious fervor, and the storming of the US embassy and the taking of the American hostages as retaliation for years of propping up the Shah. The world is still living today with a radicalized, religious, theocratic Iran and all the challenges this presents to the West and to secular peoples within the Middle East. Similarly and somewhat in parallel, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan awakened the self-determination and religious fervor of non-Communists and fundamentalists there, and the backlash to this blip on the Cold War radar helped to hasten not only the fall of the Soviet system but the rise of the Taliban, Osama Bin Laden and the islamic jihadi movement. Yes, it happened in 1979. On the other side of the world, both literally and metaphorically, Margaret Thatcher was leading her own revolution in the UK, turning aside decades of liberal labor-pandering and sclerotic public services with a conservative, free-market ideology that had never truly been tested in actual governance before. 1979 was the year that Maggie truly consolidated her hold on power in England, and over the course of the next decade helped to remake that country while proving that there were viable alternatives to social democratic rule in Europe and elsewhere. The year also saw the selection of a Catholic pope from Poland, and in it a direct challenge to the Soviet Union's crushing vice-grip hold on Eastern Europe's hearts and minds. Pope John Paul II traveled in 1979 to his native country, and set up an abstract ideological power struggle between freedom and tyranny that resonated for millions around the world. The book has a great chapter about how the trip was almost blocked entirely by Moscow, and their lack of success in doing so said a great deal about just how much the USSR was swayed by public opinion and pressure from the west (to say nothing of loathing from people in its eastern bloc). Finally, when we take stock of our world in 2014 – a Communist-free, market-centric world, one that happens to be riven with tremendous upheaval in the Islamic world, there's one other huge transformation that started in 1979, and that's the modernization of China under Deng Xiaoping. I thought this would be my least favorite and the least convincing of the 5 stories, and as it turns out it was by far the most interesting, relevant and impactful upon the largest number of people. Caryl essentially tells the story of China from World War II through Mao's famines, the Cultural Revolution, the Gang of Four and Mao's death. The huge vacuum that was filled upon his passing was filled by Deng, a small, unassuming man who nonetheless had some pretty radical ideas about how to merge Chinese Communism with western capitalism. The wholesale transformation of China's south, and later the entire country, began on his watch and due to his initiative. It lifted millions out of poverty and what was effectively indentured servitude, and gave rise to the fastest path to broad societal wealth ever seen in any nation. He may have still been a brutal, people-suppressing Commie thug on many levels, but his impact on his people's and the world's well-being was enormous. In my country, Jimmy Carter bided his time before he was booted out of office, encouraged us to turn the heat down and wear sweaters, and we watched disco die its final horrible and deserved death. Nice to have a mellow year while much of the rest of the planet was knocking the trajectory of history off its axis.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Emily Ledger

    Lost interest, but still want to finish when I'm in the mood. Lost interest, but still want to finish when I'm in the mood.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Kathi

    I was slightly embarrassed when I realized that I began “Strange Rebels: 1979 and the Birth of the 21st Century” in May, and it’s now the last day of September as I write this review. While I was not totally clueless in 1979, I had just returned to teaching full-time that year, with two little girls and all the household tasks that a working wife and mom performed during that era. Digesting in-depth news did not make my list of chores. By last May, I certainly had increased my knowledge of curre I was slightly embarrassed when I realized that I began “Strange Rebels: 1979 and the Birth of the 21st Century” in May, and it’s now the last day of September as I write this review. While I was not totally clueless in 1979, I had just returned to teaching full-time that year, with two little girls and all the household tasks that a working wife and mom performed during that era. Digesting in-depth news did not make my list of chores. By last May, I certainly had increased my knowledge of current events, but I still am deeply pleased to have learned so very much about 1979 and beyond from my readings of Christian Caryl’s excellent book. Caryl chose four leaders who have enormously impacted our present century as well as theirs. These include Deng Xiaoping, Margaret Thatcher, the Ayatollah Khomeini, and Pope John Paul II. Through interesting details about these individuals, their lives, and their interactions with governments, organizations, and people, Caryl teaches us about the incredible evolution of China, the great changes of post-World-War-II Britain, how and why the Islamic Revolution began and continues, the vast changes of life and domination in Afghanistan, and the extraordinary power of religion and non-violence that helped end the grasp of Communism in Eastern Europe. There were times during “Strange Rebels” that I definitely “slogged,” especially during the chapters dealing with the history of the Islamic Revolution in Iran and Afghanistan. The fault was not Caryl’s writing or my lack of interest for the topic, but the number, names, stories, internal battles, and more of the Islamic groups who emerged during this chaotic time. Parts of the book read as easily as good fiction because of my relative familiarity with the topics. All parts, however, were worthwhile. Did I write “readings” in my first paragraph? Yes, I did. There was so much information presented in SR that it deserved a second reading, but this time with my laptop—my antiquated, favorite technology—right beside me, as it should have been during Reading #1. I highly recommend this book. I also recommend reading more formal reviews to preview the content in greater detail. I first read about the book in The Economist, but the Wall Street Journal and New York Times also positively reviewed “Strange Rebels: 1979 and the Birth of the 21st Century.“

  19. 5 out of 5

    Brian

    Strange Rebels looks at the year 1979 and how the counter revolutions of that year set the stage for the 21st century. The book focuses on John Paul the second, Margaret Thatcher, Deng in China, Ayatollah Khomeini and although not a single person the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan. These conservative and religious forces set the stage for the conflicts that would define the 21st century. The election of a polish pope put immense strain on the Soviet Union in Poland as the dormant religious forces coa Strange Rebels looks at the year 1979 and how the counter revolutions of that year set the stage for the 21st century. The book focuses on John Paul the second, Margaret Thatcher, Deng in China, Ayatollah Khomeini and although not a single person the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan. These conservative and religious forces set the stage for the conflicts that would define the 21st century. The election of a polish pope put immense strain on the Soviet Union in Poland as the dormant religious forces coalesced with Solidarity to finally unite the workers and the intelligentsia against the communists. Contributing to the fall of the Soviet Union was the coalescence of the Mujahedeen into a political and military force (with the help of the American CIA). The Mujahedeen would collapse into fragmented warlords and ultimately have years of internal fighting of which the Taliban would emerge victorious and using the Iranian revolution as a template impose Islamic law on Afghanistan. The rise of Khomeini in Iran and the fall of the Shah led to the first attempt to strictly govern a country by Islamic law (similar attempts had been made in Turkey but did not extend as far as what Khomeini tried in Iran). Finally the free market reforms against the Labour Government in Britain led by Margret Thatcher and by Deng in China changed the course of those two countries. Deng would establish the special economic zones which turned China into the powerhouse that we think of today and more importantly ended collectivization immediately spiking and increasing food production within China. Margret Thatcher led a fight in Britain to contain the Unions and reestablish free market principles and spread those principles around the globe through various institutes. Her political will succeeded where previous conservative MP’s had failed in Britain. This book does not provide a comprehensive biography of the people and groups mentioned above but picks on the salient points of each and how they relate to a specific role in shaping the 21st century. Overall very interesting and well done for those looking for a casual analysis of the groups mentioned here.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Steve. g

    Wow..look at that front cover. Pope John Paul II, Mags, Deng and the Ayatollah, talk about your dream dinner party! This is a brilliant book, that was an absolute pleasure to read. There are plenty of other really good books about these times not least ‘the President, the Pope and the Prime minister’ by John O’Sullivan, ‘Seasons in the sun’ by Dominic Sandbrook, ‘the Looming tower’ by Lawrence Wright, but this one is outstanding. While these others lay out the history in more details the autho Wow..look at that front cover. Pope John Paul II, Mags, Deng and the Ayatollah, talk about your dream dinner party! This is a brilliant book, that was an absolute pleasure to read. There are plenty of other really good books about these times not least ‘the President, the Pope and the Prime minister’ by John O’Sullivan, ‘Seasons in the sun’ by Dominic Sandbrook, ‘the Looming tower’ by Lawrence Wright, but this one is outstanding. While these others lay out the history in more details the author here is interested in ideas. Which ideas were the unexamined orthodoxy of the time and how the outlier themes went mainstream. The birth of, the struggles of, the life of and the power of. I love reading about the Popes first visit to Poland and the Poles themselves make you want to jump for joy. The Pope decides to visit his homeland. The totalitarian ruling party, reluctant to have such a reactionary old codger in town, grudgingly agree. They instruct the secret service to hamper all arrangements and instruct the t.v camera men to concentrate on old women and children, as only these poor wretches would be gullible enough to follow such superstition. Anyhow.. millions turn out. They make their own way, they organise their own transport, they make do and use their initiative. They come from miles around to hear what their Pope has to say to them in their crushed despair. ‘Be ..not.. afraid.’ The power of the Popes words are such that it galvanises them and uplifts them and makes them realise that their own salvation is within themselves. ‘How many divisions has the Pope?’, smirked Stalin, not in relation to this. ‘Lots’ would be the belated answer to that. The Lech Walesa sequence is awe-inspiring and the Afghan section is very rewarding. The Deng bit was probably the story I knew least about and it was very interesting to see his thinking through the great changes that have occurred during his lifetime, from the absolute basket case state that Mao left China in to the prototype world government comm/cap hybrid it is today. Brilliant.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Uwe Hook

    "Strange Rebels" is a thought provoking book. It addresses recent history from a new angle. The result is an admirable work that should be read by all those general readers of history seeking to understand the modern world. Christian Caryl has identified the year 1979 a pivotal. Specifically, Caryl cites five key events from that year which have resonated throughout the world. These events were: 1. The election of Margaret Thatcher and the subsequent unleashing of "Thatcherism" within Britain and "Strange Rebels" is a thought provoking book. It addresses recent history from a new angle. The result is an admirable work that should be read by all those general readers of history seeking to understand the modern world. Christian Caryl has identified the year 1979 a pivotal. Specifically, Caryl cites five key events from that year which have resonated throughout the world. These events were: 1. The election of Margaret Thatcher and the subsequent unleashing of "Thatcherism" within Britain and beyond. 2. The visit by Pope John Paul II to his homeland in Poland. So began the unravelling of eastern European communism. 3. The rise to power of Deng Xiaoping in China and the beginning of China's re-emergence as a global economic and political super power. 4. The Islamic revolution in Iran and the overthrow of America's ally, the Shah. 5. The Soviet invasion of Aghanistan which bled the Russian economy and eventually facilitated the rise of al-Qaeda. Throughout the narrative, Caryl gradually weaves these events together. Each played an important role in framing the modern world and its economy. If I am to have one criticism of Caryl's book, it is that he is sometimes guilty of overlooking other key events. Modern history was also altered by the rise to power of Michail Gorbachev, the fact that the Soviet system itself was inherently unstable and that the Holy See had as many natural faults as it did have political strengths. However, this criticism is probably undue carping. Christian Caryl has produced a great piece of modern history. I recommend it thoroughly.

  22. 4 out of 5

    victor harris

    Twenty-five years ago we saw the rise of militant Islam with Khomeini in Iran and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the ascent of Thatcherism in England, and the extreme Right gaining traction in the U.S. via Reagan and Christian Fundamentalists. 1979 was truly a pivotal year and somehow we have survived the pronounced shift to the more militant ideological global shift. The aftereffects are still being felt with Iran as a borderline renegade state and regional troublemaker, Afghanistan in tu Twenty-five years ago we saw the rise of militant Islam with Khomeini in Iran and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the ascent of Thatcherism in England, and the extreme Right gaining traction in the U.S. via Reagan and Christian Fundamentalists. 1979 was truly a pivotal year and somehow we have survived the pronounced shift to the more militant ideological global shift. The aftereffects are still being felt with Iran as a borderline renegade state and regional troublemaker, Afghanistan in turmoil, and the Right still controlling the tone of the political and economic dialogue in America. Caryl does an excellent job weaving the intricate web of scenarios together and how so much of the commotion was viewed through the lens of the Cold War. This proved to be a faulty analysis as subsequent events would reveal. One of the great ironies of Afghanistan is that the U.S. supported the unruly Muslim factions to oust a communist government in Afghanistan that would be replaced by a reactionary Taliban-led state that tried to turn the clock back to the Medieval period while harboring terrorists who would make their blazing contributions to the headlines in the ensuing decades. A Taliban government that would undo the progress made in women's rights and education initiated by the communists. Things are never what they seem. The Year of the Rebels verifies that maxim with a well-crafted narrative.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Eastbelt

    An oustanding book, essential reading for an enhanced understanding of many of the key forces of the early 21st century. The author completely convinced me with his argument that certain events of 1979 - e.g. Margaret Thatcher's rise to power, the start of the papacy of John-Paul II, the rise of a a new coterie of leaders in Beijing, the Iranian revolution - marked the start of a new era. The author's discussion of the overwhelming importance of Thatcher is especially impressive for its incisive An oustanding book, essential reading for an enhanced understanding of many of the key forces of the early 21st century. The author completely convinced me with his argument that certain events of 1979 - e.g. Margaret Thatcher's rise to power, the start of the papacy of John-Paul II, the rise of a a new coterie of leaders in Beijing, the Iranian revolution - marked the start of a new era. The author's discussion of the overwhelming importance of Thatcher is especially impressive for its incisiveness and even-handedness. Even the Byzantine intricacies of China's power struggle became clear thanks to Caryl's deft and patient analysis. And I must admit that until reading this book I never really understood the Ayatollah's rise to power, the takeover of the US embassy and how a vicious theorcracy was established so apparently easily. I think Caryl's discussion of John-Paul II, although fascinating, suffers somewhat from hero-worship, though and requires a more thorough discussion of the context of Polish anti-semitism and Papal conservatism about other issues. Regardless, this is probably the finest account of late twentieth-century history that I have read.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jeff Hunt

    Christian Caryl covers the pivotal world events occurring during 1979 which changed the course of history and continue to exert a large influence on the state of our current world. These events include (i) the rise of Deng Xiaoping in Communist China and his turn away from Maoist ideals and his embrace of limited market reforms (ii) the selection of John Paul II as pope (iii) the overthrow of the shah and the Islamic revolution in Iran (iv) Margaret Thatcher’s political rise and market reforms i Christian Caryl covers the pivotal world events occurring during 1979 which changed the course of history and continue to exert a large influence on the state of our current world. These events include (i) the rise of Deng Xiaoping in Communist China and his turn away from Maoist ideals and his embrace of limited market reforms (ii) the selection of John Paul II as pope (iii) the overthrow of the shah and the Islamic revolution in Iran (iv) Margaret Thatcher’s political rise and market reforms in Great Britain and (v) the overthrow of the monarchy and subsequent turmoil in Afghanistan. While Caryl does offer up some commentary on the common threads that bind these events, he doesn’t propose a theory that purports to explain everything. And towards the end of the book he points to the acts of individuals that influence history and in so doing he seems to suggest that there may not be a single theory that explain the outcome of the events of this key year. The book was a good read and covers much ground in much detail. This reader found the portions on the rise of Thatcher in Great Britain and post-Mao China of particular interest.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Rick

    I found Strange Rebels hit on a unique premise and really did a lot of work to get to the conclusion. However it came up a bit short because it lacked more background information to set the stage. Christian Caryl really hit the target by seeing 1979 as a transitional year and one which laid the ground work for the last two decades of the 20th century and the first two of the 21st. Where the author comes up short I believe is that he doesn't offer a fuller description or background as to the stat I found Strange Rebels hit on a unique premise and really did a lot of work to get to the conclusion. However it came up a bit short because it lacked more background information to set the stage. Christian Caryl really hit the target by seeing 1979 as a transitional year and one which laid the ground work for the last two decades of the 20th century and the first two of the 21st. Where the author comes up short I believe is that he doesn't offer a fuller description or background as to the state of the world. While what was offered was impressive, it begged for more of a setting. I found the information on the Great Leap Forward quite compelling but little is shared as to what it, and the Cultural Revolution, did to make the small steps offered by Deng so remarkable. The sections on the rise of Iran while compelling did very little to talk about the immense graft, truly staggering. There is a story about entire planes being stole and resold by Iran. Anyway, the theme is fully there and quite innovative. History nuts like myself will ask for more but this is a great read for is unique premise.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jennyb

    The fact that it took me an eternity to finish this reflects less on the book than on my recent schedule, which doesn't allow of much "fun" reading. And while some may not consider a dense tome on history "fun," Caryl's book is definitely minutely researched and highly informative. He draws a convincing picture of 1979 as a year of transformative change: Thatcher becomes Britain's free market crusader Prime Minister, Deng Xiaoping finds a little free market religion himself, Islam rends both Ira The fact that it took me an eternity to finish this reflects less on the book than on my recent schedule, which doesn't allow of much "fun" reading. And while some may not consider a dense tome on history "fun," Caryl's book is definitely minutely researched and highly informative. He draws a convincing picture of 1979 as a year of transformative change: Thatcher becomes Britain's free market crusader Prime Minister, Deng Xiaoping finds a little free market religion himself, Islam rends both Iran and Afghanistan to pieces (though in different ways), and the Catholic pope plants the seed of Solidarity on his visit to Poland. Big times! Though I knew at least in outline about most of these events, it was interesting to see them drawn together in this way. And of course, no matter how much you think you know about history, there's always something more to learn. Caryl's book is a global education, and while it isn't light reading, getting through it is abundantly worth the knowledge you gain.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Bill Shannon

    Although it's sometimes difficult to follow the dozens of characters who contributed to the changes in the world from 1979 to present, the events are told with such clarity and detail that a little drifting on and out doesn't diminish the experience. Five countries experienced an event in 1979 that changed that country and the world over the next generation: England with the election of Margaret Thatcher; Poland and the selection of a new pope, the homegrown Karol Wojtila, aka John Paul II; Iran Although it's sometimes difficult to follow the dozens of characters who contributed to the changes in the world from 1979 to present, the events are told with such clarity and detail that a little drifting on and out doesn't diminish the experience. Five countries experienced an event in 1979 that changed that country and the world over the next generation: England with the election of Margaret Thatcher; Poland and the selection of a new pope, the homegrown Karol Wojtila, aka John Paul II; Iran with the fall of the Shah and the rise of the Ayatollah; the death of Mao in China and the progressive rise of Deng Xiaoping; and the struggle between Islam and Communism in Afghanistan. It’s a tremendously informative, well-researched book. And miraculously, the author uses his first-hand knowledge judiciously, and doesn't try to create a backdoor autobiography. (Caryl's own observations are germane and enrich the book greatly.) Its not an easy read - - I absolutely had to re-read entire chapters - - but it's a very rewarding one.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Pete Imwalle

    A very interesting look at the revolutionary atmosphere of the late 70s and early 80s. The story is told through four different lenses. Each from the perspective of a revolutionary leader. Margaret Thatcher, Ayatollah Khomeini, Deng Xiaoping, and Pope John Paul II each represent markedly different philosophical approaches, but each more major change to their country or cause. In Western writing, you rarely see a book where there is so much admiration for Khomeini or Xiaoping. The book doesn't jud A very interesting look at the revolutionary atmosphere of the late 70s and early 80s. The story is told through four different lenses. Each from the perspective of a revolutionary leader. Margaret Thatcher, Ayatollah Khomeini, Deng Xiaoping, and Pope John Paul II each represent markedly different philosophical approaches, but each more major change to their country or cause. In Western writing, you rarely see a book where there is so much admiration for Khomeini or Xiaoping. The book doesn't judge the isms involved, but the success of the movement. It is an interesting read. I went to high school during this era and then went on to study political science at UCLA, so it is really fascinating to me. Looking back with the aid of 35 years of history brings great perspective. Not a light read. Reminded me of one of my college text books. I usually read to fall asleep. I had to look at this one more as a study session while still alert and attentive.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Diane

    This book looks at the year 1979 as a turning point, when the trends that appear set to shape the 21st century began to be realized. The author looks at Margaret Thatcher in English and Deng Xiaoping in China as economic rebels who challenged the state-dominated, planned economy of the mid-20th century in favor of freer markets. The book also examines the rise of Pope John Paul II, the Iranian revolution, and the Afghan uprising against the Soviets as examples of resurgent religious groups. Each This book looks at the year 1979 as a turning point, when the trends that appear set to shape the 21st century began to be realized. The author looks at Margaret Thatcher in English and Deng Xiaoping in China as economic rebels who challenged the state-dominated, planned economy of the mid-20th century in favor of freer markets. The book also examines the rise of Pope John Paul II, the Iranian revolution, and the Afghan uprising against the Soviets as examples of resurgent religious groups. Each chapter focuses on a different character or theme, and how they challenged the accepted wisdom of the mid-20th century modern world. The author clearly has an extensive knowledge of his subjects, and he does a good job of showing how history has a way of moving in unexpected directions. I wish he had made more of an effort to connect the various stories that he tells, however. He does a little of this in the epilogue, but overall, the book seems a bit disjointed.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    Politically reactionary events of 1979 define contemporary politics, according to Caryl: political Islam as cold-war imperialist backfire and monetarism as Keynesian blowback, for example. Most interesting to me were the reflections on the role of Islamo-Marxists, who exploited communist guerilla tactics even as they left behind the communism to craft and export a radical vision of Islamic republics. Another common thread here is the role of religion-- or "strong moral convictions" in the case o Politically reactionary events of 1979 define contemporary politics, according to Caryl: political Islam as cold-war imperialist backfire and monetarism as Keynesian blowback, for example. Most interesting to me were the reflections on the role of Islamo-Marxists, who exploited communist guerilla tactics even as they left behind the communism to craft and export a radical vision of Islamic republics. Another common thread here is the role of religion-- or "strong moral convictions" in the case of Thatcher-- in appeals to identity for drastic change. I think Caryl's rightward lean shows itself when he stresses the influence of individual political figures instead of tracing the broader, lower movement which supported them. This makes a simple, and convincing, story in the case of Khomeini or Thatcher, but gets convoluted when attempting to trace bin Laden's ideological lineage, for example.

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