Roads to Ruin- Syria

Syria: The Fall of the House of Assad, David W Lesch, Yale University Press, $28.00.

David W Lesch, a historian specializing in the Middle East, is among the handful of Westerners to have gained exclusive, private access to one of the world’s most elusive and despised leaders: Bashar al-Assad. An informative and personal account, Syria tracks the early rise of the young ophthalmologist – once nicknamed “The Hope” – before a deluded decline,culminating in one of the bloodiest repressions in recent history.

An easy read, the book showcases the sympathy brought about by the author’s former proximity to Assad, though he remains clear and carefully nuanced when charting the internal transformation and foreign power-play that accompanied the decline of the regime. Lesch is particularly successful in his description of the violent turn that has commanded international attention over the last year and a half, documenting the behind-the-scenes activities of a man who did not so much change the system as be himself changed by it.

Unsurprisingly, Lesch’s outlook for Syria is as dire as his disappointment: a failed state with extremist elements situated on Middle East fault lines. Ultimately, the book offers an insightful look into a nation caught in a tragically inevitable downwards spiral. “When a domestic threat appears, there is a push button response of quick and ruthless repression,” Lesch writes. “The real story… would have been if Bashar had not pressed that button.”

- CT

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