Think-Tank Analysis Meets Combat Journalism: Jonathan Spyer Writes on Syria, Iraq Wars

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Daniel Levy reviews ‘Days of the Fall’ by Jonathan Spyer, which bridges the think-tank and combat journalism worlds through the Syrian and Iraqi civil wars.

The Syrian and Iraqi civil wars have proved to be two of the most protracted, tragic, and seemingly unsolvable sub-conflicts. Their international prominence has led to a proliferation of books and articles being written about them, often of varying quality and objectivity. One of the best recent contributions to the field, though, is Days of the Fall: A Reporter’s Journey in the Syria and Iraq Wars by Jonathan Spyerpublished by Routledge.

Although born and raised in the UK, Spyer had made Aliyah, served in the IDF’s Armoured Corps (including in southern Lebanon in 2006), and established himself as a distinguished political analyst at the Rubin Center and IDC prior to writing Days of the Fall. Given that his primary focus had always been on politics and security in the Middle East, it is only natural that he gravitated towards Iraq and Syria, where he has outstandingly reported from since his first visits there 2012. It is these visits that his book focuses on.

book review, iraq, jonathan spyer, syria, war

Spyer with Syrian Minister of Reconciliation Ali Haidar and Minister of Information, Mohammed Tourjeman (right), while on a government-sponsored tour of Damascus in April, 2017. Image: Jonathan Spyer

With chapters referencing different parts of his travels, Spyer has written about visits to rebel-held Aleppo in 2012, Kurdish-controlled Rojava in northern Syria, the Kurdish Regional Government in northern Iraq, Baghdad, interviewing Islamic State members in Turkey, and even Damascus, which he infiltrated under the guise of being an Assad-sympathising journalist on a government-sponsored trip.

The unique selling point of Spyer’s book is the manner in which he bridges the think-tank and combat journalism worlds. Unlike most combat journalists, he seeks to provide high-quality analysis on current affairs rather than simply reporting on them; and unlike most think-tank analysts, Spyer has spent significant time in-country. Days of the Fall is informative and analytical, but remains highly readable and accessible. It is one of the best books I’ve read on the Arab Spring in Iraq and Syria, and I expect it to remain so for a long time to come.

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Writer with interests are Middle Eastern, US, and British politics.

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