Dreams and Shadows: The Future of the Middle East


The transformation of the Middle East is an issue that will absorb-and challenge-the world for generations to come; Dreams and Shadows is the book to read to understand the sweeping political and cultural changes that have occurred in recent decades. Drawing on thirty-five years of reporting in two dozen countries-through wars, revolutions, and uprisings as well as the birth of new democracy movements and a new generation of activists-award-winning journalist and Middle East expert Robin Wright has created a ...

See more details below
Paperback (Reprint)
BN.com price
(Save 23%)$18.00 List Price

Pick Up In Store

Reserve and pick up in 60 minutes at your local store

Other sellers (Paperback)
  • All (45) from $1.99   
  • New (7) from $1.99   
  • Used (38) from $1.99   
Dreams and Shadows: The Future of the Middle East

Available on NOOK devices and apps  
  • NOOK Devices
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK 7.0
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK 10.1
  • NOOK HD Tablet
  • NOOK HD+ Tablet
  • NOOK eReaders
  • NOOK Color
  • NOOK Tablet
  • Tablet/Phone
  • NOOK for Windows 8 Tablet
  • NOOK for iOS
  • NOOK for Android
  • NOOK Kids for iPad
  • PC/Mac
  • NOOK for Windows 8
  • NOOK for PC
  • NOOK for Mac
  • NOOK for Web

Want a NOOK? Explore Now

NOOK Book (eBook)
BN.com price


The transformation of the Middle East is an issue that will absorb-and challenge-the world for generations to come; Dreams and Shadows is the book to read to understand the sweeping political and cultural changes that have occurred in recent decades. Drawing on thirty-five years of reporting in two dozen countries-through wars, revolutions, and uprisings as well as the birth of new democracy movements and a new generation of activists-award-winning journalist and Middle East expert Robin Wright has created a masterpiece of the reporter's art and a work of profound and enduring insight into one of the most confounding areas of the world.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Wright has long been one of the best-informed American journalists covering the Middle East, and her reputation is born out here....Her book will be essential reading for anybody who wants to know where it is heading."-New York Times Book Review."
-The New York Times Book Review

"If there is such a thing as a pinnacle in the landscape of international journalism, Robin Wright surely stands atop it."
-The New York Review of Books

"A thought-provoking and eminently readable look at the current and future generation of leaders in that important, politically troubled region. . . . Wright's skills at old-fashioned shoe-leather reporting are very much in evidence."
-The Boston Globe

Ethan Bronner
Along for the ride, readers are treated to clear and well-rendered accounts of Kefaya, the fledgling Egyptian dissident movement; the history of Iran's quest for nuclear power; the beginnings of Hezbollah; and fascinating tidbits like an early mention of the Kurds as a nation and how the Katyusha rocket, got its name. While this is an engaging tour of a complex area, the problem is that the moment of promise that set Ms. Wright off on her trip—the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon combined with the Iraqi, Palestinian and Egyptian elections all in quick succession—has turned distinctly sour…That said, there is much to be gained from joining her on her trip. In some ways the subsequent failures of reform lend poignancy.
—The New York Times
Geoffrey Wheatcroft
Readers sometimes complain that newspapers print only bad news. Well, Wright is in fact an optimist, and she has done her best to give the good news. She describes the way many brave and decent people are struggling to free their countries from autocracy or worse, and she seeks out "a budding culture of change." In one country after another, men and women want to use economic empowerment and freedom of expression, enhanced by new technology, as the means to political liberation. But she is an honest reporter, and the story that emerges from this book is not quite the one she would like to tell. She cannot conceal the truth that change is slow to come when it comes at all…Robin Wright's book ought to teach our rulers a thing or two, but they often seem quite unteachable.
—The Washington Post
Patrick Cockburn
Wright has long been one of the best-informed American journalists covering the Middle East, and her reputation is borne out here. She is refreshingly skeptical of conventional wisdom about what is happening in the region, and her book will be essential reading for anybody who wants to know where it is heading.
—The New York Times Book Review
Kirkus Reviews
An astute assessment of the state of the Middle East, by a longtime reporter and observer of the scene. Washington Post foreign-policy correspondent Wright brings some good tidings from the region: "In the early twenty-first century," she writes, "a budding culture of change is...imaginatively challenging the status quo-and even the extremists." Some members of this culture-they've been called the "pyjamahedeen"-blog, write letters to the editor, protest on the street; others exercise subtle resistance, as with the Iranian women who wear their headscarves "precariously at the crown of the head to expose as much of a beautifully coifed hairdo as possible without falling off." Whatever their form of protest, these men and women face much danger as ignorers of fatwas and potential heretics. Wright travels widely across the region to seek out these agents of change, though her profiles often concern those whom they are fighting. One militant, for instance, set the tone of decrying the supposed licentiousness of Western women half a century ago-his acolytes today press the charge, even as their female compatriots flock to see Hollywood movies and dress in Western fashions. That does not dissuade the true believers. As Wright notes, they're still busily seeking to transcend the Arabic world with an Islamic superstate, a caliphate that will rule the whole of humankind-once they settle such pesky problems as whether Sunni or Shia Islam is to prevail, drive America out of Iraq and force women to don the veil. Despite them, and despite the overwhelming view that America will be defeated in Iraq, there is even better news. Wright reports that "the majority of the people in the Middle East still[want] the kind of political change that has swept the rest of the world over the past quarter century."A fine set of dispatches from the front. Agent: Esther Newberg/ICM
The Barnes & Noble Review
One of the presumed justifications for the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, and the subsequent occupation, was to bring democracy and political stability to the entire Middle East. As Robin Wright, who has covered the Middle East for over 30 years for The Washington Post, makes wonderfully clear in this important, highly illuminating, and provocative book, the goals of regional democracy and stability may be mutually exclusive.

Wright travels across the region, including stops in Gaza, Cairo, Tehran, Beirut, and Baghdad, interviewing leaders and meticulously investigating political realities on the ground. Her knowledge of the region, its troubled past and its problematic present, is deeply impressive, as is her ability to gain access to the region's leading government officials, religious leaders, academics, and reformers. The picture Wright paints is a mixture of unexpected hopes somehow holding up amid bleak realities.

In her gripping chapter on Egypt, Wright describes the three "crats" who dominate the present Middle East: autocrats, theocrats, and democrats. In a conclusion that runs opposite to the hopes of many eager interventionists, she concludes, "The democrats are the weakest." A case in point: Egypt's president Hosni Mubarak, a secular leader (in power since 1981) and U.S. ally, rules with the proverbial iron fist. Those calling for democratic reforms, including fair elections, often find themselves imprisoned without charges. Wright interviews Ghada Shahbender, who established a web site to monitor Egyptian elections. After the web site revealed widespread, pro-Mubarak voting fraud, Ms. Shahbender was harassed and threatened with violence. A pro-democracy demonstration in Cairo produces an illustrative contrast: "only fifty people showed up," Wright testifies, and so did "five police trucks with police in riot gear."

Autocratic regimes throughout the region -- Morocco and Syria join Egypt in this respect -- have used the threat of a burgeoning Islamist movement to justify cracking down on dissents and denying democratic reforms. In Egypt, Wright also interviews a member of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamic organization at the root of much of the region's anti-Western ideology: "The United States after 9/11 has adopted a new strategy to establish an empire," he tells Wright. "It wants to control the Middle East." The Brotherhood is no friend of U.S.-backed autocrats , such as Mubarak, who regularly uses his secret police to arrest radicals.

In Lebanon and among the Palestinians, Wright shows, Islamic groups like Hezbollah and Hamas (backed by well-armed militias and anti-Western ideologies), have gone further, playing important roles in the political system. Indeed, the book opens with a focus on the January 2006 Palestinian elections won by Hamas, which avowedly wishes to destroy neighboring Israel. In Lebanon, Hezbollah advocates a parallel hostility, has a history of terrorist violence, and enjoys a surprisingly solid popularity with the electorate. "The coming conundrum in the Middle East," says Wright about the democratic success of radical Islamic groups, "is that free and fair elections may not initially produce a respectable democracy."

The result often smacks of paradox. The U.S., for example denied foreign aid to the Palestinians after Hamas's surprising electoral victory. When Wright interviews the Beirut-based head of Hezbollah, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, he condemns U.S. hypocrisy: "Your administration says it is assisting the democratic process in our countries," he tells Wright, "but it has to respect the results of this process.... The Palestinian people have chosen Hamas, and the American administration is punishing all the Palestinian people because they elected Hamas."

The author sees a similar scenario likely to play out in Iraq. Free elections, like the 2005 parliamentary elections, have unintentionally exacerbated Iraq's sectarian divisions: "Religious parties fared better than secular groups," notes Wright, who describes the widespread sectarian violence that broke out after the elections. In the absence of centralized security, "more than two dozen militias ruled the streets, intimidating society, dictated to business, and defied the government." And the author takes seriously the region-wide view that U.S. attempts to promote democracy in Iraq have actually "undermined -- even sabotaged -- prospects for political change."

Dreams and Shadows also includes an eye-opening chapter on Iran, which paints the picture of an Islamic nation tottering between pro-Western reform and anti-Western paranoia. The Iran Wright describes is far from monolithic, containing a number of reformers (such as Nobel laureate Shrin Ebadi) who seek to interpret Islamic law in a way consistent with human rights and Western values. Former Iranian president Khatami, who held power from 1997 to 2005, introduced reforms that sought to open up Iran to Western influence. Wright lucidly explains Iran's anticlerical uprising (especially powerful among the young) against aging, inflexible religious leaders. Khatami tells Wright, "I have been pressing for a reading of religion that would allow us to achieve independence, freedom, and progress. If we can interpret religion in a way that conforms with democracy, both democracy and religion will benefit."

Yet in 2005, Iran experienced a backlash against Khatami-inspired openness. Current Iranian president Ahhmadinejad's electoral victory represented a return to conservatism and resurgent Iranian nationalism. Despite threats from the U.S. and its allies, today's Iran refuses to give up its nuclear ambitions. President Ahhmadinejad, says Wright, is "a throwback to the angry militancy and misadventures of the revolutionary early years" of the U.S. hostage crisis. Iran is also training insurgents in Iraq and elsewhere, and Wright draws on a familiar image of global conflict to illustrate the ratcheting up of tensions:: "Throughout the Middle East, the United States and Iran were by 2007 effectively engaged in a new Cold War. It was a race for supremacy in ideology and influence."

So, what is the likely future for democracy in the region? Most of the pro-democracy advocates Wright interviews are either now in prison or have spent long stints behind bars for their beliefs. Instead of stable democracies, the region Wright describes is defined by unstable autocracies that increasingly fear radical Islamists and unstable theocracies fearing the "poison" of Western culture and American imperialism.

Without an open forum for political dissent in countries that are effectively police states, Wright sees the power of religion on the rise. The pro-democracy reformers Wright does find must perilously navigate between the Scylla of "well-heeled autocrats who have no intention of ceding control" and the Charybdis of "Islamists who believe they have a mission from God." Dreams and Shadows may not tell the story that Americans would prefer to hear, but it's a profoundly realistic and unflinching look at today's Middle East. We need more of Wright's open-mindedness and clarity of vision, lest we continue basing public policies on our own dreams and shadows. --Chuck Leddy

Chuck Leddy is a member of the National Book Critics Circle who writes frequently about American history. He reviews books regularly for The Boston Globe, as well as Civil War Times and American History magazines. He is a contributing editor for The Writer magazine.

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780143114895
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 2/24/2009
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 480
  • Sales rank: 617,923
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Robin Wright is an American journalist currently covering U.S. foreign policy for The Washington Post. She has reported for The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The Sunday Times (of London), CBS News and The Christian Science Monitor, and has served as a foreign correspondent in the Middle East, Europe, and Africa. She has also written for The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, The New York Times, and The International Herald Tribune.

Awards and Honors

Wright received the U.N. Correspondents Association Gold Medal for coverage of international affairs, the National Magazine Award for reportage from Iran in The New Yorker, and the Overseas Press Club Award for "best reporting in any medium requiring exceptional courage and initiative" for coverage of African wars. For coverage of U.S. foreign policy, she was named journalist of the year by the American Academy of Diplomacy for “distinguished reporting and analysis of international affairs ” and won the National Press Club Award and the Weintal Prize for diplomatic reporting. Wright has also been the recipient of a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation grant.

Wright has been a fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the Brookings Institution, Yale University, Duke University, Stanford University, the University of California at Santa Barbara and the University of Southern California. She also lectures extensively around the United States and has been a television commentator on ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN and MSNBC programs, including "Meet the Press," "Face the Nation," "This Week," “Nightline," the PBS Newshour, "Frontline," and "Larry King Live."

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Noble.com Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & Noble.com that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & Noble.com does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at BN.com or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & Noble.com and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Noble.com Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & Noble.com reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & Noble.com also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on BN.com. It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously
Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted June 16, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Clear, balanced picture of the Arab world for non-specialist

    This book was published in 2008, and yet it foretells the Arab Spring of 2011 clearly. Robin Wright may be the Middle East analyst with the most access-she seems to travel unhindered whenever and wherever she chooses to visit. Wright so clearly loves the Middle East, and Iran in particular, that we begin to love it, too. We especially love the brave men and women who risk their lives to demand a voice, in Iran and Syria for example. The demand for civil rights for blacks, perhaps, is the last time we have seen peaceful resistance and a stand on righteousness in this country. It can be violent, but it is extraordinarily effective. In this book, written for a non-specialist in Middle East politics, Wright introduces us simply, clearly to the major players, excluding Israel. She writes of modern Arab history, beginning with The Palestinians, moving to Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Iran, and Morocco. We are given major, still-relevant events in recent history for each group, and interviews with both government and dissident voices. The lines of dissension couldn't be clearer, and though the Israel/Palestine divide is rarely mentioned after the first sections, this is the context within which all the Middle East labors. Besides that, each country has its own particular geography and political history to enter the equations for peace and stability. A throwing off of long-governing autocrats doesn't seem impossible: Wright makes it seem inevitable. Which makes one wonder, "why can't the leaders see that?" Does she make it too simple for us? Certainly her descriptions make me want to go to the Middle East myself, to see for myself, if only it were that easy. If I have to rely on someone else's interpretation, hers seems as balanced as one can hope for-if she weren't balanced, she wouldn't have the access she exhibits. One reason she knew change was coming and will continue I copy for you here: "Two dynamics will define political change in the NE for years to come. The first is.identity, the accumulative package of family, faith, race, traditions, and ties to a specific piece of land. The second dynamic is.youth and an emerging generation of younger leaders. The young have never been so important: More than seventy percent of the people living in the regions stretching from Tehran to Rabat are under thirty years old." (p. 137) Finally, Wright discusses Iraq, and the American war there. Each sentence reads like another board nailed on the scaffolding of a once great country's demise (ours and theirs). Here Wright tells us what must happen if government change in the Middle East is to succeed: Change in today's Middle East is likely to succeed only when all major players-not just the majority-believe they have a stake in the new order. Rival identities will otherwise derail it. The sense of common nationhood is still too fragile. Suspicions run too deep. ..Iraq is a telling, and tragic precedent.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 21, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews

If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
Why is this product inappropriate?
Comments (optional)