Strange Rebels: 1979 and the Birth of the 21st Century

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Few moments in history have seen as many seismic transformations as 1979. That single year marked the emergence of revolutionary Islam as a global political force, the beginning of market revolutions in China and Britain that would radically alter the international economy, and the first stirrings of the resistance movements in Eastern Europe and Afghanistan that ultimately led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. In Strange Rebels, veteran journalist Christian Caryl shows how the world we live in today and the ...
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Few moments in history have seen as many seismic transformations as 1979. That single year marked the emergence of revolutionary Islam as a global political force, the beginning of market revolutions in China and Britain that would radically alter the international economy, and the first stirrings of the resistance movements in Eastern Europe and Afghanistan that ultimately led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. In Strange Rebels, veteran journalist Christian Caryl shows how the world we live in today and the problems that plague it began to take shape in this pivotal year. Weaving the story of each of these counterrevolutions into a brisk, gripping narrative, Strange Rebels is a groundbreaking account of how these upheavals marked a startling conservative challenge to communist and socialist systems around the globe, giving birth to our modern age in the process.
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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Isaac Chotiner
…engrossing…Strange Rebels is a well-written and thorough work of history…
Publishers Weekly
The end of the 1970s saw the emergence of a dizzying array of ideologies and movements, and Caryl contends that their ripples are still spreading across the surface of the modern world. The Islamic Revolution in Iran, the reorientation of Chinese socialism under Deng Xiaoping, Pope John Paul II’s outreach to Eastern Europe, the free-market doctrine of Margaret Thatcher, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan all began in earnest in 1979, and Caryl, an editor at Foreign Policy and Newsweek, examines how these events—each a reversal of course and a push for a new order—would come to shape history. Short and readable (if occasionally repetitive) chapters concentrate in turn on the situation in each highlighted country, and in particular on the ideas and machinations of the individuals responsible. What they shared, despite their widely varying goals, is that each “drew... motivation from values, a firmly held set of moral principles; policy was just a way of putting them into action.” Caryl displays an impressive facility with Western, Soviet, Chinese, and Islamic political traditions and circumstances, and he manages to present a relatively coherent and unified view of world affairs. Agent: Andrew Wylie, the Wylie Agency. (May 7)
From the Publisher

Wall Street Journal, Best of 2013
“Christian Caryl's Strange Rebels may be the year's best book. It brilliantly documents 1979, when "the twin forces of markets and religion came back with a vengeance" through Margaret Thatcher and Deng Xiaoping, the Iranian revolution, the start of the Afghan jihad, and the pilgrimage of Pope John Paul II to Poland; the book is a must-read for any serious student seeking to understand what has ensued in the 21st century.”

The Economist
"A timely new book... Caryl tells this story with great skill. He moves effortlessly from one scene to another in this tumultuous year.... Caryl also sprinkles his fast-paced narrative with plenty of striking details.... Anyone who wants to understand how this new world came into being needs to read Mr. Caryl’s excellent book."

New Yorker
“[Caryl] makes a strong, sweeping case that the year ushered in, as his subtitle puts it, the birth of the twenty-first century.”

New York Review of Books
“This is a book that, by its diligence and restraint, really does help us to think, as opposed to telling us what to think.”

Andrew Solomon, New York Times Book Review
“Christian Caryl’s Strange Rebels argues convincingly that the problems of the 21st century were all hatched in 1979, and looks particularly at the move away from secularism and the welfare state; it’s a bold and illuminating take on our time, and its analysis of militancy seems particularly relevant as we look to Syria.”

The New Republic
"By amalgamating distinct geographic areas and seemingly disparate historical forces, Caryl uncovers new and vivid questions.... A virtuoso of connection, Caryl joins Poland and Afghanistan into a single cold war narrative.... These patterns and claims challenge the current journalistic obsessions with economic statistics and with social media’s promise to gild the motors of globalization. Caryl brings forward a fierce contest over ideas, religious beliefs, and methods of government. The twenty-first century has not escaped from the age of ideology bequeathed to it by the twentieth century."

New York Times Book Review
"[An] engrossing new book.... A well-written and thorough work of history."

Jonathan Derbyshire, The Guardian
"[A] riveting account.... A book about what happens when the world stops co-operating with ideological categories and they lose their explanatory power. It is also an extended demonstration of the law of unintended consequences.... [Caryl] is to be applauded."

Wall Street Journal
“It is hard to imagine figures as different as these or a year quite as grim as 1979, but suspend your disbelief for a moment. Mr. Caryl makes a fairly compelling case that this was a year when history made a sharp turn and that each leader set in motion the seismic changes that came to shape our world today: the fall of the Soviet Union, the rise of China and the emergence of radical Islam…. The reader comes away convinced that the forces set in motion, for good and for ill, in 1979 set the stage for the world we see today, in ways that were hard to see at the time.”

Sunday Times (London)
"A provocative and vivid portrait.... One of the great virtues of Caryl's book is that it invites reflections about the role of contingency and inevitability in recent world history."

Chicago Tribune
Strange Rebels... is carefully researched, broad in scope and smoothly written. Whether or not we agree that the 21st century began in 1979, or share Caryl's views as to the nature of that beginning and of the century thus far, he is undoubtedly correct that we could not possibly begin to understand the world we now live in without understanding what took place during that eventful year.”

The Guardian
"[A] provocative if highly original account of the year 1979 and its political significance.... [Caryl] tells the story of that single year with verve and scholarship. He makes unlikely connections between the Iranian revolution and John Paul II's papacy, the Afghan jihad and the economic reforms pursued by Deng Xiaoping and Thatcher, all of which took root in 1979.... Strange Rebels, superbly written, brings a tumultuous single year to life in all its proper significance."

"A welcome addition to a growing bibliography on the remarkable rise and astonishing success of the neoliberal credo in the last 30 years.... Nuanced and balanced... Strange Rebels is a fine book which is bound to generate long overdue discussion on the reasons why 1979 continues to loom so large."

Pittsburgh Post Tribune
“Readers old enough to recall 1979 will come away from this book viewing that year as much more than just a miserable one for America; those too young to remember 1979 will gain new understanding of the only world they've known — and of why history matters.”

National Interest
“Christian Caryl is a journalist of the old school….His book demonstrates the breadth of his experience in journalism. A riveting read, it is interspersed with gripping anecdotes and an admirable attention to detail. Its main thesis—that our current world would be unimaginable without the unique concatenation of world events that occurred in a very short period of time in 1979—is both novel and compelling.”

The Washington Monthly
"Caryl unites his extensive travels with keen analysis, arguing that 1979 was a hinge moment in the history of the twentieth century, one that continues to exert profound effects upon both Europe and the United States. The resulting work is beautifully written and, to borrow a phrase from the late Robert Bork, an intellectual feast.... [A] marvelous book.... While 1989 will always loom as the more sensational year...Caryl has made a very strong case indeed that 1979 was a pivotal year, one whose significance has perhaps not been adequately appreciated. His closing remarks alone about the lessons of 1979, which focus on the illusion that social and material advancement are inevitable, are worth the price of admission. In his book, then, Caryl has staged his own rebellion against humdrum writing and conventional analysis. It is a profound accomplishment."

Literary Review
"A pleasure to read… Strange Rebels teaches an imperishable lesson: never underestimate the power of reaction.”

Publishers Weekly
"Caryl displays an impressive facility with Western, Soviet, Chinese, and Islamic political traditions and circumstances, and he manages to present a relatively coherent and unified view of world affairs."

"A highly focused work.... As ably shown by Caryl, the events of this cataclysmic year would continue to bear fruit for years to come. An astute assessment of the efforts of a group of historic newsmakers."

Fareed Zakaria
“At the end of the 20th century, two coiled forces, religion and markets, sprung onto the world stage. From China’s reforms to Margaret Thatcher’s rise to Ayatollah Khomeini’s revolution, they all began in 1979 and have been shaping international life ever since. Christian Caryl tells the story of that pivotal year—and its consequences—with intelligence, grace and lucidity.”

Anne Applebaum, author of Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956
“If you haven’t thought much about the year 1979, it’s time you should. In this provocative work of scholarship and reporting, Christian Caryl argues that this was the year when a counter-revolution—led by Margaret Thatcher, John Paul II, Ayatollah Khomeini, and Deng Xiaoping—changed the course of history. After reading this book you won’t think the same way about the 20th century again.”

James Fallows, author of China Airborne
“Christian Caryl’s book is eloquent, elegant, and persuasive. It makes a connection that is obvious once he points it out—about the transformations in the Middle East, central and east Asia, and Europe from West to East whose after-effects shape our politics, culture, and economy even now. After reading this book, I will always think differently about developments in Iran, Afghanistan, China, and elsewhere because of the connections Caryl has drawn out. This is a very valuable and readable work combining the best elements of history and high-end contemporary reportage.”

Dexter Filkins, author of The Forever War
“Christian Caryl takes a series of seemingly disparate events that shook the world of the late 1970s and uncovers the strands that bind them together. The result is an amazing story that illuminates the world we live in.”

Mark Lilla, author of The Stillborn God: Religion, Politics, and the Modern West
“We knew something was happening in 1979. And now, thanks to Christian Caryl, we know what it was. A hands-on reporter with global experience, Caryl follows the common thread running through the seemingly unrelated upheavals in Britain, Poland, Iran, Afghanistan, and China that year, revealing a powerful revolutionary traditionalism that continues to shape the world we live in today. An eye-opening and deeply sobering book.”

Gary Shteyngart, author of Absurdistan
"One of the books I am most proud to have on my bookshelf, it uses one pivotal year to explain so much of where we are as a deeply troubled planet. The chapter on Afghanistan is worth the price of admission alone."

Kirkus Reviews
In a highly focused work, Foreign Affairs deputy editor Caryl finds that the year 1979 engendered a remarkable crop of history-changing leaders. The author defines a counterrevolutionary as "a conservative who has learned from the revolution." This befits the leaders he profiles here--Deng Xiaoping, Margaret Thatcher, Ayatollah Khomeini and Pope John Paul II--who emerged from the fires of the turbulent 1970s. They were, alternately, called revivalist, reactionary or radical, but they were the leaders of the hour, for better or worse, defining the direction of ideological currents up until the present. With the United States mired in political cynicism, an energy crisis and stagflation, the Soviet Union took advantage of a loosening of détente by bolstering its strategic presence in Afghanistan that was to help pull down the entire communist structure. In Iran, the people demonstrating against the hated shah rallied behind Khomeini, returning from long years in exile, radicalized and resolved to harness the popular discontent in an Islamic Republic. Similarly, in China, with the death of Mao Zedong, newly rehabilitated warrior Deng recognized the need to direct the pent-up pressures from the Cultural Revolution in a gradual leaking of private enterprise that unloosened decades of communist orthodoxy and unleashed economic growth. Meanwhile, the unlikely conservative leader Thatcher sailed to power by repudiating the postwar consensus on the British welfare state and embracing a merciless economic refurbishment involving monetarism and privatization. Another popular movement, among beleaguered Polish miners, got an enormous boost from the visit of the new pope, John Paul II, formerly their own Karol Wojtyla, who lifted the fear from the long-subjugated masses of Eastern Europe. As ably shown by Caryl, the events of this cataclysmic year would continue to bear fruit for years to come. An astute assessment of the efforts of a group of historic newsmakers.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780465018383
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 4/30/2013
  • Pages: 432
  • Sales rank: 534,717
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Christian Caryl is Deputy Editor at Foreign Policy, a contributing editor at Newsweek, and a Senior Fellow of the Center for International Studies at MIT. Formerly, he served as Washington Chief Editor for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Tokyo Bureau Chief of Newsweek, and Moscow Bureau Chief of both Newsweek and U.S. News and World Report. Caryl has also worked as a correspondent in Berlin and Hong Kong. A regular contributor to The New York Review of Books, he has also written for The Economist, Der Spiegel, the Wall Street Journal, Foreign Affairs, The New Republic, The Spectator, the Times Literary Supplement, The Sunday Times, the New Statesman, and the Boston Globe, among others. He is a graduate of Yale.

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  • Posted September 17, 2014

    Great overview of some really complex, controversial, but ultima

    Great overview of some really complex, controversial, but ultimately transformative historical figures.  If you're interested in exploring the narratives that drive politics and economics today, this is a wonderful supplement.  If you're new to this type of research this is a great place to start.

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