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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 political force on the world stage, the beginning of market revolutions in China and Britain that would fuel globalization and 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. More than any other year in the latter half of the twentieth ...
Few moments in history have seen as many seismic transformations as 1979. That single year marked the emergence of revolutionary Islam as a political force on the world stage, the beginning of market revolutions in China and Britain that would fuel globalization and 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. More than any other year in the latter half of the twentieth century, 1979 heralded the economic, political, and religious realities that define the twenty-first.
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. 1979, he explains, saw a series of counterrevolutions against the progressive consensus that had dominated the postwar era. The year’s epic upheavals embodied a startling conservative challenge to communist and socialist systems around the globe, fundamentally transforming politics and economics worldwide. In China, 1979 marked the start of sweeping market-oriented reforms that have made the country the economic powerhouse it is today. 1979 was also the year that Pope John Paul II traveled to Poland, confronting communism in Eastern Europe by reigniting its people’s suppressed Catholic faith. In Iran, meanwhile, an Islamic Revolution transformed the nation into a theocracy almost overnight, overthrowing the Shah’s modernizing monarchy. Further west, Margaret Thatcher became prime minister of Britain, returning it to a purer form of free-market capitalism and opening the way for Ronald Reagan to do the same in the US. And in Afghanistan, a Soviet invasion fueled an Islamic holy war with global consequences; the Afghan mujahedin presaged the rise of al-Qaeda and served as a key factor—along with John Paul’s journey to Poland—in the fall of communism.
Weaving the story of each of these counterrevolutions into a brisk, gripping narrative, Strange Rebels is a groundbreaking account of how these far-flung events and disparate actors and movements gave birth to our modern age.
"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."
“[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."
“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.”
"[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.”
“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."
"A pleasure to read Strange Rebels teaches an imperishable lesson: never underestimate the power of reaction.”
"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."
“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."