Richard Engel breaks down decades of newsworthy events in his 2016 book, And Then All Hell Broke Loose: Two Decades in the Middle East. As a veteran foreign correspondent for various new organizations, he should know. Yes, it’s fascinating. But I also found it depressing to read about skirmish after battle after roadside bombing. Unfortunately, that’s the reality in that part of the world. 

Engel explains the why and how along with detailing the events. More interesting, though, is what it feels like to be a journalist in the midst of war-torn countries. For example, I had no idea that on air journalists rent multiple hotel rooms. There are two reasons for this. First, one room might suddenly become unsafe as conflicts escalate. And second, this allows them to broadcast with the most dramatic views of current events. 

I was intrigued by the career path Engel took as well. He was a freelancer, then worked with small news outlets, and ultimately made his way up to major US networks. His behind-the-scenes perspective was why I read this book. 

My conclusions 

Engel explains the mechanisms and transitions behind the various political and religious organizations in the Middle East. While the book is now five years old, the foundational information is vital to understanding the ongoing situation. And Engel is a good explainer. 

His style is straightforward. But unlike a news story, this format allows him to express more opinions. He definitely doesn’t think various U.S. Presidents always took the best course of action.  Either way, he illuminates even the most complex information. 

I recommend this if you like reading about recent history, politics, and lots of civil, sectarian, and military unrest. Engel does a great job. 

Pair with other books about the Middle East like A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini or Kabul Beauty School: An American Woman Goes Behind the Veil by Deborah Rodriguez. 

Also, worth pairing with former CIA Director John O. Brennan’s memoir, Undaunted: My Fight Against America’s Enemies, at Home and Abroad.