Cover of Strange Rebels by Christian Caryl

Book Review: Strange Rebels by Christian Caryl

I got the opportunity to re-read Strange Rebels by Christian Caryl recently.

Cover of Strange Rebels

It poses a simple yet interesting hypothesis: that 1979 was a watershed year that set the stage for all of the 21st century.

How does he lay this argument out?

He indicates that there were 5 major on-going events that came to a head in 1979; Pope John Paul II's visit to Poland, the revolution that ousted the Shah of Iran and the emergence of revolutionary Islam in its place, Margaret Thatcher's rise to power in the UK and her economic reforms, Deng Xiaoping's takeover of the People's Republic of China and his economic reforms pushing China towards a more capitalist stance, and the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. 

In a great interweaving of stories, he explains through personal anecdote and world events how these five counterrevolutions changed the political scenes and balances in their regions and world. 

I can see where he is going with this.

The Pope's visit to Poland put a massive crack in the veneer of Communism and the Soviet Union, demonstrating that the workers were in fact not happy and not atheist. Their national identity was stronger than the imposed communist identity. It created a strain on USSR resources to continue to keep the puppet Communist government in Poland in power. 

Concurrent with this, China was moving away from pure Communist theory and practice after the death of Mao. Deng Xiaoping pushed towards economic competition, minimalist privatization, and more capitalist concepts. Bringing back all the intellectuals that had been condemned to hard labor and the simple life in the country. With the intellectual power of the country reconvened and prohibitions on personal incentive lifted, China moved away from Communism (unofficially) and began to follow a course that would make them the powerhouse they are today.

The UK had suffered economic issues as well after decades of growth, and the stagnation was leading to strikes and inflation. Margaret Thatcher's rise to power and her staunch economic beliefs purged the cabinet of nay-sayers and ushered in a renewal of economic power in the UK; keeping it at the forefront of regional power.

In Iran, the rise of revolutionary Islam caught like Wildfire as it burned through the tinder of nationalist identity and pride. The Iranians felt that the Shah had been a puppet of the US and began to reject all and any of his policies and programs. Meanwhile the Ayatollah Khomeini's messaging rang true in their hearts and inspired actions in Iran. It turned the course of regional power as Iran rose in might with its conventional forces, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, and its monies from natural resources. Additionally, it established itself as a religious regional power - supporting pro-Islamic and anti-Zionist movements, to include modern day terrorism.

Lastly, in part inspired by the Iranian revolution and a hatred for the Communist occupiers, Afghanistan also rose up against the Communist puppet government in its capital. This was responded to by a full mobilization of USSR troops into Afghanistan. This strained the last of the USSR resources in an unending and losing battle against the tribes and people of Afghanistan in what we now call a Counterinsurgency War. Unfamiliar and ill-equipped to handle this, the Soviets eventually pulled the troops out of Afghanistan, succumbing to Taliban (Talib meaning student) guerrilla tactics. This event plus that of the Polish uprising were enough to begin the downfall that ultimately precipitated the fall and breakup of the Soviet Union.


So when we look at today's world: the US has been mired in the Global War on Terrorism after revolutionary Islamic inspired attacks on its people and assets; the UK has been stalwart in its economy despite the EU's issues; China, Iran, and Russia have grown in military, economic, and cyber power as they recover and work against US influence within their spheres. Leading the world now to a different Balance of Power within the world.

All in all, a fine book. Well told stories and history. Although the jumping around between story lines can be confusing as well.

Worth the read if you appreciate history or want a bit of insight into how today came to be.


Stay safe and successful!

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Lifelong learner. Amateur author. Want to talk books, scifi, fantasy, steampunk, tech, science, crypto, or world politics? I'm here for you.

Books, television, and movies
Books, television, and movies

If quarantine has helped with anything, it has been reducing our to-read and to-see lists. I figure this is a great a place as any to discuss the books, television, and movies I have seen.

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