I was a newspaper reporter covering the War in Iraq in the late 2000s. My assignment was exciting, but often lonely. I bounced from town to town, usually embedded with the U.S. Army. At the end of a long day, there often was no one to talk to, grab a bite with or even watch a bootleg movie. What I did have, though, was a paperback copy of The Great War for Civilization by Robert Fisk. The book helped describe the near-history events that led to the real-time history I was witnessing on a daily basis. Through thorough research and masterful storytelling, I could better understand how an event decades earlier would reverberate throughout the entire region, setting the stage for what I was witnessing: more than 100,000 American troops trying to hold together a country that had fallen apart, creating a proxy war that drew in interests from the entire region. What I was witnessing firsthand provided the color, but the book added depth of understanding.
I did not start my assignment as a Middle East or Iraq expert; rather, my expertise lay more in knowledge of the U.S. military. The book provided a crash course in how the region got to where it was at that point, and it made an indelible impression on my understanding of the Middle East.