For most of his long reign (1953-1999) Hussein of Jordan was one of the dominant figures in Middle Eastern politics, its most continuous presence, and one of the most consistent proponents of peace with Israel. This is the first major account of his life and reign, written with access to many of his surviving papers, with the co-operation (but not approval) of his family and staff, and extensive interviews with policy-makers of many different nationalities.
Two new perspectives on the man who ruled Jordan for nearly half a century uncover his heroic efforts to bring stability to the region.Lion of Jordan: The Life of King Hussein in War and PeaceAvi Shlaim. Knopf, $35 (720p) Ruler of a weak country surrounded by stronger powers in the cutthroat environs of the Middle East, financially dependent on foreign sponsors, precariously riding herd on the nationalist ambitions of Jordan's Palestinian majority, Hussein eked out a long reign (1953 1999) through very unleonine policies of caution and restraint. Historian Shlaim (War and Peace in the Middle East) finds much to admire in his subject's character and statecraft. Hussein was an "autocrat," the author allows, but a "benign" one, whose resolute crackdown on Palestinian extremists in the 1970 civil war was necessary to save Jordan from chaos. Much of the book is taken up with a detailed chronicle of the Middle East peace process, centering on Hussein's decadeslong negotiations, both secret and open, with Israel; in Shlaim's telling, Israel comes off badly, and Hussein emerges as the embodiment of Arab moderation, his sincere initiatives stymied by the alleged intransigence and perfidy of Israeli leaders who "preferred land to peace." Shlaim's stinging critique of Israel might stir controversy, but his comprehensive, nuanced account of Hussein's life illuminates the tragic complexities of Middle East politics. Photos.