Photography by Savannah Jane -
Richard Engel’s book And Then All Hell Broke Loose (2016) was selected by a member of my local book club of seven gentlemen. It typifies my favorite kind of literature in that it is factual, tells a good story, reads pleasantly, and covers its subject without unnecessary fluff.
Engel has written two other books about the Middle East before this one, which is an account of his personal experiences of more than 20 years in the region. He is currently Chief Foreign Correspondent for NBC and has worked as a freelancer for many other news agencies, including ABC.
The story begins by describing Engel’s childhood. His father worked on Wall Street and the family enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle that included much travel. While visiting Morocco at age 13, Engel envisioned himself living in Paris and reporting for the International News Tribune. After attending Stanford University where he became a journalist with geopolitical aspirations, he presciently decided that the Middle East would be the most interesting journalistic venue in the years to come.
With two suitcases and $2,000 in his pocket, Engel arrived in the slums of Cairo, Egypt. He rented an apartment in a seven-story walk-up where the top three stories were illegal and no water flowed from the pipes. He learned Arabic, noting that in 1996 there were no door locks, no crime in the neighborhood, and he did not have to worry about leaving his computer and belongings in his unlocked apartment. One day he came home and found six men using his propane tank to cook their supper in his apartment. He joined them, practicing his Arabic, and they graciously gave him a plate also, and they cleaned up before leaving.
Engel finagled his way to Baghdad before the American invasion and graphically describes the horrors of the war, the missteps of the Bush and Obama administrations, and the disastrous dissolution of the Iraqi Army and resultant chaos. He met and describes the “big men,” as he characterizes the dictators of the Middle East, who are sequentially toppled by a hopeful populace in the Arab Spring. Sadly, Engel predicts the future will be occupied by even more despotic dictators replacing the previous generation.
With the aid of a smuggler, Engel crossed the Turkish border where he journeyed through civil wartorn Syria for several days on a risky reporting mission. He tells how he and his NBC news team were kidnapped by armed gunmen and held hostage for five days before being rescued after their captives unwittingly set off an emergency GPS beacon while searching Engel’s equipment bags. In conclusion, Engel reflects on life, his own mortality, and the future following all the events he describes. The book is a fast-paced good read and demands all your attention as it follows the unbelievable twists and turns that are everyday reality in the Middle East as experienced by one who has been there on the ground.
About Dr. Jim Cook
Dr. Cook, originally from Marianna, Florida, trained in medicine at Emory University. He served as Battalion Surgeon with the 1st Marine Division in Vietnam and returned to the Dispensary at the Navy Mine Laboratory before continuing his internal medicine and cardiology training at Emory and Cincinnati. Jim practiced in Bay County for thirty years, performing Bay’s first heart catherization in 1978 and the first angioplasty in 1983, and helped develop Bay’s very successful local heart programs, that continues today. In retirement he promotes health, education, mentoring, and philanthropy for his beloved Northwest Florida while pursuing hobbies, that include flying, hunting, fishing, and boating with his wife, Jan.