Imperial Life in the Emerald City

  • by Rajiv Chandrasekaran
  • Narrated by Ray Porter
  • 10 hrs and 18 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

In this unprecedented account, The Washington Post's former Baghdad bureau chief, Rajiv Chandrasekaran, takes us into the Green Zone, headquarters for the American occupation in Iraq. In this bubble separated from wartime realities, the task of reconstructing a devastated nation competes with the distractions of a Little America: a half-dozen bars, a disco, a shopping mall - much of it run by Halliburton. While qualified Americans willing to serve in Iraq are screened for their views on Roe v. Wade, the country is put into the hands of inexperienced 20-somethings chosen for their Republican Party loyalty. Ignoring what Iraqis say they want or need, the team pursues irrelevant neoconservative solutions and pie-in-the-sky policies instead of rebuilding looted buildings and restoring electricity. Their almost comic initiatives anger the locals and fuel the insurgency.

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What the Critics Say



A National Book Award Finalist
"A devastating indictment of the post-invasion failures of the Bush administration." (Booklist)
"An eye-opening tour of ineptitude, misdirection, and the perils of democracy-building." (Newsday)
"With acuity and a fine sense of the absurd, the author peels back the roof to reveal an ant heap of arrogance, ineptitude, and hayseed provincialism." (Boston Globe)
"As chilling an indictment of America's tragic cultural myopia as Graham Greene's prescient 1955 novel of the American debacle in Indochina, The Quiet American." (New York Times)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

A stunning work and performance

I have rarely come across a work of journalism as well written and as perceptive as this one. I was in Iraq before, during, and after the events Mr Chandrasekaran relates, and I knew many of the Emerald City denizens that form its core. His account of those events, and the descriptions of the ineptitudes of the incompetent that we sent there are bang on. But I personally think he could have have been a lot tougher.

The other thing I want to praise is the performance of Ray Porter as the reader in this production. He is superb. I have never, with perhaps the exception of Patrick Tull in the Aubrey-Maturin books, heard such an accomplished reader. I suspect that Mr Porter has had classical stage training, possibly British stage training.

He turns out a stunning performance, effortlessly and faultlessly switching from narrative voice to character voice, complete with appropriate accent and mannerism. His range is so vast that I spent some time with an audio program looking at the wave forms to see whether the producers had brought in other actors to provide the voices. But they all seem to be Mr Porter.

My Arabic is conversational, and more Egyptian than Iraqi, but Mr Porter's Iraqi accent for some of the people quoted in Imperial Life is dead on, if not astonishing.

It is a joy to hear someone this accomplished reading such good writing.

It is just too bad that what Mr Chandrasekaran and Mr Porter give us is an account of how inept and ignorant political appointees messed up post war Iraq so badly that thousands of American troops have suffered and died as a result; not to mention the innocent people of Iraq.

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- Rick Grant

Emerald City aka Audacity

I need to say two quick things about this book before I comment on content. #1: Ray Porter is amazing as a narrator. #2: The author does a great job with "just the facts, ma'am" even though his opinions are clear. Look up any number of the things he talks about and you will find supporting facts. I value that with non-fiction.

This is NOT a feel-good book about America's export of democracy or freeing the Iraqis from Saddam Hussein. It is a harsh look at the mechanical parts of occupation and the responsibility you assume when you decide to take over another country. It's too bad the word "hubris" has already been used by another book. This could have been titled the same way.

There are many things I do not understand and this book didn't help. How could we as a country allow bridges to fall into rivers due to infrastructure neglect yet support the billions of dollars it took when we decided to rebuild Iraq? How do lawmakers justify their support of the billions of dollars for this and not for education and health care in our own country? When you look for skills during a crisis, why would political party even matter? And what does it take to put down your political party affiliation and just do the right thing?

There are two particular people in the book who are incredibly effective at carrying out their tasks. Their effectiveness has nothing to do with politics and all to do with pure competence. Reading about them and their M.O. is a great lesson in how to get things done. I was impressed at the odds against them and what they achieved.
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- B.J.

Book Details

  • Release Date: 12-22-2006
  • Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc.