Harris, an occasional resident of Lebanon since 1983 and now a university instructor in New Zealand, has produced the first reliable and readable history of Lebanon to appear in years. The first section introduces the country's geography, sects, and politics; the second provides a routine but useful overview of Lebanon's political history from 1920 to 1989; and the final one breaks new ground in English by making sense of the country's recent past, dealing at length with Michel Aoun's attempt to throw off the Syrian occupation, then the consequences of Aoun's defeat.
Harris is that rare foreign specialist of Lebanon who makes no excuses for the Syrian occupation there. He notes that since Syrian troops gained nearly full control of Lebanon in October 1990, the regime of Hafiz al-Asad has treated Lebanon as "a conquered state" and calls this era the "years of stagnation and humiliation" for ordinary Lebanese. Harris rightly interprets Syrian actions in Lebanon-economic and cultural no less than politcal and military-as intended to stabilize Syrian primacy. He reports how the Lebanese have responded to life in the world's only remaining satellite state by trying, against overwhelming odds, to maintain a civil society. His description brings to mind Poland in the 1950's suggesting that while the Syrian yoke will be heavy and long, it will not permanently prevail.