Lesch's analysis of 1979 is interesting, accurate, and well written. After briefly reviewing the watershed events themselves, he jumps forward in time, proving that these events were truly monumental, using later developments as evidence. In a chapter aptly entitled "Future Past," Lesch shows how the events of 1979 are every bit as salient today as they were then. But the book has too much padding. The 25-page introduction strays from the book's topic to list various other books on particular years in history and other trivialities. The 25-page appendix reprints several readily-available texts, including the Camp David accords, the Israel-Egypt peace treaty, and the Carter doctrine.
It bears noting that 1979 has competition as "the year that shaped the modern Middle East." Indeed, 1989 should be seen as the watershed for militant Islam, a movement that continues to have profound impact on the Middle East. That was the year when Islamism experienced its greatest surge, being the time of Khomeini's edict against Salman Rushdie, the Muslim Brethren's coup d'état in Sudan, the creation of Algeria's Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), and the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. Islamist movements also experienced election successes across the entire region in 1989, including in Jordan, Tunisia, and even among Israel's Arabs. Finally, Khomeini died in 1989, giving Iran a choice; it could either continue on its path of "exporting the revolution," or correct the mistakes of the previous decade.