Malik's vigorous and courageous analysis of Lebanon's unenviable circumstances looks at the country since the introduction in 1990 of a new central regime under an increasingly formalized Syrian domination. Most valuable is his highly critical and well-documented survey of the many implications of Syrian overlordship. He asks, for example, whether Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri's reconstruction program having bulldozed under the important remnants of Beirut's "uniquely rich multi-cultural heritage," is really a scheme to impose a contrived identity on the Lebanese people in line with Syrian and Saudi preferences. Malik also provides an incisive overview of the Syrian-Lebanese agreements of the 1990s, which have amounted to a creeping "integration" (takamul).

He concludes that a repressed Lebanon generally disturbs the eastern Mediterranean, and that the U.S. government can take low-cost steps to salvage the country's unique pluralism. Such steps would include promoting changes in the 1989 Ta'if agreement, monitoring the parliamentary elections in the year 2000, and fostering Lebanon's institutions of civil society.

The author's Lebanese Christian orientation is evident but does not obscure the most serious and urgent consideration that his analysis deserves. Some of Malik's interpretations, however, are debatable: His ascribing Christians in Lebanon close to 45 percent is almost certainly not sustainable; the proportion is probably in the range of 35-38 percent. Druze and Shi'i Lebanese would not agree with his assertion that only Lebanon's Christians have "existential fears."