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Few moments in history have seen as many seismic transformations as 1979. That one year marked the emergence of revolutionary Islam as a political force on the world stage, the beginning of market revolutions in China and Britain that would fuel globalization and radically alter the international economy, and the first stirrings of the resistance movements in Eastern Europe and Afghanistan that ultimately led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. More than any other year in the latter half of the twentieth century, 1979 heralded the economic, political, and religious realities that define the twenty-first.

In Strange Rebels, veteran journalist Christian Caryl shows how the world we live in today—and the problems that plague it—began to take shape in this pivotal year. 1979 saw a series of counterrevolutions against the progressive consensus that had dominated the postwar era. The year’s epic upheavals embodied a startling conservative challenge to communist and socialist systems around the globe, fundamentally transforming politics and economics worldwide. In China, 1979 marked the start of sweeping market-oriented reforms that have made the country the economic powerhouse it is today. 1979 was also the year that Pope John Paul II traveled to Poland, confronting communism in Eastern Europe by reigniting its people’s suppressed Catholic faith. In Iran, meanwhile, the Islamic Revolution transformed the nation into a theocracy almost overnight, overthrowing the shah’s modernizing monarchy. Farther west, Margaret Thatcher became prime minister of Britain, returning it to a purer form of free-market capitalism and opening the way for Ronald Reagan to do the same in the United States. And in Afghanistan, a Soviet invasion fueled an Islamic holy war with global consequences; the Afghan mujahedin presaged the rise of al-Qaeda and served as a key factor in the fall of communism.

Weaving the story of each of these counterrevolutions into a brisk, gripping narrative, Strange Rebels is a groundbreaking account of how these far-flung events and disparate actors and movements gave birth to our modern age.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “At the end of the twentieth century, two coiled forces, religion and markets, sprung onto the world stage. From China’s reforms to Margaret Thatcher’s rise to Ayatollah Khomeini’s revolution, they all began in 1979 and have been shaping international life ever since. Christian Caryl tells the story of that pivotal year—and its consequences—with intelligence, grace, and lucidity.”

    Fareed Zakaria

  • “If you haven’t thought much about the year 1979, it’s time you should. In this provocative work of scholarship and reporting, Christian Caryl argues that this was the year when a counter-revolution—led by Margaret Thatcher, John Paul II, Ayatollah Khomeini, and Deng Xiaoping—changed the course of history. After reading this book you won’t think the same way about the twentieth century again.”

    Anne Applebaum, New York Times bestselling author of Iron Curtain

  • “Christian Caryl takes a series of seemingly disparate events that shook the world of the late 1970s and uncovers the strands that bind them together. The result is an amazing story that illuminates the world we live in.”

    Dexter Filkins, New York Times bestselling author

  • “Mr. Caryl tells this story with great skill. He moves effortlessly from one scene to another in this tumultuous year…Mr. Caryl also sprinkles his fast-paced narrative with plenty of striking details…Anyone who wants to understand how this new world came into being needs to read Mr. Caryl’s excellent book.”

    Economist

  • “The end of the 1970s saw the emergence of a dizzying array of ideologies and movements, and Caryl contends that their ripples are still spreading across the surface of the modern world…Caryl displays an impressive facility with Western, Soviet, Chinese, and Islamic political traditions and circumstances, and he manages to present a relatively coherent and unified view of world affairs.”

    Publishers Weekly

  • “In a highly focused work, Foreign Affairs deputy editor Caryl finds that the year 1979 engendered a remarkable crop of history-changing leaders…As ably shown by Caryl, the events of this cataclysmic year would continue to bear fruit for years to come. An astute assessment of the efforts of a group of historic newsmakers.”

    Kirkus Reviews

  • “Christian Caryl’s book is eloquent, elegant, and persuasive. It makes a connection that is obvious once he points it out—about the transformations in the Middle East, central and east Asia, and Europe from West to East whose aftereffects shape our politics, culture, and economy even now…This is a very valuable and readable work combining the best elements of history and high-end contemporary reportage.”

    James Fallows, author of China Airborne

  • “A bold and illuminating take on our time, and its analysis of militancy seems particularly relevant as we look to Syria.”

    Andrew Solomon, American writer on politics and culture

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About the Author

Christian Caryl is deputy editor at Foreign Policy, a contributing editor at Newsweek, and a senior fellow of the Center for International Studies at MIT. He has also served as Washington chief editor for Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, Tokyo bureau chief of Newsweek, and Moscow bureau chief of both Newsweek and US News & World Report. He has worked as a correspondent in Berlin and Hong Kong. A regular contributor to the New York Review of Books, he has also written for the Economist, Der Spiegel, Wall Street Journal, Foreign Affairs, New Republic, Spectator, Times Literary Supplement, Sunday Times, New Statesman, and Boston Globe, among others. He is a graduate of Yale.