Review: A reporter covers 2 decades of tumult in the Middle East

“And Then All Hell Broke Loose: Two Decades in the Middle East” by Richard Engel.
“And Then All Hell Broke Loose: Two Decades in the Middle East” by Richard Engel.

Regular viewers of the evening news are sure to have seen video of Richard Engel delivering narratives as he dodges bullets, bombs and artillery barrages while reporting on the latest conflicts in the Middle East.

Over the past two decades, the NBC News reporter has emerged as perhaps the most familiar face that Americans count on to update them on complex developments in a faraway region that has come to dominate news.

Engel’s third book on the subject is both a memoir about his often dangerous assignments and a primer on the political and religious strife in the Arab world, a story that begins after he graduates from Stanford and takes off for Cairo with dreams of becoming a foreign correspondent. For a young man looking to connect to a major story, his timing was perfect.

No sooner than he taught himself Arabic than he came in contact with violent Islamic fundamentalists, whose attacks on tourists set the stage for similar bloodshed from al-Qaeda and ISIS. After four years in Cairo, he went to Jerusalem, covering the second Intifada.

Iraq was where Engel made his mark, scoring a visa by posing as a peace activist prepared to serve as a “human shield” against U.S. attacks. He hired a driver to smuggle him into the country. Soon after the bombings began, he was the last American TV reporter in Baghdad.

His transfer to Beirut comes just in time to cover the monthlong war between Israel and Hezbollah; he then returns to Egypt for the Arab Spring uprising that brought down strongman Hosni Mubarak. But Engel’s biggest brush with danger would come at the end of 2012 when he and his crew are held captive for five days in Syria during the civil war that continues to this day.

The author’s quick-paced account is a thrilling adventure story laced with historical context to help readers make sense of the longstanding sectarian hatreds that propel the violence in Iraq and elsewhere.


“And Then All Hell Broke Loose: Two Decades in the Middle East”

By Richard Engel

Simon & Schuster, 256 pages