In This Review

King Hussein of Jordan: A Political Life
King Hussein of Jordan: A Political Life
By Nigel Ashton
Yale University Press, 2008, 464 pp
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Lion of Jordan: The Life of King Hussein in War and Peace
Lion of Jordan: The Life of King Hussein in War and Peace
By Avi Shlaim
Knopf, 2008, 752 pp
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Great-grandson of Sharif Hussein bin Ali, of World War I's Great Arab Revolt fame, who died in exile; grandson of King Abdullah, who was assassinated by a Palestinian in 1951; and close kin of the Hashemites, who were brutally ousted from rule in Iraq in 1958, Jordan's King Hussein came to the throne as a teenager seemingly destined for a short reign. Instead, he ruled Jordan for just under 46 years and died a natural death. How did "the PLK" (the Plucky Little King, the nickname Western observers bestowed on him with some condescension but more admiration) manage to hang on to power from 1953 to 1999? During his long reign, Jordan was seen as little more than a pawn in the asymmetrical contest involving Israel, the Arabs, and the great powers. That Jordan survived, albeit in truncated form (having lost the West Bank during the 1967 Six-Day War), was King Hussein's achievement, and that story adds up to quite a saga. Ashton and Shlaim are both Middle East specialists. Each provides a balanced portrait of King Hussein set within the context of diplomacy and war in the Middle East during the last half of the twentieth century.