In today's Middle East, where most diplomacy can be filed under Arab-Israel, Sunni-Shiite, or religio-political, Lebanon, a small state made up of religious minorities (Sunni, Shiite, Christian, and Druze) is fated to be a vulnerable bit player. Hirst presents a history of Lebanon's regional diplomacy since the late nineteenth century while concentrating on the period since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. He is tough on all parties but consistently harsh on Israel.
Young's book is best appreciated as a meditation on the distinctive Lebanese cluster of religious communities that falls short of being a viable state. Focusing on the years since the 2005 assassination of the Sunni political leader Rafiq Hariri, Young is as harsh on Hezbollah and Syria as Hirst is on Israel. He suggests that buried in Lebanon's much maligned sectarian pluralism is the potential for moving toward a more liberal and modern polity. That will not be easy: his table of short biographies includes 33 Lebanese figures, exactly one-third of whom have been assassinated.