In the aftermath of the collapse of Somalia's central government in the early 1990s, the country has been engulfed in economic decay, lawlessness, and violence, as warlords compete for control of the few remaining sources of revenue. For a long time, these developments remained a local story that did not interest the Western public, but the combination of rising Muslim fundamentalism in the area and the emergence of piracy in the busy shipping lanes of the Gulf of Aden changed that. The attempt by Somali pirates to highjack the U.S. ship the Maersk Alabama in 2009 was featured prominently on cable news and introduced the Somalia problem to the American public. Eichstaedt's book tries to respond to this new interest, with a breezy account that, despite its often melodramatic prose and occasional lack of careful analysis, is often informative. Somali fishermen, he argues, turned to piracy when they found foreign fleets taking advantage of Somalia's anarchy to fish directly off the coast. The fishermen reacted to the challenge by holding passing ships for ransom. A journalist, Eichstaedt is most readable when he describes the way piracy is organized. The loosely structured and ill-disciplined small networks of young men that initially characterized Somali piracy have been overtaken by Somali warlords, including members of the Islamic fundamentalist militia al Shabab.
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