Panda Press 2013
Born in Texas at the beginning of the Great Depression and spending much of his youth on a ranch, William Polk considers himself to be one of the most fortunate men of our time. His travels have taken him throughout Latin America, Europe, Africa and Asia and have thrown him together with many of the people who shaped our world. As he relates his experiences, he puts them into the context of the great events of our time. He was intimately involved at the center of the Cuban Missile Crisis, helped to negotiate two cease-fires in major wars, planned important aspects of American foreign policy, worked on nuclear problems with the Russians, and many other major issues. During an active and wide ranging life, he dealt with such world leaders as the Shah of Iran, the President of Turkey, the Chancellor of Germany, the Prime Minister of the Soviet Union, the Prime Minister of Israel and the President of Egypt in addition to a wide variety of other “movers and shakers.” In intimate detail, he shares these experiences in this moving and dramatic but personal history of our times.
Blind Man's Buff
Panda Press 2013
The Nineteenth Century Great Game for control of Central Asia was played along the mountains and in the deserts of Afghanistan. The “players” were British and Russian intelligence agents of great daring. And they determined much of the world we know today. Long after their time, the “game” continued. This is a fictional account, based on intimate knowledge of the country and the people and on actual events. It makes a gripping tale.
“A gripping tale of modern adventure that goes to the heart of the West’s ancient Afghan dilemma. A must-read for anyone who loves Afghanistan but hates the mistakes the West had made.”
—Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, former British Ambassador to Afghanistan.
I "have read the novel with excitement ...Your ability to capture the language of your characters, the flavors, habits and traditions of the location and the building up of suspense, all make for a great read."
“Blind Man’s Buff [is] a block buster…It is spot on.”
—Nancy Dupree, Director of the Afghanistan Center at Kabul University.
Panda Press 2013
These analyses by William R. Polk of the dangers of our times in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and elsewhere drew such comments as these:
“William Polk brings [us] that rare combination of both scholarship and policy experience…”
— Graham Fuller (former vice chairman National Intelligence Council)
— Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles former British,ambassador, Afghanistan.
— James Fallows, The Atlantic.
“penetrating analyses on Iraq.”
— Yasar Yakis, (former Turkish Foreign Minister)
“…like taking a course at Harvard/Chicago and the National War College – all combined.”
— Former Ambassador Roscoe Suddarth
“You are a very deep strategic thinker… I will incorporate your ideas into my own thinking about the way ahead.”
— General Karl Eikenberry, former US ambassador in Afghanistan.
“…the best about Afghanistan I have ever read.”
— Uri Avnery, Israeli commentator and former member of the Knesset.
“…a brilliant overview.”
— Tom Hayden
“the most cogent, objective and informed view of the Iranian policy problem yet written.”
— Ambassador William Miller, Senior Fellow, the Woodrow Wilson International Center
Panda Press 2013
‘Bill Polk has spent much of his life trying to prevent his government…my government…from making deadly foreign policy mistakes: tragedies that were doomed from the start because of ignorance and prejudice. He has written a primer—not at all like the ones we were read in nursery school—about how things went wrong and what is needed to prevent future catastrophe.’
“What a great paper [on Afghanistan]…Outstanding…Brilliant, as always…”
—General Karl Eikenberry. Former US ambassador to Afghanistan.
“As usual, my thoughts exactly, but so much better expressed, with learning, style and irony.”
—Former British Ambassador to Afghanistan Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles
“…excellent, and perceptive, essays. I wish they could be more widely available to politicians on both sides of the Atlantic.”
—Lord Wright, former head of the British Foreign Service, ambassador to Syria and Saudi Arabia and chairman of Chatham House.
—former Congressman and Fox News Commentator Dennis Kucinich
“Your recent essay on Libya was absolutely grand – so much that needed to be said, and you said it so well.”
—Elisabeth Sifton, former member of the advisory board of Foreign Affairs.
“A brilliant piece of reporting…”
—Uri Avery, Israeli commentator.
“Your paper is as good as Karl Eikenberry, Sherard Cowper-Coles, Uri Avnery and Chas
Freeman say it is.”
—David Unger, member of the editorial board of The New York Times.
Palgrave Macmillan 2009
"This is an extraordinary book by an extraordinary author...It portrays masterfully and humanely the evolution of the complex realities of Iranian history and culture and their profound impact on contemporary Iran and its relations with the United States."
—Professor R.K. Ramazani in The Middle East Journal.
“This marvelous book promises to be the definitive account of Iran today in historical context – a fitting companion to the author’s brilliant Understanding Iraq.
—Former Senator George S. McGovern
“A great scholar's brilliant appreciation of Iranian culture and history.”
—Dr. Khodadad Farmanfarmaian, former head of the economic development authority of Iran.
“Essential reading...a study of depth and clarity.”
—Dr. Terrell Arnold, Former chairman, Department of International Studies, US National War College.
“Engrossing and penetrating. A beautifully written vision of “the other” which we desperately need.”
—William H. McNeill, former president of the American Historical Association, chairman of the History Department of the University of Chicago and winner of the National Book Award.
“William Polk brings that rare combination of both scholarship and policy experience to his fascinating study of what makes Iran tick. His sure grasp of the social, political and psychological culture of Iran is invaluable to understanding this complex land.
—Graham E. Fuller, author of The Center of the Universe: the Geopolitics of Iran, was the vice chairman of the US National Intelligence Council.
"Bill Polk's Understanding Iran is the most cogent, objective and informed view of the Iranian policy problem yet written.
—Ambassador William G. Miller, Senior Fellow, Woodrow Wilson International Center
“Like a modern-day Herodotus, William Polk casts his humane, open-minded and perceptive eye across history’s grand stage as he probes into the life and times of ancient Persians and contemporary Iranians. This wise portrait of the most misunderstood country on earth could not come at a better time.”
—Terrence Ward, author of Searching for Hassan, A Journey to the Heart of Iran
“In Understanding Iran, Bill Polk has let us see the Iranians as they see America -- full of threats, warnings and demands for unilateral concessions...Will anyone listen?”
—Seymour M. Hersh, The New Yorker magazine
“This is an easy read with a very big payoff ...If you know someone in the United States government dealing with Iran or the Middle East, give that person this book; the prospects of American policy success vis-à-vis both could go up considerably.”
—Ambassador Chas W. Freeman, Jr. , former assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs
“Understanding Iran is the latest addition to the library of Polk's sharp,smart analysis of a region that America doesn't understand well enoughs tells a story that anyone who cares about America and Iran should read."
—David Ignatius, columnist for The Washington Post
HarperCollins Publishers, 2007
“There will be few more important books for the next president of the
United States to read than William Polk’s Violent Politics -- a brilliant comparative analysis by an experienced American scholar-diplomat of insurgent movements over three centuries. The conclusion of Polk’s study is devastating, and can affect the politics of 2008.”
—John Brademas, President Emeritus, New York University, former member for twenty-two years of the U.S. House of Representatives
“Dr. Polk’s book is a vivid illustration of how, time after time, major military powers have failed in their objectives because they became viewed as occupiers.”
—Congressman John Murtha (D-Pa) is chairman of the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee
“This wise history-grounded book analyzes a dozen guerrilla wars from the American Revolution to Iraq, and in a brilliant conclusion, Dr. Polk lays out the enormous human and financial costs of trying to impose a foreign solution on people who do not want to be controlled by outsiders. A must-read for all thinking Americans.”
—Former Senator George S. McGovern
"Based on impressive research and decades of professional experience, Dr. Polk compares a dozen or more insurgencies of the past two centuries. He concludes that they share a universal characteristic--opposition to foreign rulers…Polk's book is full of arresting analogies and adroit comparisons, ranging over several continents, as occupiers confront terrorists.”
—Thomas L. Hughes, Former Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence and Research, President Emeritus of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
“William Polk's masterful and succinct history of eleven insurgent wars is the best available antidote to the U.S. counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq that de-couples war and politics. Polk re-couples them through the prism of historical experience.”
—William E. Odom, Lieutenant General, USA, Retired
“This is a 'must-read' for all U.S. policy-makers, the media, and the general public, if we are to get American foreign policy back on track and prevent the misnamed ‘Global War on Terror’ from destroying what defines us affirmatively, as Americans, in the global community."
—Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey (D-Ca), is a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
“William Polk, in a sweeping insightful review of the history of insurgencies (back to the American Revolution), explains why and how those who come to be seen as occupiers and oppressors invariably fail.”
—Dr. Landrum Bolling, former president of the Lilly Foundation, Director-at-Large, Mercy Corps.
—John V. Whitbeck, Noted international lawyer and author.
“William Polk’s book is particularly relevant for Americans today to better understand the reactions of foreign nations to American foreign policy initiatives.”
—John Gunther Dean, former Regional Director in Vietnam of CORDS and US ambassador to the Khmer Republic, Denmark, Lebanon, Thailand, and India.
“With an extensive global look at the history of insurgency – and its tactics of terrorism and guerrilla warfare – Violent Politics provokes informed dialogue and a re-evaluation of American policy toward extremist threats. A critical read.”
—Congressman Walter Jones (R-NC) is a member of the House Armed Services Committee.
"A captivating but disquieting examination of how insurgencies begin, grow, persist and either succeed or fail...A lucid, absorbing analysis of the theory and reality underpinning three centuries of insurgent movements."
Out of Iraq:
A Practical Plan for Withdrawal Now
(With Senator George McGovern)
Simon & Schuster Paperbacks 2006
"There is a wonderful book I am recommending to everyone. It's a small, readable book by George McGovern and William Polk, called Out of Iraq. And it just very quickly runs you through the history of the country, the makeup of the country, how we got in, the arguments for getting in--many of which don't withstand scrutiny--and how we can get out. It's like a little primer. I think the entire nation should read it and then we will be united."
—Anna Quindlen, "The Charlie Rose Show"
"In this crisp and cogently argued book, former Senator McGovern and scholar Polk offer a trenchant and straightforward critique of the war in Iraq. What makes their highly readable book unique is that it not only argues why the United States needs to disengage militarily from Iraq now...but also clearly delineates practical steps for troop withdrawal...Essential reading for anybody who wants to cut through the maze of confusion that surrounds current U.S. policy in Iraq, this book is highly recommended for public and academic libraries."
“McGovern and Polk methodically explain a blueprint for leaving Iraq that allows the U.S. to bring troops home while fulfilling a responsibility to fix what it has broken.”
—Editorial in The Roanoke Times, October 11, 2006
“There will be some kind of timeline, or whatever you want to call it, with enforced benchmarks, or whatever you want to call them, for phased withdrawal. (Read “Out of Iraq: A Practical Plan for Withdrawal Now” by George McGovern and William R. Polk for a particularly persuasive blueprint.)”
—Frank Rich, The New York Times, October 29, 2006
“This is a well-crafted tract for our times. In a pliable paperback that will fit into one’s purse or pocket the author waste not a word in asserting that we were misled into Iraq, and in setting out the baleful impact of our intervention on Iraqis and on us. They then turn to their ‘practical plan for withdrawal’…[each step of which] comes with a price tag that they shrewdly convert into a single day costs of the continuing American presence in Iraq (usually only one day or less for each proposed step, never more than four). What comes through, however, is not so much an economics argument as a wise and learned conviction (with some passing reference to Vietnam) that what America ought to do or refrain from doing in its foreign relations accords with what works and doesn’t work in international politics.”
—Professor Carl Brown in Foreign Affairs
“…a rational exit strategy…is already available in this short book by two well-known experts on the Middle East. After he retired from politics, George McGovern resumed his prior profession of teaching history and headed the Middle East Policy Council in Washington for six years. William R. Polk taught Middle East history and politics at Harvard and Chicago, published many book on the region, and has closely studied Iraq since he first visited Baghdad in 1947. In 2005 he published Understanding Iraq, a highly readable 213-page history of that country from ancient times to the present that should be required reading for anyone wishing to join the debate…This brief book provides a reasonable, workable and inexpensive blueprint or ‘road map’ for extricating ourselves from the Iraq quagmire, and is therefore essential reading…”
—Ambassador Robert Keeley in The Foreign Service Journal
The Birth of America
HarperCollins Publishers, 2006
"dazzling social history of early America…Polk…is a masterful storyteller who takes us into a strange world and helps us to understand it."
— Publishers Weekly
"America grows from embryo to newborn, nurtured by an international cast of characters…Polk’s evenhanded, evocative account shows disparate groups fighting to carve out their niches in harsh new surroundings…Packed with impeccable scholarship and insightful analysis."
— Kirkus Reviews
"Casting new eyes on a familiar story--the Middle East is Polk's area of expertise--the author synthesizes a fluent account of British America from colonization to the imperial crisis of the 1760s and 1770s…Polk explains the friction between colonials and Indians, the establishment of economies both slave-based and commerce-driven, and, crucially, traditions of colonial autonomy that predated by generations the outbreak of armed rebellion in 1775...A fine popular history of America's origin."
— Booklist, American Library Association
HarperCollins Publishers, 2005 (Hard Cover)
Harper Perennial, 2006 (Paperback)
"…by far the most absorbing and disturbing of the many recent books
[and] has the authority that comes from formidable knowledge and understanding of a far-away country which, so far, has proved all too complex and intractable.”
“Polk’s compact book should be required reading for servicemen and women headed for Iraq as well as for today’s policy planners…crisp, clear narrative writing.”
—The Washington Post
“Polk’s history…reads like a portent…The effect is haunting.”
“…a sober and informed account of Iraq’s history, culminating in a compelling critique of the U.S. intervention there.”
STARRED “Polk’s distinguished 60-year career of diplomatic and academic intimacy with the Middle East grants him unique authority on his subject and puts this book head and shoulders above other analyses…Candid, concise, and highly recommended.”
“The author could hardly be more expert…for anyone truly wishing to understand this horrendous adventure, there is no better book than this one.”
—Journal of the American Foreign Service Association
"A supremely helpful companion to, and gloss on, the news from Iraq...Learned, constantly engaging and full of pointed lessons for those wondering why the war has not ended, peace has not come..."
Todo lo que usted quiera saber sobre Irak
“Polk's distinguished 60-year career of diplomatic and academic intimacy with the Middle East grants him unique authority on his subject and puts this book head and shoulders above other analyses. Candid, concise, and highly recommended; make a definite effort to place this in the hands of your politically- and current-events-minded readers.”
—American Library Association
"A digestible history of this tortured land is something Americans sorely need...And Polk carefully constructs one."
"This book will be informative to two groups scarcely on speaking terms: the supporters of President Bush's invasion of Iraq and those implacably opposed to it...William Polk presents the reader with the full sweep of Iraq's history...He gives us a comprehensive tour."
"...a short (220 pp), pithy, beautifully written account of Iraq and the Iraqis from the earliest times to today."
New York: Doubleday, 2000
Anchor Books, 2001
“The saga of this Family is the story of the United States. Polk's Folly is both epic in scope and intimate in detail - a unique book about our shared past."
“A brilliant historical narrative that celebrates, in family members and the nation as a whole, an abundance of heroism, tragedy, guts and glory.”
— Kirkus Reviews
“A wonderful and original book, using his own family’s unusual saga to tell the story of the nation itself…a magnificent job.”
— Lance Morrow
“ Engrossing…an amazing story of ups and downs, surprising success and sudden death. What a family! What a tradition to inherit and share through this book with the reading public.”
— William H. McNeill (former chairman of the History Department of the University of Chicago, former president of the American Historical Association and winner of the National Book Award)
“A spirited, broad-scale saga of an American family we ought to remember.”
— New York Times Book Review
“This lovingly constructed history…evokes not only the dynamism of the American past but also the constant presence of war and violence in our national life.”
— The New Yorker
Polk’s Folly is for every American history buff and for every textbook jaded student who imagines that American history is dull.”
— Frances FitzGerald (author of Fire in the Lake and America Revised; winner of the National Book Award)
“Polk’s Folly is a great, fresh idea captivatingly realized, truly a superior work.”
— Howard K. Smith (CBS and ABC Anchorman and world-famous journalist, author of Last Train from Berlin)
“Here history meets very fine storytelling, with a vivid cast of characters.”
— John Graves (author of Goodbye to a River)
“…this illuminating book [is] both delightful and necessary.”
— The Very Reverend James Parks Morton (Dean Emeritus of the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine)
“an original and entrancing history of America. His research is impressive and his storytelling a delight.”
— Richard Barnet
Neighbors and Strangers:
The Fundamentals of Foreign Affairs
Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997
“A splendid achievement.”
— Brian Urquhart (former UN Under-Secretary-General)
“Neighbors and Strangers is a brilliant, fascinating analysis of war and statecraft from ancient times to the latest headline…done with superb scholarship.”
— Roger Hilsman (former Assistant Secretary of State and Professor of Government, emeritus, of Columbia University)
“…a massive, ambitious and reflective work, huge in concept and scope…Polk is equally adept in handling defense, trade, intelligence and diplomacy…”
— Thomas Hughes (President emeritus of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace)
“A work of great learning, clear thought and logical presentation.”
— John Campbell (former director of studies of the Council on Foreign Relations)
“Should be required reading for every practicing diplomat.”
— James Spain (former U.S. ambassador to Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Turkey and the UN)
“A highly original work…its scholarship is not only sound, it is rich…I know of no other work so comprehensive.”
— Speros Vryonis (Professor of History emeritus of New York University)
“Deserves to be committed to memory by our policy planners.”
— Hume Horan (former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, the Sudan, Côte d’Ivoire and Equatorial Guinea)
“A wise, learned, and graceful work that constitutes a superb introduction to the origin and logic of the principal areas of transaction among political collectives – defense, trade, espionage, and diplomacy.”
— Foreign Affairs
“William Polk has compressed a lifetime of scholarship, diplomacy, travel and inspired writing into this thoughtful, sometimes whimsical, but never boring account of how human beings have behaved toward each other from Neanderthal times to the nuclear age.
— International Herald Tribune
"a highly learned and very readable book…”
— Times Higher Education Supplement
“A lively and thought-provoking account strongly recommended.”
— Library Journal
The Arab World Today
Cambridge Harvard University Press, 1963, 1969, 1975, 1980 and 1991
“Rarely has so much been packed so tightly and yet with ample fresh light and air..”
—Hal Lehrman, The New Leader
“An authoritative and lucid interpretative history.”
— Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences
The Arab World
Cambridge Harvard University Press, 1963, 1969, 1975, 1980 and 1991
“It is the depth of Professor Polk’s historical and cultural presentation and the breadth of his economic, social, and political analysis that distinguish this volume from the plethora of journalistic commentary on the subject and make of it a true ‘classic.’”
—Edwin Reischauer (professor of history, Harvard University, and former U.S. ambassador to Japan)
The Elusive Peace:
The Middle East in the Twentieth Century
London: Croom Helm and New York: St. Martin’s Press 1979
“I am delighted with your book…and am learning a lot from it, and agreeing with almost all you propose!”
—Lord Caradon (British ambassador to the UN)
William Polk is a real pleasure to read…He has a genuine historical approach, and an easy thoughtful style. He also has a very fair and inquiring mind…I can’t remember a better general book on the whole region and recommend it most heartily.”
—The New Statesman
“William Polk, a professional in history and diplomacy who is fully at home in the Middle East, manages to simplify without distorting the region’s problems of war and peace, of wealth and poverty, and of adaptation to the modern world, setting them against a background of political and cultural history. His vision is keen and his judgments worth pondering.”
“An excellent summary of the history, old and new…Polk’s even-handedness is very evident.
“…written with a relentlessly realistic honesty, free from illusion, cant or rant.”
—Middle East International
“This incisive study of the Middle East in the twentieth century provides the essential background to the current turmoil…and suggests a means to solve the dangerous, costly and tragic conflict between the Arabs and Israel."
—ITCC REVIEW (Israel)
New York: Knopf, 1973, and Ballantine, 1974
Panda Press 2013
“…magnificent testimony to an extraordinary experience. To read it is to sense and understand the eternal, mystic fascination the desert has always held for the Westerner.”
— The Harvard Journal
“…a daring journey across the vast Arabian desert from Riyadh in Saudi Arabia to Amman, Jordan, a 1,200 mile camel-back trip which had not been made by Arab or Westerner in half a century – But it is not a pedagogical text. It’s far too fascinating for that.”
— Philadelphia Inquirer
“In “Passing Brave,” the pleasures and vicissitudes of the trip are interspersed with acute observations… Dr. Polk has a fine eye for small distinctions and the corrosion of social change.”
— The New York Times
The Golden Ode
The University of Chicago Press, 1974
Second edition, The American University in Cairo Press, 1977 and
Third edition, The Cultural Foundation, United Arab Emirates, 1994
" ...a work of value and beauty."
— The Middle East Journal
" ...The Golden Ode captures the elements of [bedouin] life and illustrates the fragile beauty the bedouin harvest from their difficult and tenuous existence. Professor Polk's artistic rendition and commentary make this comprehensible, and William Mares's black-and-white photographs illustrate it in mood and detail -- the sudden daisy after a rain, a long-deserted campsite, the carcass of a camel, the great sweep of sand in the formidable wilderness."
— Harper's Bookletter
" A very rare combination of good writing, good scholarship, an instinctively solid literary understanding,and a sympathy of vision both personal and controlled."
—Professor Jaroslav Stetkevych, Chicago
" One should not only read but also live with a book of this sort."
" A novel and exciting presentation...sumptuously done and most pleasing to the reader's aesthetic taste."
" The clearest vision of pre-Islamic Arabia ever achieved by a Western scholar."
—Professor Mounah Khouri, Berkeley
The Opening of South Lebanon, 1788-1840
A Study of the Impact of the West on the Middle East
Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1963
“… this book has an unmistakable air of perceptive realism…[Polk] has also made use of a great deal of hitherto unused local documentary material, much of it of extreme difficulty…a piece of first-class original scholarship in a field where almost nothing has been done.”
— International Journal
“… hopefully will become a model for further studies of the Near East…[it exhibits] that intangible ‘feel' which alone makes meaningful history writing possible.”
— The Middle East Journal
“…ce livre [est] riche en faits et en idées, extrêmement intelligent qui décrit, ou Liban, ce ‘moment’ bref mais capital pour tout pays, le ‘moment’ où se fait la transition de l’époque médiévale à la vie moderne. Cette brusque mutation transporte l’histoire d’un plan à l’outre et ‘ouvre’ le Liban médiéval à la civilisation moderne.»
— Cahiers de l’Orient Contemporai
Crusade and Jihad
Yale University 2018
"A brilliant study, analytical and authoritative. There are few overviews that can rival the depth and the range of this work."- K.N. Chaudhuri, Fellow of the British Academy, Emeritus Professor of the University of London and of the, European University, Florence, Italy
"Mr. Polk's book is a masterpiece." -- Ghassan Salamé, founder-director of Institute of International Affairs of, Science Po where he was professor of international affairs; he is the former chairman of the International Crisis Group and currently Special Representative of the UN Secretary General and Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya
"In this magisterial treatment, William Polk cuts to the core of contemporary conflicts with the Muslim world, providing an accessible, often troubling account."-Joel Gordon, University of Arkansas, author of Nasser: Hero of the Arab Nation
"A tour de force covering centuries of history from the perspective of the people who lived in the Muslim world, Crusade and Jihad offers a fresh and urgently needed angle on the present crisis in the Middle East that you will find nowhere else."-Ilan Pappe, author of The Forgotten Palestinians: A History of the Palestinians in Israel
"William Polk combines analytical powers and profound insight with a lively, accessible style. Crusade and Jihad is a pleasure for the mind."-Uri Avnery, author and peace activist
"With rigor and sympathy, William Polk has produced a masterpiece to enlighten us all. No one who reads Crusade and Jihad will put it down without an increased knowledge and understanding of the crucial relationship between the Islamic and Western worlds."- Charles Glass, author of Tribes with Flags and Syria Burning: A Short History of a Catastrophe
"This is history as Herodotus imagined it -- a brilliant and very readable retelling of the past to explain the present" Ambassador Chas Freeman (The US ambassador to Saudi Arabia during the first Gulf war)
Copyright @ 2004-2018 William Polk All rights reserved