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Publisher's Summary

In this unprecedented account, The Washington Post's former Baghdad bureau chief, Rajiv Chandrasekaran, takes us into the Green Zone, headquarters for the American occupation in Iraq. In this bubble separated from wartime realities, the task of reconstructing a devastated nation competes with the distractions of a Little America: a half-dozen bars, a disco, a shopping mall - much of it run by Halliburton.

While qualified Americans willing to serve in Iraq are screened for their views on Roe v. Wade, the country is put into the hands of inexperienced 20-somethings chosen for their Republican Party loyalty. Ignoring what Iraqis say they want or need, the team pursues irrelevant neoconservative solutions and pie-in-the-sky policies instead of rebuilding looted buildings and restoring electricity. Their almost comic initiatives anger the locals and fuel the insurgency.

©2006 Rajiv Chandrasekaran; (P)2006 Blackstone Audio Inc.

Critic Reviews

  • A National Book Award Finalist

"A devastating indictment of the post-invasion failures of the Bush administration." (Booklist)
"An eye-opening tour of ineptitude, misdirection, and the perils of democracy-building." (Newsday)
"With acuity and a fine sense of the absurd, the author peels back the roof to reveal an ant heap of arrogance, ineptitude, and hayseed provincialism." (Boston Globe)
"As chilling an indictment of America's tragic cultural myopia as Graham Greene's prescient 1955 novel of the American debacle in Indochina, The Quiet American." (New York Times)

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  • Overall

A stunning work and performance

I have rarely come across a work of journalism as well written and as perceptive as this one. I was in Iraq before, during, and after the events Mr Chandrasekaran relates, and I knew many of the Emerald City denizens that form its core. His account of those events, and the descriptions of the ineptitudes of the incompetent that we sent there are bang on. But I personally think he could have have been a lot tougher.

The other thing I want to praise is the performance of Ray Porter as the reader in this production. He is superb. I have never, with perhaps the exception of Patrick Tull in the Aubrey-Maturin books, heard such an accomplished reader. I suspect that Mr Porter has had classical stage training, possibly British stage training.

He turns out a stunning performance, effortlessly and faultlessly switching from narrative voice to character voice, complete with appropriate accent and mannerism. His range is so vast that I spent some time with an audio program looking at the wave forms to see whether the producers had brought in other actors to provide the voices. But they all seem to be Mr Porter.

My Arabic is conversational, and more Egyptian than Iraqi, but Mr Porter's Iraqi accent for some of the people quoted in Imperial Life is dead on, if not astonishing.

It is a joy to hear someone this accomplished reading such good writing.

It is just too bad that what Mr Chandrasekaran and Mr Porter give us is an account of how inept and ignorant political appointees messed up post war Iraq so badly that thousands of American troops have suffered and died as a result; not to mention the innocent people of Iraq.

45 of 49 people found this review helpful

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  • B.J.
  • Minneapolis, MN, United States
  • 01-23-14

Emerald City aka Audacity

I need to say two quick things about this book before I comment on content. #1: Ray Porter is amazing as a narrator. #2: The author does a great job with "just the facts, ma'am" even though his opinions are clear. Look up any number of the things he talks about and you will find supporting facts. I value that with non-fiction.

This is NOT a feel-good book about America's export of democracy or freeing the Iraqis from Saddam Hussein. It is a harsh look at the mechanical parts of occupation and the responsibility you assume when you decide to take over another country. It's too bad the word "hubris" has already been used by another book. This could have been titled the same way.

There are many things I do not understand and this book didn't help. How could we as a country allow bridges to fall into rivers due to infrastructure neglect yet support the billions of dollars it took when we decided to rebuild Iraq? How do lawmakers justify their support of the billions of dollars for this and not for education and health care in our own country? When you look for skills during a crisis, why would political party even matter? And what does it take to put down your political party affiliation and just do the right thing?

There are two particular people in the book who are incredibly effective at carrying out their tasks. Their effectiveness has nothing to do with politics and all to do with pure competence. Reading about them and their M.O. is a great lesson in how to get things done. I was impressed at the odds against them and what they achieved.

13 of 15 people found this review helpful

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  • TM
  • 01-29-14

Shocking Indictment of Hubris

Any additional comments?

I was a bit worried this book would be a lefty hatchet job and whilst the account certainly helps to make a case for those who were critical of the post invasion phase of the Iraq war, it was laid out in a very factual and coherent manner.Its the facts themselves that are shocking.Numerous accounts of qualified and experienced (and often republican) personnel in key positions being replaced at key moments with unqualified, inexperienced friends of the administration, or politically-motivated appointees was deeply troubling.I already knew some of this, such as Garner's replacement early on, but there were many others.I struggle to understand how those involved could disregard the damage they were doing for the sake of winning an un-winnable political argument.

So many bad decisions, but the key ones:

- indiscriminate de-Bathification
- disbanding the Iraqi army

Thankfully Bush did belatedly come to his senses and change direction, by lessening Cheney's influence, and replacing Rumsfeld with Gates.I was against the Iraq war from the start, but I felt once we were in, we couldn't just abandon the country to chaos, and I think Gates did about as good a job as anyone could have in that situation.

I also want to spare a thought for all of our military personnel whose sacrifice was needed to clean-up the damage done by this phase of the invasion. Thank you!

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • David
  • Houston, TX, United States
  • 06-05-14

World class reportage

This is definitely a case of truth beggaring fiction. I found this account of America's occupation and attempted transformation of post-Hussein Iraq to be riveting--a kind of masochistic fascination is perhaps the best way to describe it. Eight years after the book was written, there has still been no adequate response to the indictment it embodies, even though the account Chandrasekaran presents is substantially undisputed.

The picture here is so appalling that it is hard not to suspect (hope?) that the author has neglected to report some positive aspects of the U.S. occupation, but one looks in vain for such material elsewhere. What's more, his on-the-spot access to the events and personnel involved with the story was clearly extraordinary. So in the end his reportage, compellingly straightforward and extremely well written, is convincing.

Ray Porter's voicing of the book was, in keeping with all his work, superb.

Do not be misled by the cover art for the book. The "Green Zone" movie starring Matt Damon was a piece of fiction inspired by but definitely distinct from this non-fiction work.

10 of 12 people found this review helpful

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Better than I thought

Any additional comments?

I bought this on a whim, and was pleasantly surprised. It's not action-packed, but it is a seemingly objective account of how America handled post-war Iraq. It opened my eyes to what was actually happening there, which would be very difficult to piece together from what you hear and see on the news. I would recommend this book.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall


I can't tell you if this book was accurate, or if it presented a balanced perspective of events. I can tell you, however, that it was very interesting to listen to- excellently written and well narrated. There was a lot of critisicm, but it was non-hostile. The author seemed to be lamenting missed opportunities, rather than pointing his finger. It was concise and informative.

5 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • David
  • cincinnati, OH, United States
  • 12-05-12

Lots of facts mixed with lots of political bias

The book does a great job of pointing out the failures of the Bush Administration's attempt to remake Iraq after the war. Iraqi industry was more of a joke than we thought, and all the money put into updating many things, such as their stock exchange, went to waste when they reverted back to the old ways they knew. The author presents conversations he heard as second or third hand accounts as if they were a first hand retelling which is rather misleading to the reader. His bias is obvious and the bias of those reporting conversations of Military Officers to him could pretty easily have leaked into the retelling of those conversations. Interpret those instances with a grain of salt. As to actual solid facts, the author did a very good job and did an excellent job with his observations of the American redevelopment failures in Iraq. I can say I'm a Conservative and have read a lot on the Second Persian Gulf War, and this book is one among those I would say are must reads even though I don't care for some misleading tactics of the author. Another book I'd recommend on the subject is John Keegan's "The Iraq War". Keegan is a renowned British Military History and his book cover's Saddam's rise to power through his downfall. This book then does a fair job covering everything that was not included in Keegans book, as in what happened after the war.

30 of 40 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

A view from inside the Green Zone

A well told story of the inter-workings of the CPA and the early years of the U.S. presence in Iraq. Can be disturbing as it explains just how unprepared the U.S. government was with this occupation. Truly eye-opening.

6 of 8 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

An Insider's View

Simply the best book I've read yet concerning the events in Iraq. Rajiv uses an insider's perspective to explain what's really going on in the Middle East. I found it enlightening, educational, shocking, and entertaining. Best of the Best!

10 of 14 people found this review helpful

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A powerful and engaging listen

Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone is the compelling story about the U.S. occupation in Iraq and the culture of inexperience, arrogance, and cronyism within the U.S. Green Zone. My previous impression of the Iraq war was that U.S. officials were well-meaning but sometimes misguided and the U.S. media portrayed a sugar-coated view rather than the reality of life on the ground. Listening to this audiobook, I felt shocked by just how much worse the situation had been than I'd previously realized. I found Imperial Life in the Emerald City so enlightening and informative that I didn't want to take a break from listening.

Ray Porter's narration more than does justice to Rajiv Chandrasekaran's story. This audiobook felt like listening to a fascinating novel rather than a nonfiction account by a newspaper journalist... the story and narration are powerful and engaging. I highly recommend this audiobook to anyone who wants to better understand the "story behind the story" of the U.S. in 2003-2004 Iraq.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful