Although Hezbollah has certainly evolved since the 2006 war with Israel, Norton’s brief history (a mere 172 pages, including an afterward) remains an indispensable read for those interested in organization. In a semi-chronological fashion, Norton traces the roots of Hezbollah to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon of 1982. Hezbollah, despite passages that seem to come from a memoir rather than a history, covers the evolution of the Shi’i organization from a small Islamic organization to a true power in Lebanese politics.
This book greatly succeeds in two areas: Firstly, Norton does well to explain the deeply complex confessional system of Lebanon. Using the various alliances of Hezbollah to demonstrate the complexities of the Lebanese civil war and the path to power in the Lebanese state, Norton makes clear the ever-shifting and ever-evolving nature of Lebanon. Secondly, Norton explains the true all-encompassing attraction to Hezbollah. Americans and other westerners are often given a picture of Hezbollah as an anti-Israeli terrorist group. While there is no denying Hezbollah’s role in terrorist operations or its connections with Iran, this book exemplifies Hezbollah’s role in the reconstruction of southern Lebanon after the civil war and the Israeli war in 2006. It makes clear that although Hezbollah is a political group, and sometimes a terrorist group, it is also a fiercely nationalistic social group that often plays a greater role than the Lebanese government in providing civil services.
Where Norton falls short is in the books brevity (granted, it is a short history) and, occasionally as voice that strains to be formal. This book gives very clear overview of the history of the organization. Unfortunately, there are areas in the history of Hezbollah that demand more attention than is given by Norton, specifically the events surrounding the expulsion of Syria in 2005 and the entire decade of the 1990’s. Furthermore, Norton – who has a vast wealth of personal experience in Lebanon – derives much of his research from personal experiences and personal interviews (which gives the book more authority). However, Norton struggles on how to present experiences that he clearly holds close to his heart. Instead of choosing a stoic, detached voice or embracing the personal nature of certain interviews and events, Norton awkwardly floats in the purgatory between the two. Fortunately, while this can be distracting, its takes very little away from the magnitude of the tiny book.
As events in Lebanon begin to stir and Hezbollah once again begins its dance with Israel, this book should be required reading for anyone who is interested in Lebanon or Israel.