Black Wave: Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the Forty-Year Rivalry That Unraveled Culture, Religion, and Collective Memory in the Middle East (Hardcover)

Black Wave: Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the Forty-Year Rivalry That Unraveled Culture, Religion, and Collective Memory in the Middle East By Kim Ghattas Cover Image
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A New York Times Notable Book of 2020

“[A] sweeping and authoritative history" (The New York Times Book Review), Black Wave is an unprecedented and ambitious examination of how the modern Middle East unraveled and why it started with the pivotal year of 1979.

Kim Ghattas seamlessly weaves together history, geopolitics, and culture to deliver a gripping read of the largely unexplored story of the rivalry between between Saudi Arabia and Iran, born from the sparks of the 1979 Iranian revolution and fueled by American policy.

With vivid story-telling, extensive historical research and on-the-ground reporting, Ghattas dispels accepted truths about a region she calls home. She explores how Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran, once allies and twin pillars of US strategy in the region, became mortal enemies after 1979. She shows how they used and distorted religion in a competition that went well beyond geopolitics. Feeding intolerance, suppressing cultural expression, and encouraging sectarian violence from Egypt to Pakistan, the war for cultural supremacy led to Iran’s fatwa against author Salman Rushdie, the assassination of countless intellectuals, the birth of groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon, the September 11th terrorist attacks, and the rise of ISIS.

Ghattas introduces us to a riveting cast of characters whose lives were upended by the geopolitical drama over four decades: from the Pakistani television anchor who defied her country’s dictator, to the Egyptian novelist thrown in jail for indecent writings all the way to the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018. Black Wave is both an intimate and sweeping history of the region and will significantly alter perceptions of the Middle East.

About the Author


Kim Ghattas is an Emmy-award winning journalist, analyst, and author with more than 20 years of experience covering the Middle East, international affairs, and US foreign policy for the BBC, the Financial Times and de Volkskrant. She is currently a contributing writer for The Atlantic magazine, a regular contributor to the Financial Times, and a 2023-2024 Inaugural Distinguished Fellow at Columbia University's Institute for Global Politics.

Ghattas is the author of The Secretary, the New York Times best-seller about US foreign policy and her travels around the world with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Her second book Black Wave, about the Saudi-Iran rivalry, was named a New York Times notable book in 2020 and has since become a reference for universities and diplomats. Ghattas is currently writing her third book, which revisits Lebanon’s civil war as the origin story of the US-Iran clash in the Middle East.

As a leading voice on Middle Eastern affairs, Ghattas shares her expertise on risk and opportunities in regional and geopolitical trends with a variety of key players and institutions in the region and in the United States. She serves on the board of trustees of the American University of Beirut and was chair of the board of directors for the Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism network from 2020 to 2023. She sits on the advisory council of the Atlas for Impunity. Ghattas is also a former nonresident senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (2017–2022), a former public policy fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars (2017) and a former Civitella Ranieri fellow (2019).

Praise For…


Shortlisted for the Cundill History Prize * A New York Times Notable Book of 2020 * A Kirkus Reviews Best Nonfiction Book of 2020 * A Financial Times Best Political Book of 2020

“[A] sweeping and authoritative history.” —The New York Times Book Review

“She serves up a wealth of human interest wrapped in ambiance and atmosphere. She paints riveting portraits of the protagonists… a superbly researched and subtly told story—current history at its best.” —The Wall Street Journal

“[A] wonderfully readable account… Ghattas has an enviable gift for going beyond politics… Whatever happens next in this long-running, oppressive and dangerous Middle Eastern drama, Black Wave will be a vivid, indispensable guide to the story so far.” —The Guardian

“A timely and welcome guide to the politics of a region…Well-researched and elegantly written.” —The Financial Times

“Unlike narratives told from a Western point of view, this book doesn’t highlight terrorism or ISIS but instead seamlessly weaves history and personal narrative into a story that explains the gradual suppression of intellectualism and the creep of authoritarianism in the region…Illuminating, conversational, rich in details and like nothing else you’ve ever read about the Middle East, Black Wave will leave you with a new understanding of this diverse and troubled region.” —BookPage

“The publication of this book, Black Wave, could not be better timed. In it, Kim Ghattas argues convincingly that the revolution that brought Ayatollah Khomeini to power in 1979 was one of three events that year that profoundly shaped — or rather misshaped — the Middle East… a fascinating and winding but highly readable tale.” —The Times (UK)

“[An] illuminating account of the origins of sectarian violence and the current political shape of the Muslim world… [a] fluid, fast-moving narrative...Essential for all who follow world events.” —Kirkus Reviews, *starred review*

“Skillfully written and scrupulously researched, Black Wave is an essential book in understanding the origins of the modern conflicts in the Middle East.” —Lawrence Wright, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Looming Tower

"The framing of Black Wave is as important as the content. Kim Ghattas portrays the last four decades across the Middle East as a dark age, a world dimmed behind a curtain of violence, misogyny, and religious extremism. In exploring how this blackness came to be, she recalls a brighter past and predicts a better future. It's a powerful and important book." —Anne-Marie Slaughter, CEO of the New America Foundation and former Director of Policy Planning at the Department of State

“Kim Ghattas is a superb writer and reporter, which makes Black Wave an accessible and very interesting account of the sectarian schism and regional rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia that has riven the Middle East for decades and is one of the most consequential contests threatening global security.” —Peter Bergen, author of Manhunt

"An artful, gripping, timely, and humane account of the roots and consequences of the destructive rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia from one of the region's most insightful and incisive observers." —Ambassador William J. Burns, President, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and former Deputy Secretary of State

“A well-researched and highly readable primer on the rivalry between Shias and Sunnis shaping today’s Middle East. Kim Ghattas masterfully traces the origins of sectarianism in the explosive rise of Islamic fundamentalism in 1979 and the destructive Saudi-Iranian rivalry that followed. Told through the experiences of those who lived and shaped sectarianism, Black Wave is both gripping and informative; a must read for anyone interested in understanding the forces shaping the Middle East today.” —Vali Nasr, professor of international affairs and Middle East politics at the School of Advanced International Studies of Johns Hopkins University and author of Shia Revival

“Clear-eyed and honest, perfectly researched and brilliantly written, a unique book that is about more than the Saudi-Iran rivalry as it illuminates how and why the region began to turn inward over the last 100 years—a must read for outsiders and people in the region.” —Marwan Muasher, Vice President for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and former minister of foreign affairs of Jordan

"Black Wave is a brilliant piece of work. Ghattas reveals how the competition between Tehran and Riyadh, instigated in 1979 by the Iranian revolution and the siege of Mecca—and intensified after the 2003 US invasion of Iraq—led to the instrumentalization of Islam to destroy cosmopolitanism, to force women to veil, and to mobilize sectarian extremists." —Emma Sky, senior fellow at Yale University’s Jackson Institute and author of In a Time of Monsters



Coverage from NPR



Product Details
ISBN: 9781250131201
ISBN-10: 1250131200
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Publication Date: January 28th, 2020
Pages: 400
Language: English