Book Article

War of the Words

War of the words -- The Persian Gulf crisis sparks multiple books about Saddam Hussein, Iraq, and the invasion of Kuwait

As war clouds grew darker and darker in recent months, American book publishers engaged in their own race against a deadline. Banking on a growing public appetite for information about Saddam Hussein, Iraq, and the invasion of Kuwait, they have been rushing books on the Persian Gulf crisis into print in a frenzy to beat competitors. The more notable recent books include:

The Rape of Kuwait by Jean P. Sasson
Produced in four weeks, this slim volume of unapologetic propaganda details horror stories told by Kuwaitis who fled the advancing Iraqi army. Sasson, a hospital administrator who worked in Saudi Arabia, is no stylist (''Of all the stories leaking from bleeding Kuwait...''), but Knightsbridge is giving her book a huge push: 200,000 copies are en route to Gulf troops, and 1 million more are headed for bookstores.

Saddam Hussein and the Crisis in the Gulf by Judith Miller and Laurie Mylroie. In a September meeting, Random House chairman Alberto Vitale bellowed, ''If Washington can put 150,000 troops halfway around the world, certainly Random House can put an equal number of books in every K Mart in America!'' The result of his battle cry is this account by a New York Times editor and a Harvard professor, which went from brainstorm to bookstore in six weeks. Industry sources are concerned that, in the haste to print, the book may carry unsubstantiated information.

Republic of Fear by Samir al-Khalil
Published in 1989 by University of California Press (it sold 4,000 copies), this account of Hussein's rise, written by a pseudonymous Iraqi exile, was hastily reprinted after the Kuwait invasion. Pantheon's parent company, Random House, hoped to convince al-Khalil to rework Republic with Judith Miller, but he declined: ''His book would have lost some authority,'' says a U. of C. Press publicist.

Bantam Books capitalized on interest in the Gulf by plastering 30,000 copies of Barrett Tillman's 1990 Saudi Arabia adventure novel Warriors with stickers that scream ''It's War Over the Arabian Desert!'' In the rush to publish, the nonfiction entries seem only slightly more credible than the make-believe.

Originally posted Jan 25, 1991 Published in issue #50 Jan 25, 1991 Order article reprints