Hanf, a German social scientist, has produced a massive and original study of the Lebanese civil war. By thoroughly immersing himself in things Lebanese he has produced the book that finally does justice to the enigma and the tragedy of that war. Relying on an exceptionally wide sources (including survey research), Hanf brings all the pieces together and gives the reader a better feel for the conflict than even its many first-hand accounts.
The book's thesis appears in its subtitle: the crucible of war forged the Lebanese into a people. Or, putting the same thought in social science jargon, "surveys have revealed that the majority of Lebanese have little difficulty in reconciling communal identity and national identity."
Looking to the future, Hanf has a keen appreciation for the Syrian insistence on "unreserved recognition of Syrian ascendency in a formally independent Lebanon," an objective which Damascus finally attained in 1991-92. Should the death of Hafiz al-Asad lead to a struggle for power, the author expects Syrians may have to cut back on their current predominance, but "it is unlikely that any post-Assad government will voluntarily abandon Assad's Lebanon policy." In other words, Hanf advises the Lebanese to get used to living under the Syrian thumb. How ironic: the war that finally made the Lebanese a nation also ended their independence.