Interview with History by Oriana Fallaci, 1976

The Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci lost the plot, frankly, late in life, succumbing to the most reductive sort of clash-of-civilizations thinking about Muslims in her post-9/11 columns and book “The Rage and the Pride.” But in her prime, in the 1960s and 70s, she was a wonder. “Interview with History” (published in English in 1976) was one of the landmark books of my life: a collection of extended interviews with Henry Kissinger, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, Muammar Gaddafi, Yasser Arafat, and many other of the most powerful, vain, cantankerous leaders of the late-20th century — almost all of them men, which was a gift to her — that reads more like an intellectual wrestling match than the sort of softball-lobbing that passes for an interview today.

Fallaci’s great advantage might have seemed like a disadvantage: she was a ruthlessly smart, attractive woman in an era that was just learning to take women seriously. Her interview subjects, old men mostly, did not, and as a result of this condescension she could get away with asking questions that never would have been indulged from a male interviewer and eliciting answers that were probably more revealing than intended. It flattered the Shah to be diminished by her; maybe, one thinks, he didn’t even realize he was being diminished by her, and what does that say about their respective intellects? She was invariably arguing on the side of liberty through the 1960s and 70s until, one day, under pressure from immigration and extrapolating from the terrorist actions of the few to the secret intentions of the many, she went out in an explosion of rage that did her legacy no favors. Skip that, read this.


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