My Holy War: Dispatches from the Home Front

By Jonathan Raban. New York Review Books, $21.95.

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The articles in Jonathan Raban's collection My Holy War, which take on topics as diverse as post--September 11 politics and the environment, were provocative when they first appeared in the New York Review of Books, but some have aged better than others. A few suffer from an excess of being proven right: Raban's levelheaded forebodings of catastrophe have been, for instance, overshadowed by an actual war. As learned as his predictions were about how the invasion might be perceived across the Arab and Muslim worlds, it is a subject that we all, unfortunately, have become acutely aware of in the past two years.

Nonetheless, many other pieces still hit home with their observations of the "zillion tendrils of the war on terror" as experienced by a Briton living in Seattle, worlds apart in some ways from the September 11 attacks, yet itself a prime potential terrorist target. He describes the gradual militarization of everyday life, accompanied by an atmosphere of secrecy that renders these changes mysterious. "We no longer get real news of the administration, we now get intelligence, which is something altogether different," he notes with typical elegance.

Raban's West Coast perch provides a welcome shift from the Ground Zero--centric view of terrorism. Noting repeatedly that Seattle's port nestles up to its downtown, Raban meditates on the ungoverned vastness of the sea, which has yet to be taken full advantage of as a terrorist haven. His remarkably fluid prose allows him to dwell on threats to our comfort and peace that go beyond the specter of terrorism. On a road trip down the West Coast, he and his daughter witness numerous minute signs of ecological change: an "eerily early" fog bank hiding the Golden Gate Bridge; a denuded rainy season in Baja. These natural portents point to a human catastrophe predicted by the Pentagon itself in a report on global warming, one that the gloomy yet convincing Raban has already begun to record.—Jonathan Taylor

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