Nobody Told Us We Are Defeated: Stories from the New Iraq

(Chatto & Windus, 2006)

In May 2003 Rory McCarthy went to Iraq to cover what was claimed to be the triumphant rebuilding of a nation after the American invasion. Two years later he left a place teetering on the brink of civil war, whose inhabitants longed for the Americans to leave but feared what would happen if they did. This is the story of Iraq told through the eyes of some of its people, a people who were fatally misunderstood.

There are many books about the war in Iraq, but few that take us into the homes, workplaces, meetings and mosques of the citizens living through the conflict. From the survivor of one of Saddam's mass graves to the insurgents of Najaf, this book shows us men and women living the dilemmas of Iraq from day to day, and making crucial decisions about where they stand. It is a story of a nation in turmoil.


Shortlisted for the Glen Dimplex New Writers Biography/Non-fiction Award 2007 & the Authors Club Dolman Best First Travel Book Award 2007


“A brilliant, insightful account of how Iraqis have viewed our invasion. McCarthy meets ordinary and extraordinary Iraqis, taking considerable risks in doing so. This is some of the best writing about Iraq since the war began.”
Jon Snow, Channel Four News

“This is an excellent book. Written with perception and empathy, it gives us rare access to the thinking of a population deeply traumatised by dictatorship, brutality and civil war.”
Toby Dodge, University of London and International Institute for Strategic Studies

“What makes Rory McCarthy’s one of a rare breed is that it catches the voices of the ordinary people of Iraq, the people George W Bush and Tony Blair “liberated” and who have since seen their society disintegrate in the spiralling violence of the Sunni insurgency and a vicious sectarian war…McCarthy studiously avoided the purple prose so favoured by some of our colleagues. And this made his writing for The Guardian some of the best to emerge from Iraq…The book reveals a deeply interested, concerned but also slightly bewildered traveller through a state in anarchy.”
Kim Sengupta, The Independent

“At great peril, McCarthy criss-crossed the country, from Basra, to Najaf to Falluja, talking to insurgents, the survivor of one of Saddam’s mass graves, the colleagues of a hotel receptionist beaten to death by British soldiers, to businessmen, poets and ordinary Iraqis.With great artistry, he has drawn the most complete portrayal to date of life in Iraq since the 2003 US-led invasion.”
Lara Marlowe, Irish Times

“The book focuses deliberately and exclusively on Iraqis. American and British forces flicker in and out of sight from behind concrete blast walls, at checkpoints or in helicopters overhead, but they are not McCarthy’s subject, nor are the politicians and diplomats who fret over the country’s fate from affair. It is a disorientating change of perspective from most newspaper accounts of the war and an exemplary piece of journalism. McCarthy is unsentimental but compassionate. Through the lives of teachers, bureaucrats, businessmen and fighters, he builds a portrait of a country undergoing terrible trauma. It is like a freeze-frame image of a body in the middle of a seizure, muscles pulling in awkward directions, limbs locked in violent posture.”
Rafael Behr, The Observer

“How the occupation has affected the lives of Iraqis is the common thread to Nobody Told Us We Are Defeated by Guardian journalist Rory McCarthy, which is one of the best reporters’ books for years. He skilfully weaves his narratives through the stories of a dozen main characters whom he visits and revisits. McCarthy combines a fine eye and pen with an acute and delicate feel for history. Most striking, though, is his control of sentiment without drowning in sentimentality.”
Robert Fox, The Tablet

“His questions are probing and free of cant, and the answers reveal an Iraqi reality much messier and more nuanced than the one conveyed in mainstream press reports. The end result is beautifully written, profoundly empathetic and revealing for anyone who hasn’t already followed his reportage. You will be hard-pressed to find a book that illustrates and humanises Iraqis’ experiences since 2003 half as well as this one.”
Dominick Donald, The Guardian

"Posted as a journalist to Iraq, McCarthy started collecting stories from ordinary people – stories that mostly began in 1991, during what they called the Shaaban intifada, or “the Separation”. Far too many accounts of modern Iraq omit this full-blown civil war. McCarthy draws a line from those wounds through to the next wars and beyond in stories that are revealing, shocking, human, and faithfully portrayed. He gives us an intimate “outside-in” view of the world as a professional writer."
Derek B. Miller, The Guardian