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Exit the Colonel

The Hidden History of the Libyan Revolution

In Exit the Colonel, Ethan Chorin, a longtime Middle East scholar and one of the first American diplomats posted to Libya after the lifting of international sanctions, goes well beyond recent reporting on the Arab Spring to link the Libyan uprising to a flawed reform process, egregious human rights abuses, regional disparities, and inconsistent stories spun by Libya and the West to justify the Gaddafi regime’s “rehabilitation.” Exit the Colonel is based upon extensive interviews with senior US, EU, and Libyan officials, and with rebels and loyalists; a deep reading of local and international media; and significant on-the-ground experience pre- and post-revolution.

The book provides rare and often startling glimpses into the strategies and machinations that brought Gaddafi in from the cold, while encouraging ordinary Libyans to “break the barrier of fear.” Chorin also assesses the possibilities and perils for Libya going forward, politically and economically.


“A firsthand account of the fall of Gaddafi and the processes that caused it… While Libya’s revolt appears to have erupted suddenly, Chorin ably demonstrates how failed policies of the past contributed to its inevitability… A strongly written book that sheds new light on a still-developing story.”
Kirkus Reviews

“This book demonstrates how Gaddafi was soon to reap the whirlwind, as his feints toward reform actually engendered a revolutionary movement that proved all too real and powerful to be put down. Ethan Chorin provides a look into the near and long-term roots of the Libyan uprising and explains why the revolution happened as it did before exploring the longer-term consequences for Libya and the West.”
Middle East

“Chorin had plenty of first-hand insights into the workings of the previous regime, and gives a highly readable and accurate account of what lead Libyans to rise up in February 2011. Crucially, Chorin is also an aficionado of Libyan literature, and he illustrates his account with excerpts from the country’s finest writers.”
—Sugar Street Review

“Ethan Chorin brings a unique perspective to his riveting tale of the rise and fall of Muammar Gaddafi: Exit the Colonel. Having served as a diplomat in Tripoli at the time of Gaddafi rapprochement with the West, Chorin tells the story of how the West wound up allied to the ‘mad dog of the Middle East’ and facilitated Gaddafi’s rehabilitation, which was key to his fall. This is an exquisite and scary story of greed, intrigue, and political corruption at the highest levels of several nations, including the US and the UK. For anybody interested in international relations, or for anybody whose paths, like mine, crossed Gaddafi’s several times, this is a must-read.”
—Ambassador Joseph Wilson (Ret.), author of The Politics of Truth

“What caused such radical policy changes in the region? This is the intriguing question the Middle East scholar Ethan Chorin tackles in his detail-rich book Exit the Colonel.”
The National

“A concise analysis of past, present and future effects of Gaddafi’s regime.”
Libya Index

“Chorin offers a plausible portrait of the capricious, violent ruler who improved the lives of his people before veering on an unstable course of brutal repression, insane economics and global provocation.”
Shepherd Express (Milwaukee)

“Of all the accounts written so far about Libya’s revolution, none can match Chorin’s sophisticated and penetrating analysis of the country and of its former quixotic ruler. An insider’s account, Exit the Colonel details the events leading up to the revolution, and reveals the larger context within which Libya’s uprising eventually took shape. Relying on an unmatched variety of sources and on extensive in-country experience, Chorin’s book will undoubtedly remain the best analytical work on Libya and its revolution for a very long time.”
—Dirk Vandewalle, professor of government at Dartmouth College and author of A History of Modern Libya

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Translating Libya

In Search of the Libyan Short Story

Part anthology and part travelogue, Translating Libya presents the country through the eyes of sixteen Libyan short story writers and one American diplomat.

Translating Libya, published in 2008, was one of the first books to introduce Libyan literature to an English-speaking audience. The updated 2014 revision includes a foreword by Ahmed Ibrahim Fagih, one of Libya’s most recognised authors, and a new introduction by the author, in light of the Libyan Revolution and its aftermath, which he witnessed firsthand.

Intrigued by the apparent absence of ‘place’ in modern Libyan short fiction, Ethan Chorin, one of the first U.S. diplomats posted to Libya, resolved in 2004 to track down and translate stories that specifically mentioned cities and landmarks in Libya—and then to visit those places, and describe what he encountered there. The result is a mixture of travelogue and memoir that sheds light on the social factors that fed the 2011 Revolution and its aftermath. The collection includes pieces from the ‘sixties generation’ of writers, as well as a newer generation of Libyan writers, including several women, writing in a variety of styles, “twisted” 1001 nights, to allegory, fictionalized memoir and overt satire.

Chorin explains how the stories, under cover of anonymity, distorted place-names and double-meanings reveal the depth of anger and despair that precipitated and fed the Arab Spring—and serve as a reminder to those who fought heroically for their freedom, that true courage springs from isolating, not repeating the mistakes of the past.


“Anyone who wants to better understand Libya’s complexities, past and present, could do no better than to approach them through the short stories included in the second edition of Translating Libya, and the new introduction to them. Chorin’s perspective is both fascinating and extremely relevant.”
—Prof. Robert Springborg, King’s College, London

“For too long, Libya’s literature during the Gaddafi years remained a mystery as the regime systematically suppressed all expressions of literary creativity that did not glorify its leader’s self-proclaimed revolution. Chorin’s volume is an immensely valuable addition to much of our emerging knowledge of Libya since 2011, and fills a longstanding gap in our knowledge, and appreciation, of Libya’s literary landscape.”
—Dirk Vandewalle, professor of government at Dartmouth College and author of A History of Modern Libya

“His presentation takes the reader around the country over a period spanning a century, and provides insights into regional and social differences, assembling what he rightly describes as a ‘geographic jigsaw puzzle’.The addition of a dramatic story written during the revolution provides a critical key, or pivot between pre- and Post-Gaddafi literature.”
—Ambassador Richard Murphy

“An exhaustively excavated array of short stories provides a rare and vibrant survey of a misunderstood country—it’s a collection of humour, grief and soul.”
—Justin Marozzi, author of Baghdad: City of Peace, City of Blood (read full review)

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