Coughlin, Con 1955-

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Coughlin, Con 1955-


Born 1955.


Office—Sunday Telegraph, Telegraph Group, 1 Canada Sq., Canary Wharf, London E14 5DT, England.


Journalist, editor, and writer. Daily Telegraph, London, England, reporter, then defense and security editor; Sunday Telegraph, London, editor.


Hostage: The Complete Story of the Lebanon Captives, Warner Books (London, England), 1993.

A Golden Basin Full of Scorpions: The Quest for Modern Jerusalem, Warner Books (London, England), 1998.

Saddam: King of Terror, Ecco (New York, NY), 2002, published as Saddam: The Secret Life, Macmillan (London, England), 2003, updated and revised edition published as Saddam: His Rise and Fall, Harper Perennial (New York, NY), 2005.

American Ally: Tony Blair and the War on Terror, Ecco (New York, NY), 2006.


British journalist Con Coughlin writes on the Middle East. His books have examined political and social efforts to create a modern Jerusalem, the ordeal of hostages in Lebanon, and the rise and rule of Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein.

In Hostage: The Complete Story of the Lebanon Captives, Coughlin provides a "persuasive and readable study" of the Lebanese hostage crisis, wrote Stephen Smith in London Review of Books. "Economically turned, Coughlin's bulletin is a sample of the bracingly low opinion in which its author holds most of the hostages," Smith remarked. Coughlin narrowly escaped becoming one of the hostages himself, but this fact "failed to leave him noticeably forgiving of expats less blessed than himself," Smith observed. The hostages, in Coughlin's view, were "asking for it"; by "deciding to stay on in Beirut because of the dissolute thrills of life near the city's notorious dividing line, they had simply relinquished their common sense."

However, "Coughlin's greatest scorn is reserved for Terry Waite," Smith remarked. Despite Waite's efforts in securing the release of the hostages, "Coughlin's allegations are that Waite was in it for the publicity, with the freedom of the hostages a happy by-product." Coughlin, Smith remarked, feels that Waite took credit where it was not due, and held up the release process with his celebrity and ties to Oliver North. Even in the face of Waite's success, much about his role in the hostage crisis "remains to be explained," wrote a reviewer in the London Observer.

Coughlin explores the history, development, and condition of present-day Jerusalem in A Golden Basin Full of Scorpions: The Quest for Modern Jerusalem. "Coughlin's pragmatic approach to Jerusalem's 3,000-year-long convoluted history is to start with the Bible, where it all began, and then hop deftly over much of the intervening millennia of Crusader conquest and Ottoman control, to contemplate Jerusalem in the twentieth century," wrote Natasha Fairweather in the London Observer.

Coughlin describes a Jerusalem "that has known destruction and mayhem any number of times—invasions, earthquakes, plagues, famines, and crusades—but that … mysteriously survives," wrote A.N. Wilson in the Spectator. However, Coughlin observes in the book: "There is not much that one can say is good about the modern city." "Bigotry, zealotry, and ideological intransigence" create unprecedented suffering, Fairweather observed. Coughlin considers the Netanyahu government "a disaster," and explains that the territorial demands of the Likud party do not conform with borders determined by international law or with the possibility of peace with the Arabs. Coughlin "knows the place well, and he has done his homework on the historical background thoroughly," Wilson observed. Fairweather called A Golden Basin Full of Scorpions "a very accessible and lively account of life in a city which has always taken itself too seriously."

In Saddam: King of Terror—published in England as Saddam: The Secret Life—Coughlin examines the life and reign of Iraq's former dictator Saddam Hussein. Saddam: King of Terror is "a timely, detailed portrait of the Iraqi dictator—though not one that fully supports the subtitle's implied link to al-Quaeda," wrote a reviewer in Publishers Weekly. Beginning with Hussein's lower-class birth in a mud hut in a small town on the Tigris, Coughlin chronicles the dictator's early days, the events that set him on the path to Iraqi rule, and his rise to power. Throughout the decades from the 1950s to the 1960s, Hussein rose through a series of assassinations, coups, and skillful political maneuverings to become second in command of Iraq's ruling Revolutionary Command Council. Throughout the early 1970s, Hussein enjoyed the privileges of power. "Coughlin does a fine, creepy job of evoking the gangster ambience of 1970s Iraq, in which the nouveau riche Hussein cultivated a taste for fancy cars, expensive suits, American-style barbecue ribs, racetrack gambling, married blondes, and sickly sweet Portuguese rose wine," wrote Warren Bass in New York Times. In 1979, Hussein seized full control of Iraq and instituted his totalitarian regime.

Using a combination of institutionalized violence, social programs, and a "cult of personality," Saddam remained fully in control of Iraq, gathering intense popular support among the country's residents, the Publishers Weekly contributor wrote. Even after debacles such as Iraq's war with Iran in the early 1980s, Iraq's expulsion from Kuwait in Operation Desert Storm, and the decade of deprivation and sanctions following the Gulf War, Hussein's grip on power did not slip. Coughlin "gives a horrifying account of Saddam's numerous purges, tortures, and mass murders," wrote a reviewer in the Economist.

Coughlin also suggests that Iraq knew about, or was involved in, the 9/11 attacks on the United States, although Bass expressed some doubts about the credibility of such charges. "It's a shame Coughlin overdoes the King of Terror theme, both because his book features some good, gory detail and because one can make a case for toppling an uncommonly vicious thug like Hussein without overblowing Iraq's link to the war on terrorism," Bass wrote. Coughlin depicts Hussein as a vicious and bloody dictator, but also highlights the modern elements of his rule and the technological aspects of the regime. "Coughlin has competently put together such evidence as there is [to explain the Hussein regime], quite enough to shock him," wrote David Pryce-Jones in the Spectator. In Coughlin's analysis, Hussein "proved to be too limited and brutal a character for the complexities of his position," Pryce-Jones observed. "In Coughlin's opinion, Saddam's single-minded concentration of power has increasingly detached him from reality." Bass noted: "Regime change, readers … will surely agree, couldn't happen to a more deserving guy." A revised and updated edition of the book was published in 2005 as Saddam: His Rise and Fall, which follows Saddam's life through to his capture by American military forces in 2003.

In his book American Ally: Tony Blair and the War on Terror, Coughlin examines the British Prime Minister's relationship with U.S. President Bill Clinton and his successor President George W. Bush. The author looks at these relationships primarily in light of Britain's primary, cooperative effort in the war on terror and the war in Iraq. Jonathan Freedland, writing in the New York Times Book Review, commented that the author "retraces the political and diplomatic dance that culminated in the invasion of Iraq." Freedland went on to write: "The book has some tasty nuggets, including a clear declaration that Blair found the straight-arrow Bush easier to work with than the poll-checking Clinton." Isaac Chotiner, writing in Washington Monthly, called American Ally "a useful guide to the way Great Britain has conducted its foreign policy since ‘New Labour’ swept into power in 1997," adding that it is "a brisk summary of the international crises of the Blair years." In a review in Booklist, Brendan Driscoll commented that "this book is detailed, fluid, and fascinating." A Kirkus Reviews contributor noted that the author "writes penetratingly of the decline of Blair's influence in Washington."



Coughlin, Con, A Golden Basin Full of Scorpions: The Quest for Modern Jerusalem, Warner Books (London, England), 1998.


America's Intelligence Wire, July 4, 2003, Anderson Cooper, "Interview With Con Coughlin"; October 1, 2005, Bill O'Reilly, "Interview with Con Coughlin."

Biography, spring, 2006, Jonathan Freedland, review of American Ally: Tony Blair and the War on Terror, p. 387.

Booklist, February 1, 2006, Brendan Driscoll, review of American Ally, p. 17.

Economist, April 18, 1998, review of A Golden Basin Full of Scorpions, pp. S3-S4; November 9, 2002, review of Saddam: King of Terror.

Kirkus Reviews, December 15, 2005, review of American Ally, p. 1308.

London Review of Books, December 3, 1992, Stephen Smith, review of Hostage: The Complete Story of the Lebanon Captives, p. 22.

Los Angeles Times, April 3, 2003, review of Saddam: King of Terror, p. A-20.

New Statesman, December 9, 2002, Richard Gott, review of Saddam: The Secret Life, pp. 46-48.

New York Times, December 15, 2002, Warren Bass, review of Saddam: King of Terror, p. 20.

New York Times Book Review, February 12, 2006, Jonathan Freedland, review of American Ally, p. 14.

Observer (London, England), July 4, 1993, review of Hostage, p. 61; December 7, 1997, Natasha Fairweather, review of A Golden Basin Full of Scorpions, pp. 15-16.

Publishers Weekly, October 28, 2002, review of Saddam: King of Terror, p. 61.

Reference & Research Book News, May, 2006, review of American Ally; November, 2006, review of Saddam: His Rise and Fall.

Spectator, February 14, 1998, A.N. Wilson, review of A Golden Basin Full of Scorpions, pp. 26-27; November 30, 2002, David Pryce-Jones, review of Saddam: The Secret Life, p. 52.

Times Literary Supplement, February 7, 2003, review of Saddam: The Secret Life, p. 8.

Washington Monthly, January-February, 2006, Isaac Chotiner, review of American Ally, p. 45.


Los Angeles Times Calendarlive, (November 3, 2002), Andrew Cockburn, review of Saddam: King of Terror.

National Public Radio Web site, (November 8, 2002), transcript of All Things Considered interview with Coughlin.

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Coughlin, Con 1955-

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