books of the month win prizes
Search our site
Out of the Blue by Sophie Cameron Read the opening extract of the brand new Sophie Cameron book before its publication on 22/03/2018

The Unravelling High Hopes and Missed Opportunities in Iraq by Emma Sky

The Unravelling High Hopes and Missed Opportunities in Iraq

Biography / Autobiography   The Real World   All Shortlists and Winners   

Lovereading view...

Shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction 2015.

The riveting first hand account of a young British civilian woman who volunteered to go to Iraq immediately after the invasion in 2003, and within weeks found herself in the role of Governor of Kirkuk - the most dangerous place on Earth. A vivid first-hand account of the occupation of Iraq, this is also a deeply personal memoir that explores what it is like to be British, alone and a woman, working both within and outside of the US Army. As Sky writes, 'I have encountered many alien cultures on my travels, but none so alien as the US Army.'


The Unravelling High Hopes and Missed Opportunities in Iraq by Emma Sky

As a Brit, a woman and a liberal, Emma Sky's presence and position in Iraq following the invasion in 2003 is the stuff of fiction. Shortly after the coalition troops went in, Sky, an Arabist, volunteered to go to assist the Coalition Provisional Authority in the occupation. Alone, she made her way to Baghdad, was told they had enough people, so travelled north, to Kirkuk. Within days she became the most senior civilian there, Kirkuk's lady governor. When the house she was staying in came under mortar fire, Sky realised that she must integrate herself within the US Army in order to survive. She moved into the army compound, initially sleeping in a tent with seven soldiers, and soon won the confidence of top US military officials, among them Gen Odierno, now head of the US Army, who became friend, confidant, mentor. Two years later Sky was back in the UK when she received an email out the blue from Gen Odierno. It was time for the prosecution of the Surge: would she help? Sky became Odierno's key political advisor, and found herself at the very heart of US operations during the perilous and volatile days of the Surge. At the end of 2007 she left once more but almost immediately was recalled for a final tour, when again Odierno sought her help. This time she worked alongside him until 2010, leaving only when US combat operations were ended.


A charming, insightful account of Sky's remarkable odyssey, of her experience among Americans and Iraqis -- Max Hastings * Sunday Times * The Unravelling reads almost like a novel: a detailed and darkly humorous account that tries to understand everyone involved, Iraqis and Americans, on their own terms... Sky's argumentative, chirpy and intelligent personality is thoroughly engaging -- Robin Yassin-Kassab * Guardian * A radiant and beautifully written account, at turns funny and sad -- Max Boot * Wall Street Journal * Important and disturbing... To counter Iran in Iraq and prevent the alienation that created ISIS would have required... perhaps, a thousand Emma Skys. But there was only one of those. -- Christopher Dickey * New York Times Book Review * Hers was a fascinating world of senior military and diplomatic figures, many of them of the highest quality... She knew all the leading Iraqi politicians, many of whom regarded her as a personal friend. She saw much of Iraq and had some hair-raising experiences. And she always kept her sense of opposition to what was being done to the country. Many people likened her to Gertrude Bell, the British political adviser who helped to create Iraq, and in some ways they were right. -- John Simpson * New Statesman * A detailed account of the challenges of occupation... Readers will realise exactly why Iraq produced strongmen like Saddam -- Colin Freeman * Daily Telegraph * The best book to date on the American war in Iraq... This authoritative first-person account is a must-read for anyone who wants a deeper understanding of the complexity of the Iraq war, and the road to the current crises with the Islamic State. * Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) * The Unravelling is entertaining because Sky is a wry and intelligent companion. It is sad for its account of how the Obama administration squandered what Sky views as the victory that the surge had snatched from the first catastrophic years of US occupation. It is enlightening for how it helps us unlearn much of what we think we know * Washington Post * Sky's book... is the essential text on how everything fell apart * * A scholar and a strategist, Sky's political perception alone makes worthwhile reading, including a preface that is as succinct a synopsis of Iraq today as you will find * Military Times * Sky's narrative is a valuable addition to recent history... What she experienced is relevant, and her story and perspective contribute to the ongoing effort to understand and explain the tragic aftermath of the much-criticized Iraq War. * Booklist * [A] sober, thorough and ultimately heart-rending examination of what, to this day, keeps Iraq unstable, unhappy and a never-ending foreign policy disaster...a book with a rare perspective... What Sky produced, years later, is worth applauding. The Unravelling may be the most straightforward account yet-and the best that Britain will have for a while-of the failures in Iraq. * Financial Times * A deft, nuanced, and often funny account of her years as a civilian official in Iraq. * The New York Review of Books *

About the Author

Emma Sky was raised in England and attended a boys boarding school from age 7 to 13; her stepfather was a teacher there and her mother was a house mother. She earned her undergraduate degree in oriental studies at Oxford University's Somerville College. Sky has worked at senior levels on behalf of the US and UK governments, in Iraq, Afghanistan and Jerusalem, across the fields of development, defence, and diplomacy, and with multi civilian and military agencies. Sky was made a Member of the British Empire in 2003 and an Officer of the British Empire in 2008 in recognition of her service in Iraq.

More books by this author
Author 'Like for Like' recommendations

Loading similar books...
Loading other formats...

Book Info

Publication date

22nd April 2015


Emma Sky

More books by Emma Sky
Author 'Like for Like'


Atlantic Books


400 pages


Biography / Autobiography
The Real World
All Shortlists and Winners

International relations



With literary excellence, humour and drama, Lovereading's got value and is a real stress-calmer!

Siobhan McDowell

I love reading books I wouldn't normally choose before everyone else gets to read them!

Dawn Lynch

Lovereading - a community of people passionate about reading and sharing their views. An incomparable website for book lovers.

Helen Clark

Because of Lovereading I have broadened my reading horizons with some really great books that I probably would never have chosen myself.

Susan Walsh

I love Lovereading because I get to read great books and then get to tell everybody how good they are.

Sally Doel

If you love reading, then you'll love Lovereading! Full of tips & info for every discerning reader.

Lynne Rapson

I 'Lovereading' because it lets me see what new books are around with a detailed synopsis and readers' reviews.

Judith Sharp

Lovereading always comes up with great suggestions and has introduced me to enjoyable books and new authors to discover.

Gaynor Passmore