In this detailed history of the Kurds from the 19th century to the present day, McDowall examines the interplay of old and new aspects of the struggle, the importance of local rivalries within Kurdish society, the enduring authority of certain forms of leadership and the failure of modern states to respond to the challenge of Kurdish nationalism. Drawing extensively on primary sources McDowall's book is useful for all who want a better understanding of the underlying dynamics of the Kurdish question.
The book is fair and illuminating in giving us a Kurdish side of Turkish, Iraqi and Iranian history. It's an important story, full of significant sub-plots. For just one example, McDowall explains that after Saddam nationalized Iraq's oil in 1972, Kurdish rebels like Mulla Mustafa feared that "Kurdish oil would be turned into Arab oil". They still wanted 2/3rds of all oil revenue reserved for the Kurdish community, and now they sought support from the United States. As the Pike Papers revealed in 1976, Henry Kissinger argued that "a new regime might let us back into the oilfields". In 1973 Mulla Mustafa threw secrecy to the winds by announcing in the Washington Post,
"We are ready to act according to US policy if the US will protect us from the wolves. In the event of sufficient support, we should be able to control the Kirkuk oilfields and confer exploitation rights on an American company."