In a Time of Monsters

14th February 2019

Emma Sky (1987, Oriental Studies) discusses the Arab Spring, her path from Somerville to the Middle East, and why she has returned with a new book, In a Time of Monsters.

I came to Somerville as an undergrad in 1987 to read Classics. But during my first semester, the Palestinian Intifada broke out. I changed course to Oriental Studies, determined to learn more about the Middle East, and with the aspiration of dedicating my career to helping bring about peace in the region.

I spent a decade in Jerusalem working in support of the Middle East peace process. And then I worked in Iraq for the Coalition following the overthrow of Saddam Hussein – the account of which is described in my first book The Unravelling.

When the Arab Spring broke out, I packed a bag, and went off to travel the revolutions. I experienced the excitement, the demand for dignity, the audacity of hope, the inspiration and interconnectedness.

Initially, I was confident that the uprisings would bring about better futures for the people of the region because the instigation for change came from within rather than through foreign intervention.

But my optimism soon faded. I continued travelling seeking to better understand why the uprisings were failing to bring about positive change and whether there was something exceptional about the Arab world.

It was only when people kept asking me why I wasn’t afraid to travel to the Middle East and I realised that most students were registering for my class because they were interested in terrorism and security, that I decided to write a second book about my travels.

I wanted to convey the human connections and the ties that bind us – while acknowledging our long and complicated history with the region.

I hope it might inspire a new generation to think how the West can engage differently with the region to help create a new world that is more peaceful and just.

The book gets its title from a quote by the Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci: “The old world is dying, and the new world struggles to be born: now is the time of monsters.”

I think that quote captures our current point in history not only in the Middle East, but in the West as well.

Emma Sky launches her book ‘In a Time of Monsters’ on February 22nd at Somerville. To register to attend the free event, email


Emma Sky’s new book, ‘In a Time of Monsters’, was published this month by Atlantic Books

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