Adrift: How Our World Lost Its Way


Breathtaking analysis of the current global crisis from one of the Arab world’s most respected writers

The United States is losing its moral credibility. The European Union is breaking apart. Africa, the Arab world, and the Mediterranean are becoming battlefields for various regional and global powers. Extreme forms of nationalism are on the rise. Thus divided, humanity is unable to address global threats to the environment and our health. How did we get here and what is yet to come? World-renowned scholar and bestselling author Amin Maalouf seeks to raise awareness and pursue a new human solidarity. In Adrift, Maalouf traces how civilizations have drifted apart throughout the 20th century, mixing personal narrative and historical analysis to provide a warning signal for the future.

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Publication date

September 1, 2020




Amin Maalouf

Amin Maalouf was born in Beirut. He studied economics and sociology and then worked as an international reporter … Read more

Book Club Questions


  1. What feeling did the book leave you with? Do you feel different about our historical moment now?
  2. Do you share Amin Maalouf’s qualified hopefulness? Do you feel that, ultimately, we can make the most of a perhaps bleak situation?
  3. Do you personally remember any of the world events mentioned in the book, from when they were still breaking news? Has your opinion of the significance of these events shifted since then?
  4. Did Maalouf’s opinion of the West surprise you?
  5. What do you think of global leadership? Is it a good thing that it exists, is it inevitable that it exists? If not the USA or Europe, who will or should take up this role in the future?
  6. Where you live, do people mistrust any particular sections of the population, perceived as the “foreign business owners”? Is there an element of truth in this perception?
  7. Did you discover any poets or singers you didn’t know through this book?
  8. Does Maalouf sufficiently condemn those governments responsible for eradicating other countries’ left-wing intelligentsias? Will others “automatically” take their place? Or do these intelligentsias perhaps form “cultures-within-cultures” that can be successfully destroyed for generations?
  9. Does your knowledge of Amin Maalouf’s life story (or parts of it, as told in the book) change the way you perceive his opinions?
  10. As a Christian and Lebanese-born Frenchman, is Amin Maalouf uniquely placed to understand some of today’s tensions from both a Western and an Arab-Muslim perspective? Is there such a thing as a distinct Western or Arab-Muslim perspective?
  11. What did you think of Maalouf’s idea of the pluralism of “empires” (as opposed to nation states)? Do you think there are dangers for minorities in this model as well?
  12. Could global warming provide the world with a shared enemy? Is there anything else that might realistically unite a world with nationalisms and regionalisms in the ascendant?
  13. Does Maalouf strike you as a voice of reason in an unhinged world? Would you like to read more of his perspectives on history and geopolitics?
  14. Do the events discussed in the postscript shed a new light on the book as a whole?
  15. Leaving aside the topics of Adrift, did you enjoy Maalouf’s prose style? Might you be interested in reading any of his novels?

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Praise for Adrift

“The Lebanese-born French author offers a pensive, lyrical meditation on a dying world…A Camus for our time, Maalouf urges that civilization is ‘fragile, shimmering, evanescent’—and perhaps doomed.”
Kirkus Reviews, *Starred Review*

Adrift is an insightful and profoundly disturbing interpretation of recent world history—and our uncertain future.”
The Guardian

“In a year of pandemic, social breakdown, race riots and, for those in Beirut, exploding ammonium nitrate, you do not have to be a perpetual doomsayer to politely disagree. Now writers do not ask for whom the bell tolls, they simply assume it tolls for everyone and focus on the question: why? One worthy stab at an answer comes from a source underappreciated in Britain—Amin Maalouf, a thinker with a novelist’s imagination and a fine understanding of the broad sweep of history…Maalouf does not offer a clear solution other than the obvious; that we should listen to each other more. He does not preach, and perhaps therein lies our only way forwards to tackle our shared future with the grace and understatement that is the hallmark of his own writing.”
The Times

“Stunning…Adrift: How Our World Lost Its Way traces modern events that have resulted in severe geopolitical breakdown, leaving the world ‘utterly incapable of marshalling the solidarity necessary to deal with a threat of this magnitude’—the climate emergency.”
Globe and Mail

Adrift is so movingly written and so all-encompassing that it would behoove all intelligent humans, and those who are aiming to understand the connections between seemingly disconnected events, to get this book, read it, absorb it and reflect on the ideas the author puts forward about the collapse of civilizations, the decline of civility and the nature of empires.”
New York Journal of Books

“An unavoidably personal and sometimes contentious account, it’s born of a post-War liberal worldview which has been unfashionable for some time but still holds much of value.”
The Herald Scotland

“Maalouf takes a long, often bleak look at a fragile world that feels in acute danger of breaking further apart, and at a fissiparous era where rage and impotence often seem to divide us more comprehensively than ever…it illuminates the puzzle of how a world that once seemed to be on a path towards progress, thanks to technology and scientific and medical advances, again risks being torn apart by the human forces.”
Caroline Wyatt, European Literature Network

“Sharp intellect, tender heart. Maalouf is not only a brilliant storyteller and a wise thinker, he is one of our last remaining bridge builders between cultures, nations, tribes.”
Elif Shafak

“Across an impressive body of work, Mr. Maalouf has mapped out the points of rupture and convergence between Europe and the Arab World. In Adrift, using his own intellectual and political autobiography, he traces several of the turning points that have helped shape both his personal life and our world today. The lucid elegance of his analysis of complex and often chaotic events, is the paradox of this book and is among the many gifts of its gentle, learned and inquisitive author.”
Hisham Matar

“Magnificent, a book of sorrows for our times, a provocative and powerful elegy by one of the world’s great writers.”
Philippe Sands, President of English PEN

“With Adrift, Amin Maalouf again displays his supreme mastery in presenting the complexities of identity, history, and politics. A great observer of the human condition, and himself a product of multiple cultures, Maalouf offers a penetrating and personal account of the troubled state of our planet and its peoples. No book is more evocative at capturing the richness of our cultures but also their fragility and the dangers that menace us all today.”
Bernard Haykel, Professor of Near Eastern Studies, Princeton University

“Adrift is both an elegy for the Levant in which he grew up, and a reflection on the violent fragmentation and political malaise of globalised capitalism. In Maalouf’s portrait, the world in which Covid-19 made its calamitous appearance is disoriented and dangerously unequal, fragmented into identity-based groups, at war with one another yet all beholden to the market…”
The London Review of Books

“The writer and scholar delves back into his own history to analyze the tragic consequences of the shock prophesized by Samuel Huntington.”
Le Figaro Magazine

“True change is possible: Maalouf shows us possible ways forward in magnificent prose filled with wisdom.”
La Provence

“A marvelous, luminous piece of writing.”
Europe 1

“Wonderful and terrifying.”
La Grande Librairie France 5

“A powerful voice.”
France Culture

“Over rupture and conflict, Amin Maalouf has always preferred epics of encounters, beginnings, and connections.”
Le Point

“An alarming report on the state of the world.”
Le Soir