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Grab your wicket: Andrew Mueller has found the solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. “[H]ad anyone ever thought of teaching these people cricket?” the Australian rock critic-turned-war correspondent wonders about the Gaza Strip’s “bored young boys” who, at one point, purposelessly bean him with a rock. In Christopher Hitchens’ word processor, this wry suggestion—that millennia-old arguments about territory and ideology could be solved by an English leisure sport—would serve as a springboard to an eloquent indictment of theocratic societies. But in I Wouldn’t Start From Here, an overlong collection of dispatches from conflict zones around the world, Mueller’s stabs at gonzo insight and dark humor only show that he mostly has nowhere to spring to. A self-described “peripatetic hack” with “a certain juvenile difficulty taking serious things seriously,” Mueller gave up a career editing record reviews for Melody Maker to file reports from Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, Cameroon, Northern Ireland, and other must-see nations for anyone interested in internecine conflict and/or genocide. The schtick has potential—in a fragmented media marketplace, where readers of Foreign Affairs and Pitchfork rarely lay eyes on the same prose, why not let an informed rock dude weigh in on post-Hoxha Albania and post-nuclear Libya? Mueller is half Christiane Amanpour, half Chuck Klosterman, and that neither/nor status permits refreshing jabs at Tony Blair’s guitar of choice (“a Stratocaster, the prissy cousin of Fender’s handsome, no-nonsense Telecaster, the AK-47 of rock ’n’ roll”) and nice details on a British company’s MP3 playlist during patrols of Basra (“Blur, Crowded House and Lynyrd Skynyrd”). And Mueller’s essay on an international conference of Eastern European, youth-led pro-democracy groups in Albania is easily the book’s high point. “That melancholy moment, at which the revolutionary realizes that it’s sometimes easier to get things done when one isn’t in power, was still a way off,” he writes. The observation isn’t unorthodox, but something about Mueller’s account—something inseparable from this writer’s deep connection to youth culture—smiles where another journalist would sneer. But such quiet insight is rare in Mueller’s needlessly epic tome. “Michael Stone was just plain violent, and dangerous, a bad man granted a perverse legitimacy, even lustre, by the violent times and the dangerous place in which he had lived,” Mueller writes, dismissing the Irish paramilitary leader who took up arms against Sinn Fein. It’s not that Mueller is wrong—Stone is a convicted murderer. But why read a 400-plus page book about war by a rock critic if that critic can’t advance a view of international affairs more considered than “peaceable, secular good guys versus violent, religious bad guys?” It’s no secret that 99 percent of the people of Planet Earth just can’t get down with Gandhian nonviolence, but if Mueller can’t have fun with man’s inhumanity to man or offer a workable solution, he should stick to writing about Gram Parsons. Meanwhile, go-nowhere essays about 9/11 (Mueller interviews Bono!) and Luxembourg (it’s nondescript and boring—who knew?) mingle with disclosures about the author’s private life to produce a manuscript that’s as awkwardly intimate as it is irrelevant. “Why don’t these bloody people just knock their nonsense off?” Mueller writes in his introduction, mocking the First World’s prodigious disinterest in all post-colonial dustups. Like most of I Wouldn’t Start From Here, the alleged joke never slides past ugliness to arrive at satire.