An interesting but ultimately unconvincing argument.

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ISLAM: A SUPERIOR SYSTEM OF LIFE

An in-depth comparison of Islam with other dominant worldviews.

Zeerak makes the case that Islam is the most complete and relevant philosophy for living. The author contrasts the history and teachings of Islam with the philosophies that polarized most of the 20th century—communism and capitalism. Zeerak associates capitalism with unfettered greed and inevitable inequality. He’s more sympathetic to communism and socialism but points to many of the paradoxes that have made communal systems of governance so difficult to apply in the real world. The book portrays Islam as a sort of middle ground, one that combines the charity of communism with the spirit of self-determination inherent in capitalism. It also compares Western feminism with Muslim teachings about women and their role in society. Zeerak details not only the spiritual aspects of Islam, but also the social, political and economic philosophies that have risen from it. The book’s greatest success is that it presents Islam as a dynamic, adaptive, and ultimately humanitarian, faith that has something to offer followers in every aspect of their daily lives. In this way, it amends much of the false and reductive rhetoric that has been applied to the faith in the wake of 9/11. However, less successful is his argument that all philosophies of living err to the point of irrelevance when compared with a Muslim way of life. Zeerak offers readers a number of straw-man arguments that do little to bolster his point. The work also quotes liberally from outside sources, some of which have a questionable authority. It becomes difficult to trust these sources when they identify feminism as a plot by the New World Order to reduce global population. Many Muslims may find a lot to agree with in this book, but outsiders to the faith will be less swayed by his arguments.

An interesting but ultimately unconvincing argument.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2012

ISBN: 978-1477517109

Page Count: 306

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 18, 2013

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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The author’s sincere sermon—at times analytical, at times hortatory—remains a hopeful one.

THE ROAD TO CHARACTER

New York Times columnist Brooks (The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character and Achievement, 2011, etc.) returns with another volume that walks the thin line between self-help and cultural criticism.

Sandwiched between his introduction and conclusion are eight chapters that profile exemplars (Samuel Johnson and Michel de Montaigne are textual roommates) whose lives can, in Brooks’ view, show us the light. Given the author’s conservative bent in his column, readers may be surprised to discover that his cast includes some notable leftists, including Frances Perkins, Dorothy Day, and A. Philip Randolph. (Also included are Gens. Eisenhower and Marshall, Augustine, and George Eliot.) Throughout the book, Brooks’ pattern is fairly consistent: he sketches each individual’s life, highlighting struggles won and weaknesses overcome (or not), and extracts lessons for the rest of us. In general, he celebrates hard work, humility, self-effacement, and devotion to a true vocation. Early in his text, he adapts the “Adam I and Adam II” construction from the work of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, Adam I being the more external, career-driven human, Adam II the one who “wants to have a serene inner character.” At times, this veers near the Devil Bugs Bunny and Angel Bugs that sit on the cartoon character’s shoulders at critical moments. Brooks liberally seasons the narrative with many allusions to history, philosophy, and literature. Viktor Frankl, Edgar Allan Poe, Paul Tillich, William and Henry James, Matthew Arnold, Virginia Woolf—these are but a few who pop up. Although Brooks goes after the selfie generation, he does so in a fairly nuanced way, noting that it was really the World War II Greatest Generation who started the ball rolling. He is careful to emphasize that no one—even those he profiles—is anywhere near flawless.

The author’s sincere sermon—at times analytical, at times hortatory—remains a hopeful one.

Pub Date: April 21, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9325-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2015

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