CULTURES IN CONFLICT

CHRISTIANS, MUSLIMS, AND JEWS IN THE AGE OF DISCOVERY

In three essays based on lectures, Lewis provides an engaging overview of the cultural and political clash between Christian Europe and the Islamic world from the late 15th to the early 19th centuries. Lewis (Near Eastern Studies/Princeton Univ.; Islam and the West, 1993, etc.) takes as his starting point 1492, the year not only of Columbus's discovery of the "New World" but also of Catholic Spain's victory over Islam, after four centuries of struggle, on the Iberian Peninsula. Six months later, Ferdinand and Isabella expelled Spain's Jews, with profound repercussions for all three monotheistic civilizations. Though banished from Western Europe, it wasn't until 1683 that Muslim armies, under the flag of the Ottoman Empire, were repulsed from Vienna for the last time. In briefly tracing the millennium-long clash, Lewis demonstrates how the Christian and Islamic cultures sometimes mirrored each other, noting, for example, that the Crusade resembles a jihad and that the European Renaissance was preceded about 500 years earlier by a great Muslim cultural flowering. He writes far more briefly of Judaism, but here, too, he illuminates, as in his clear discussion of the economic and political forces that drove the Ottoman Empire to welcome the Jews expelled from Spain. Lewis's multilayered analysis of why the West ultimately gained the upper hand over the Islamic world ranges broadly from the technological (the West used gunpowder, which the Muslim world largely scorned) to the linguistic (Western Europe developed written vernaculars from Latin, which accelerated receptivity to cultural change, while the Islamic world retained the beautiful, but somewhat stilted, style of classical Arabic well into the modern era). The book is marred only by a closing, overstated paean to Western civilization, in which Lewis claims that Western thinkers alone in human history have manifested intense curiosity about cultures other than their own. Still, despite its tantalizing brevity, an elegant book.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 1994

ISBN: 0195102835

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1994

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An authoritative, engaging study of plant life, accessible to younger readers as well as adults.

THE INCREDIBLE JOURNEY OF PLANTS

A neurobiologist reveals the interconnectedness of the natural world through stories of plant migration.

In this slim but well-packed book, Mancuso (Plant Science/Univ. of Florence; The Revolutionary Genius of Plants: A New Understanding of Plant Intelligence and Behavior, 2018, etc.) presents an illuminating and surprisingly lively study of plant life. He smoothly balances expansive historical exploration with recent scientific research through stories of how various plant species are capable of migrating to locations throughout the world by means of air, water, and even via animals. They often continue to thrive in spite of dire obstacles and environments. One example is the response of plants following the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Three decades later, the abandoned “Exclusion Zone” is now entirely covered by an enormous assortment of thriving plants. Mancuso also tracks the journeys of several species that might be regarded as invasive. “Why…do we insist on labeling as ‘invasive’ all those plants that, with great success, have managed to occupy new territories?” asks the author. “On a closer look, the invasive plants of today are the native flora of the future, just as the invasive species of the past are a fundamental part of our ecosystem today.” Throughout, Mancuso persuasively articulates why an understanding and appreciation of how nature is interconnected is vital to the future of our planet. “In nature everything is connected,” he writes. “This simple law that humans don’t seem to understand has a corollary: the extinction of a species, besides being a calamity in and of itself, has unforeseeable consequences for the system to which the species belongs.” The book is not without flaws. The loosely imagined watercolor renderings are vague and fail to effectively complement Mancuso’s richly descriptive prose or satisfy readers’ curiosity. Even without actual photos and maps, it would have been beneficial to readers to include more finely detailed plant and map renderings.

An authoritative, engaging study of plant life, accessible to younger readers as well as adults.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-63542-991-6

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Other Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science...

A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING

Bryson (I'm a Stranger Here Myself, 1999, etc.), a man who knows how to track down an explanation and make it confess, asks the hard questions of science—e.g., how did things get to be the way they are?—and, when possible, provides answers.

As he once went about making English intelligible, Bryson now attempts the same with the great moments of science, both the ideas themselves and their genesis, to resounding success. Piqued by his own ignorance on these matters, he’s egged on even more so by the people who’ve figured out—or think they’ve figured out—such things as what is in the center of the Earth. So he goes exploring, in the library and in company with scientists at work today, to get a grip on a range of topics from subatomic particles to cosmology. The aim is to deliver reports on these subjects in terms anyone can understand, and for the most part, it works. The most difficult is the nonintuitive material—time as part of space, say, or proteins inventing themselves spontaneously, without direction—and the quantum leaps unusual minds have made: as J.B.S. Haldane once put it, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose; it is queerer than we can suppose.” Mostly, though, Bryson renders clear the evolution of continental drift, atomic structure, singularity, the extinction of the dinosaur, and a mighty host of other subjects in self-contained chapters that can be taken at a bite, rather than read wholesale. He delivers the human-interest angle on the scientists, and he keeps the reader laughing and willing to forge ahead, even over their heads: the human body, for instance, harboring enough energy “to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point.”

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science into perspective.

Pub Date: May 6, 2003

ISBN: 0-7679-0817-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

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