A nonscholarly work that lay readers will find especially engaging.




A pertinent study of how the Islamic world played quick catch-up to the West over the course of the 19th century.

Contrary to patronizing observations by Westerners when confronted in the early 19th century with the “backwardness” of the Muslim East, the three centers of Islamic culture and intellect—Cairo, Istanbul, and Tehran—were undergoing turbulent inner revolution. In this well-organized and impressively concise yet sweeping history, British journalist and author de Bellaigue (Patriot of Persia: Muhammad Mossadegh and a Tragic Anglo-American Coup, 2012, etc.) takes as his narrative point of departure the clash of East and West that occurred with Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt in 1798 and concludes with the growing “counter-enlightenment” that has taken root since the 1980s. A brief look back reveals that what shuttered the once famously tolerant and open Islamic society of the eighth and ninth centuries, in Damascus, Baghdad, and Cordoba, was the inner schism between Sunni and Shia, the threat of the Crusades and Reconquista, and suspicion regarding rationalism. Intellectual curiosity and “a joyful engagement with the mechanics of the world” channeled into “a system for throttling human potential.” With Napoleon came the challenge of embracing new forms of knowledge and innovation—or resisting them. Most importantly, whose side was God on? In an accessible, consistently informative narrative, the author delves into the lives and achievements of specific modernizers, many of them autocrats like Egypt’s Muhammad Ali Pasha, the Ottomans’ Mahmud II, and Iran’s Abbas Mirza; and more subtle writers who helped generate their country’s sense of self, such as Rifa’a al-Tahtawi and Namik Kemal. De Bellaigue emphasizes that while the spur to modernization in Egypt was Napoleon, in the Ottoman Empire, it was defeat by the Russians, while in Iran, it was the country’s relative isolation as well as its shared Persian language. The counter-enlightenment accompanied the growing distrust of the West.

A nonscholarly work that lay readers will find especially engaging.

Pub Date: April 4, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-87140-373-5

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: Jan. 24, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2017

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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 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 youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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