Bitter lessons from the past unearthed and expertly reexamined.

HOW THE WEST STOLE DEMOCRACY FROM THE ARABS

THE ARAB CONGRESS OF 1920, THE DESTRUCTION OF THE SYRIAN STATE, AND THE RISE OF ANTI-LIBERAL ISLAMISM

An impassioned argument that the Arabs of Greater Syria who fought for the Allies in World War I, deeply committed to the Wilsonian notion of self-determination, were robbed of their chance at democracy.

Thompson, the Mohamed S. Farsi Chair of Islamic Peace at American University, claims that this tragic story of Syria’s occupation by England and France—and their deliberate effort to “destroy the Syrian Arab state” just as it was forming its democratic constitution—has “never before been told in English.” She notes that only four books have covered the Syrian Arab Congress and its drafting of a “147-article constitution modeled on its Ottoman predecessor with modifications inspired by American federalism and checks and balances”—a document created within the slim window between the declaration of Syrian independence and the imperial partition of Syria as agreed upon at the San Remo Conference in April 1920. Beginning in 1916, Prince Faisal, the championed leader of the Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire who was famously advised by T.E. Lawrence, defied his father in advocating for Syrian independence. Yet with Woodrow Wilson incapacitated by stroke, English and French leaders, using the League of Nations system of mandates as pretext, declared Faisal’s government illegal. The author clearly demonstrates how they planned the occupation and partition just as a remarkable coalition of liberals and religious leaders agreed on a system protecting minorities to “balance freedom and rule of law.” In a book sure to interest students of Middle Eastern history, particularly in the 20th century, Thompson fashions an original, authoritative study, laying out the process of the “theft” of Syrian democracy. “The history of postwar Syria,” she writes, “reveals that the tragedy of the 1919 [Paris Peace] conference was due not to the oversight of a few exhausted and old-fashioned statesmen, but rather to their vigorous effort to expand a colonial and racialist world system.”

Bitter lessons from the past unearthed and expertly reexamined.

Pub Date: April 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-8021-4820-9

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

Did you like this book?

Harari delivers yet another tour de force.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2018

  • New York Times Bestseller

21 LESSONS FOR THE 21ST CENTURY

A highly instructive exploration of “current affairs and…the immediate future of human societies.”

Having produced an international bestseller about human origins (Sapiens, 2015, etc.) and avoided the sophomore jinx writing about our destiny (Homo Deus, 2017), Harari (History/Hebrew Univ. of Jerusalem) proves that he has not lost his touch, casting a brilliantly insightful eye on today’s myriad crises, from Trump to terrorism, Brexit to big data. As the author emphasizes, “humans think in stories rather than in facts, numbers, or equations, and the simpler the story, the better. Every person, group, and nation has its own tales and myths.” Three grand stories once predicted the future. World War II eliminated the fascist story but stimulated communism for a few decades until its collapse. The liberal story—think democracy, free markets, and globalism—reigned supreme for a decade until the 20th-century nasties—dictators, populists, and nationalists—came back in style. They promote jingoism over international cooperation, vilify the opposition, demonize immigrants and rival nations, and then win elections. “A bit like the Soviet elites in the 1980s,” writes Harari, “liberals don’t understand how history deviates from its preordained course, and they lack an alternative prism through which to interpret reality.” The author certainly understands, and in 21 painfully astute essays, he delivers his take on where our increasingly “post-truth” world is headed. Human ingenuity, which enables us to control the outside world, may soon re-engineer our insides, extend life, and guide our thoughts. Science-fiction movies get the future wrong, if only because they have happy endings. Most readers will find Harari’s narrative deliciously reasonable, including his explanation of the stories (not actually true but rational) of those who elect dictators, populists, and nationalists. His remedies for wildly disruptive technology (biotech, infotech) and its consequences (climate change, mass unemployment) ring true, provided nations act with more good sense than they have shown throughout history.

Harari delivers yet another tour de force.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-51217-2

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: June 27, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more