Dense, scholarly, and bizarrely compelling.



A painstakingly researched examination of a “never-before-studied” collection of 1,500 audiotapes detailing Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida’s theoretical and organizational development.

Linguistic anthropologist Miller (Religious Studies/Univ. of California, Davis; The Moral Resonance of Arab Media: Audiocassette Poetry and Culture in Yemen, 2007, etc.) has managed to get access to the cache of cassettes first acquired by CNN from bin Laden’s residential compound in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in early 2002, then shipped to Williams College, where the author first archived them. The audio library, intended for disciples of bin Laden and made between 1997 and 2001, contains only 24 tapes of bin Laden. The wealth of lectures are by hundreds of different speakers, mostly academic, on the nature of Islamic law and ritual practice, and they even record some seemingly insignificant extemporaneous conversations in kitchens or taxis, over telephone calls, at weddings and celebrations after combat missions. As such, the cache provides an enormously nuanced portrait of the thinking behind the group’s operations. While the West has latched on to bin Laden’s avowed anti-American platform (which emerged after 1996), he styled himself first and foremost “an ascetic warrior dedicated to the global Islamic struggle,” with its apostates being within the Muslim community itself. With daunting thoroughness, Miller reviews bin Laden’s biography, underscoring his adherence to the Islamic reform movement that supported insurgencies in authoritarian regimes within the Muslim world. Expelled from Saudi Arabia, bin Laden was often rendered stateless. During this key period, his community of like-minded ascetics used historic examples to preach “a code of ascetic virtues,” which included denouncing the “wealth and palaces of this world” and boycotting American goods. Moving chronologically in the recordings, Miller gives a multilayered sense of how al-Qaida actually developed.

Dense, scholarly, and bizarrely compelling.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-19-026436-9

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: June 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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However charily one should apply the word, a beautiful book, an unconditionally involving memoir for our time or any time.


Maya Angelou is a natural writer with an inordinate sense of life and she has written an exceptional autobiographical narrative which retrieves her first sixteen years from "the general darkness just beyond the great blinkers of childhood."

Her story is told in scenes, ineluctably moving scenes, from the time when she and her brother were sent by her fancy living parents to Stamps, Arkansas, and a grandmother who had the local Store. Displaced they were and "If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat." But alternating with all the pain and terror (her rape at the age of eight when in St. Louis With her mother) and humiliation (a brief spell in the kitchen of a white woman who refused to remember her name) and fear (of a lynching—and the time they buried afflicted Uncle Willie under a blanket of vegetables) as well as all the unanswered and unanswerable questions, there are affirmative memories and moments: her charming brother Bailey; her own "unshakable God"; a revival meeting in a tent; her 8th grade graduation; and at the end, when she's sixteen, the birth of a baby. Times When as she says "It seemed that the peace of a day's ending was an assurance that the covenant God made with children, Negroes and the crippled was still in effect."

However charily one should apply the word, a beautiful book, an unconditionally involving memoir for our time or any time.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1969

ISBN: 0375507892

Page Count: 235

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1969

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A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.


Custer died for your sins. And so, this book would seem to suggest, did every other native victim of colonialism.

Inducing guilt in non-native readers would seem to be the guiding idea behind Dunbar-Ortiz’s (Emerita, Ethnic Studies/California State Univ., Hayward; Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War, 2005, etc.) survey, which is hardly a new strategy. Indeed, the author says little that hasn’t been said before, but she packs a trove of ideological assumptions into nearly every page. For one thing, while “Indian” isn’t bad, since “[i]ndigenous individuals and peoples in North America on the whole do not consider ‘Indian’ a slur,” “American” is due to the fact that it’s “blatantly imperialistic.” Just so, indigenous peoples were overwhelmed by a “colonialist settler-state” (the very language broadly applied to Israelis vis-à-vis the Palestinians today) and then “displaced to fragmented reservations and economically decimated”—after, that is, having been forced to live in “concentration camps.” Were he around today, Vine Deloria Jr., the always-indignant champion of bias-puncturing in defense of native history, would disavow such tidily packaged, ready-made, reflexive language. As it is, the readers who are likely to come to this book—undergraduates, mostly, in survey courses—probably won’t question Dunbar-Ortiz’s inaccurate assertion that the military phrase “in country” derives from the military phrase “Indian country” or her insistence that all Spanish people in the New World were “gold-obsessed.” Furthermore, most readers won’t likely know that some Ancestral Pueblo (for whom Dunbar-Ortiz uses the long-abandoned term “Anasazi”) sites show evidence of cannibalism and torture, which in turn points to the inconvenient fact that North America wasn’t entirely an Eden before the arrival of Europe.

A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8070-0040-3

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Beacon Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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