A noted Middle Eastern author takes an intriguing historical, psychological, and literary trip through the political polemics that have marked much of life in the region for the last 25 years. MacArthur award recipient Ajami (Middle Eastern Studies/Johns Hopkins Univ.) takes the title of his book from T.E. Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom. But unlike that book, which was a portrait of the Arab culture from the outside looking in, Ajami's well-crafted tale is an insider's look at Arab angst. Born in Lebanon, Ajami (The Arab Predicament, not reviewed, etc.) has written a book that is at once a mini-history of the Middle East and a personal journey into the world postWW II Arabs such as himself have inherited. Ajami relies on the literature of the day as a guidepost for his journey, using various authors and poets to better understand his own life and the themes that continue to challenge his peers. He opens with a look at the Lebanese poet Khalil Hawi, who killed himself in despair the day Israel came into Lebanon in 1982. Ajami examines as well the theocratic politics of the 1980s, an era that saw the rise of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in Iran and was discussed in the writings of Adonis, Nizar Qabbani, Abdelrahman Munif, and Sadiq al-Azm. Ajami's analytical microscope also focuses on the era that closed with the Persian Gulf War of 199091. Egypt is analyzed through the assasination of Anwar el-Sadat in 1981, and the life of the revered novelist Naguib Mahfouz, who was persecuted by religious extremists. The book closes with a chapter on Israel and its relationship with the Arab intellectual class. For those seeking a better understanding of the whys and wherefores of modern Arab life, this book is a beautifully written, insightful overview.