A delicate delineation that invites a more intimate look at the sources.




A scholar’s sincere attempt to elucidate the true teachings of the Quran.

Eminently qualified to present the finer points of the Prophet Muhammad’s beliefs and teachings, Brown (Islamic Studies/Georgetown Univ. School of Foreign Service; Muhammad: A Very Short Introduction, 2011, etc.) continually asserts the magnificent tradition of Islam yet can’t quite get around the well-known stumbling blocks—e.g., not allowing women to lead prayer and the concept of the martyrs’ multivirgin reward in heaven. Who speaks for Islam? The ulama, or the learned ones, and they have turned to three sources: first, the Quran, or the “unchanging record of God’s revealed words,” derived from oral teaching before being put into writing; then, the Hadith, or the sayings of the prophet, which have grown around the Quran and are more ambiguous, controversial and “amorphous”; and finally, the ideas of Sunni Islam (which Brown addresses rather than Shiite), or the collective consensus about law, ethics and dogma passed down for the generations of believers. Much like the mutable biblical canon, the Hadith corpus is contested, and scholars have declared many of them to be forgeries. What Brown does very well is underscore the cultural biases at work in denunciations of Islam—e.g., the Western perception of its excessive violence (jihad) and sexual perversion (the paradise of “72 virgins,” as well as the fact that Muhammad was in his 50s when he married the child bride Aisha, who was around the age of 10). The ulama, inheritors of classical learning, wrestled with reconciling reason and diversity with revelation, epitomized by the work of Shah Wali Allah, in the mid-18th-century Mughal Empire. Brown eloquently parses Islam’s rich interpretive tradition, but his nuanced sifting of meaning does not necessarily clarify or convince.

A delicate delineation that invites a more intimate look at the sources.

Pub Date: Sept. 9, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-78074-420-9

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Oneworld Publications

Review Posted Online: June 11, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2014

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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 sincere sermon—at times analytical, at times hortatory—remains a hopeful one.


New York Times columnist Brooks (The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character and Achievement, 2011, etc.) returns with another volume that walks the thin line between self-help and cultural criticism.

Sandwiched between his introduction and conclusion are eight chapters that profile exemplars (Samuel Johnson and Michel de Montaigne are textual roommates) whose lives can, in Brooks’ view, show us the light. Given the author’s conservative bent in his column, readers may be surprised to discover that his cast includes some notable leftists, including Frances Perkins, Dorothy Day, and A. Philip Randolph. (Also included are Gens. Eisenhower and Marshall, Augustine, and George Eliot.) Throughout the book, Brooks’ pattern is fairly consistent: he sketches each individual’s life, highlighting struggles won and weaknesses overcome (or not), and extracts lessons for the rest of us. In general, he celebrates hard work, humility, self-effacement, and devotion to a true vocation. Early in his text, he adapts the “Adam I and Adam II” construction from the work of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, Adam I being the more external, career-driven human, Adam II the one who “wants to have a serene inner character.” At times, this veers near the Devil Bugs Bunny and Angel Bugs that sit on the cartoon character’s shoulders at critical moments. Brooks liberally seasons the narrative with many allusions to history, philosophy, and literature. Viktor Frankl, Edgar Allan Poe, Paul Tillich, William and Henry James, Matthew Arnold, Virginia Woolf—these are but a few who pop up. Although Brooks goes after the selfie generation, he does so in a fairly nuanced way, noting that it was really the World War II Greatest Generation who started the ball rolling. He is careful to emphasize that no one—even those he profiles—is anywhere near flawless.

The author’s sincere sermon—at times analytical, at times hortatory—remains a hopeful one.

Pub Date: April 21, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9325-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2015

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