An intriguing, enlightening, often disheartening but occasionally hopeful tour of the Middle East, focusing on militant Islam. Veteran New York Times correspondent Judith Miller (One by One: Facing the Holocaust, 1990) has been reporting from the Middle East for more than two decades, writing about Islam's rush to fill the vacuum left by the collapse of secular Arab nationalism. She profiles ten countries, from Algeria in the west to Iran in the east, attempting to explain historically and politically how each country arrived at its often perilous and sometimes tragic present. There is much to be depressed about in Miller's book: Sudan, truly hell on earth; Egypt, falling back on brutality to suppress Islamic militancy when it fumbled more reasonable alternatives; Algeria, where the religious and secular are in open war. In virtually every country, there is some form of violent Islamic militancy at work, and governments have tried with varying success to either coopt or repress the movement. Miller, critical of violations of civil and human rights, concedes that Syria's President Hafez al-Assad has dealt with the militants more effectively than anyone else, by terrifying away their potential followers with his 1982 massacre of thousands of people in the town of Hama following an uprising. But Miller also argues that militant Islam is far less homogeneous than commonly depicted, and could yet evolve toward a more pragmatic, less absolutist philosophy. Ironically, Miller sees reason for hope in Iran, ruled by Islamic militants since 1979. She finds there a lively and surprisingly open debate about whether religious leaders are necessarily the people best suited ``to build a car or stabilize a monetary system.'' Miller's writing is rich and detailed, and her vivid profiles of Libya's Muammar Qaddafi and Jordan's King Hussein are themselves worth the price of the book. A nuanced examination of Islamic militancy, crammed with information, that puts this growing movement and its most horrible terrorist manifestations into invaluable context.