A rich foray into the history of Islam and the emergence of key cities as capitals of commerce, culture, and conquest.

ISLAMIC EMPIRES

THE CITIES THAT SHAPED CIVILIZATION: FROM MECCA TO DUBAI

A British scholar and journalist journeys through a complicated history of Islam via the major Muslim cities throughout the ages, from Mecca to Constantinople to Doha.

Former Financial Times and Economist foreign correspondent Marozzi (Baghdad: City of Peace, City of Blood, 2014, etc.) fashions a skillful overview of the important seats of Muslim power while resisting narratives of “faith and fable” in the process. This is especially difficult regarding the earliest capital of Mecca, “mother of all cities,” much excoriated by the first chroniclers after the Prophet Mohammed died in 632; it was a recalcitrant city of trade essentially taken by the prophet and forced to convert to the new faith. This military struggle formed the pattern for much of Islam’s history over the following centuries as Mohammed, according to Marozzi, was sanctioned by the Quran to conquer. “Reaping the spoils of war was not just a pleasant consequence of victory in battle,” writes the author. “Having received divine sanction in the Quran, it was far more important than that.” The momentum of the conquerors took them into Damascus, “the perfumed city” that “has always soared high in Arab affections.” Subsequently, Marozzi moves from century to century into Córdoba, Jerusalem, Cairo, Fez, Samarkand, Constantinople, Kabul, Isfahan, Tripoli, Beirut, Dubai, and Doha. While the author stresses that this is a personal selection of 15 cities, he notes that he kept in mind what Herodotus saw as the importance of focusing on “great and marvelous deeds”—and each of these cities certainly witnessed their fair share of those. In the modern age, Marozzi covers the Taliban takeover of Kabul (and the terrible changes wrought by decades of war) and the astonishing urban transformations of the once-provincial cities of Dubai and Doha. The author is fair in his assessment of these significant cities and what they have meant to Islam as a whole, and his enthusiasm is infectious.

A rich foray into the history of Islam and the emergence of key cities as capitals of commerce, culture, and conquest.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-64313-306-5

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Pegasus

Review Posted Online: Dec. 3, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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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 48 LAWS OF POWER

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 value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics,...

HOW DEMOCRACIES DIE

A provocative analysis of the parallels between Donald Trump’s ascent and the fall of other democracies.

Following the last presidential election, Levitsky (Transforming Labor-Based Parties in Latin America, 2003, etc.) and Ziblatt (Conservative Parties and the Birth of Democracy, 2017, etc.), both professors of government at Harvard, wrote an op-ed column titled, “Is Donald Trump a Threat to Democracy?” The answer here is a resounding yes, though, as in that column, the authors underscore their belief that the crisis extends well beyond the power won by an outsider whom they consider a demagogue and a liar. “Donald Trump may have accelerated the process, but he didn’t cause it,” they write of the politics-as-warfare mentality. “The weakening of our democratic norms is rooted in extreme partisan polarization—one that extends beyond policy differences into an existential conflict over race and culture.” The authors fault the Republican establishment for failing to stand up to Trump, even if that meant electing his opponent, and they seem almost wistfully nostalgic for the days when power brokers in smoke-filled rooms kept candidacies restricted to a club whose members knew how to play by the rules. Those supporting the candidacy of Bernie Sanders might take as much issue with their prescriptions as Trump followers will. However, the comparisons they draw to how democratic populism paved the way toward tyranny in Peru, Venezuela, Chile, and elsewhere are chilling. Among the warning signs they highlight are the Republican Senate’s refusal to consider Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee as well as Trump’s demonization of political opponents, minorities, and the media. As disturbing as they find the dismantling of Democratic safeguards, Levitsky and Ziblatt suggest that “a broad opposition coalition would have important benefits,” though such a coalition would strike some as a move to the center, a return to politics as usual, and even a pragmatic betrayal of principles.

The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics, rather than in the consensus it is not likely to build.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6293-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2017

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