A literate, evenhanded account of a long-ago religious conflict that continues to play out—and shape history—today.



A just-so story about the profound—often fatally so—differences between the two chief divisions of Islam.

The Sunni-Shia divide is wider than the gulf between Catholicism and Protestantism. Its origins, writes Middle East journalist Hazleton (Jezebel: The Untold Story of the Bible’s Harlot Queen, 2007, etc.), lie in the unfortunate fact that Muhammad, the founder of Islam, was mortal. At 63 years of age, after many battles and grievous wounds, he died of fever. “It might all have been simple enough if Muhammad had had sons,” writes Hazleton. He did not, however, and a rift soon divided the Islamic world. Who would succeed him? Some believed that the job should fall to the family of his favorite wife, Aisha, others to his son-in-law, Ali. The argument, on a scholarly front, took on angels-on-pinheads dimensions, as imams pondered whether Muhammad, had he chosen Ali, would have ushered in a “form of hereditary monarchy.” Many asserted that Muhammad intended some sort of democracy, or at least meritocracy, in the governance of Islam. All the disputations came to a head with the assassination of Ali, who had claimed the caliphate, and subsequent Battle of Karbala, in Iraq, where Ali’s son Hussein was killed. The supporters of Ali, or Shiat Ali, thereafter were ever more a minority party within the larger sphere of Islam, though dominant in countries such as Iran and, at times, Iraq. This story is well known to readers with any background at all in Islam, for whom the book will be superfluous. However, given that few Western readers, it seems, have much of that background, Hazleton’s storytelling approach to the schism will be welcome. She writes fluidly, sometimes in prose reminiscent of Charles Doughty’s Travels in Arabia Deserta: “The air was dense and moist instead of bracingly dry, the blue of the sky pale with humidity. They had followed Aisha only to find themselves out of place, disoriented.”

A literate, evenhanded account of a long-ago religious conflict that continues to play out—and shape history—today.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-385-52393-6

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2009

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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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This a book of earlier, philosophical essays concerned with the essential "absurdity" of life and the concept that- to overcome the strong tendency to suicide in every thoughtful man-one must accept life on its own terms with its values of revolt, liberty and passion. A dreary thesis- derived from and distorting the beliefs of the founders of existentialism, Jaspers, Heldegger and Kierkegaard, etc., the point of view seems peculiarly outmoded. It is based on the experience of war and the resistance, liberally laced with Andre Gide's excessive intellectualism. The younger existentialists such as Sartre and Camus, with their gift for the terse novel or intense drama, seem to have omitted from their philosophy all the deep religiosity which permeates the work of the great existentialist thinkers. This contributes to a basic lack of vitality in themselves, in these essays, and ten years after the war Camus seems unaware that the life force has healed old wounds... Largely for avant garde aesthetes and his special coterie.

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 1955

ISBN: 0679733736

Page Count: 228

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1955

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