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NINE QUARTERS OF JERUSALEM

A NEW BIOGRAPHY OF THE OLD CITY

A deft, engaging portrait of a teeming, shape-shifting city.

A vigorous tour of Jerusalem in all its complexity.

In the three monotheist traditions, Jerusalem is a dreamlike place “of heavenly perfection, our city of joy”; it is also a distinctly physical entity that has endured enormous fracturing over the centuries. BBC journalist and travel writer Teller describes the lives of many of the city’s inhabitants as he attempts to reveal its contemporary essence. He ably investigates a crucial dichotomy: the “physical Jerusalem and [the] moral, spiritual one; an old, corrupted message and a new, clear one.” For ages, he writes, “it didn’t matter that the city had no river, no strategic value and no natural sources of commercial wealth. It had God.” Though accepted as the way it has always been, the division of the city into four quarters—Christian, Muslim, Armenian, and Jewish—actually occurred fairly arbitrarily in the mid-19th century thanks to British Protestant missionaries. Moving back and forth in time, Teller uses as a frame of reference the sequence of walls and gates implemented by Suleiman the Magnificent in the 16th century, taking readers through the labyrinthine neighborhoods that have grown up around those gates. The author chronicles his in-depth conversations with a wide, diverse swath of the population: Sufi mystics and religious figures of all kinds, of course, but also Palestinian, Indian, African, and Jewish shopkeepers; members of the Dom community (“socially, politically and economically these people are at the bottom of every heap”); and even “quadrilingual” Armenian rock star Apo Sahagian, who grew up in the Old City. Since the Six-Day War of 1967, citizen displacement has been widespread, and while Teller doesn’t delve deeply into this animus, the epilogue explores Palestinian restrictions and the toll of Partition. Overall, the author delivers an illuminating reexamination of an enduring city, a book that makes a satisfying complement to Andrew Lawler’s Under Jerusalem.

A deft, engaging portrait of a teeming, shape-shifting city.

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-63542-334-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Other Press

Review Posted Online: July 12, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2022

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WHAT THIS COMEDIAN SAID WILL SHOCK YOU

Maher calls out idiocy wherever he sees it, with a comedic delivery that veers between a stiletto and a sledgehammer.

The comedian argues that the arts of moderation and common sense must be reinvigorated.

Some people are born snarky, some become snarky, and some have snarkiness thrust upon them. Judging from this book, Maher—host of HBO’s Real Time program and author of The New New Rules and When You Ride Alone, You Ride With bin Laden—is all three. As a comedian, he has a great deal of leeway to make fun of people in politics, and he often delivers hilarious swipes with a deadpan face. The author describes himself as a traditional liberal, with a disdain for Republicans (especially the MAGA variety) and a belief in free speech and personal freedom. He claims that he has stayed much the same for more than 20 years, while the left, he argues, has marched toward intolerance. He sees an addiction to extremism on both sides of the aisle, which fosters the belief that anyone who disagrees with you must be an enemy to be destroyed. However, Maher has always displayed his own streaks of extremism, and his scorched-earth takedowns eventually become problematic. The author has something nasty to say about everyone, it seems, and the sarcastic tone starts after more than 300 pages. As has been the case throughout his career, Maher is best taken in small doses. The book is worth reading for the author’s often spot-on skewering of inept politicians and celebrities, but it might be advisable to occasionally dip into it rather than read the whole thing in one sitting. Some parts of the text are hilarious, but others are merely insulting. Maher is undeniably talented, but some restraint would have produced a better book.

Maher calls out idiocy wherever he sees it, with a comedic delivery that veers between a stiletto and a sledgehammer.

Pub Date: May 21, 2024

ISBN: 9781668051351

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: March 5, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2024

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GENGHIS KHAN AND THE MAKING OF THE MODERN WORLD

A horde-pleaser, well-written and full of surprises.

“The Mongols swept across the globe as conquerors,” writes the appreciative pop anthropologist-historian Weatherford (The History of Money, 1997, etc.), “but also as civilization’s unrivaled cultural carriers.”

No business-secrets fluffery here, though Weatherford does credit Genghis Khan and company for seeking “not merely to conquer the world but to impose a global order based on free trade, a single international law, and a universal alphabet with which to write all the languages of the world.” Not that the world was necessarily appreciative: the Mongols were renowned for, well, intemperance in war and peace, even if Weatherford does go rather lightly on the atrocities-and-butchery front. Instead, he accentuates the positive changes the Mongols, led by a visionary Genghis Khan, brought to the vast territories they conquered, if ever so briefly: the use of carpets, noodles, tea, playing cards, lemons, carrots, fabrics, and even a few words, including the cheer hurray. (Oh, yes, and flame throwers, too.) Why, then, has history remembered Genghis and his comrades so ungenerously? Whereas Geoffrey Chaucer considered him “so excellent a lord in all things,” Genghis is a byword for all that is savage and terrible; the word “Mongol” figures, thanks to the pseudoscientific racism of the 19th century, as the root of “mongoloid,” a condition attributed to genetic throwbacks to seed sown by Mongol invaders during their decades of ravaging Europe. (Bad science, that, but Dr. Down’s son himself argued that imbeciles “derived from an earlier form of the Mongol stock and should be considered more ‘pre-human, rather than human.’ ”) Weatherford’s lively analysis restores the Mongols’ reputation, and it takes some wonderful learned detours—into, for instance, the history of the so-called Secret History of the Mongols, which the Nazis raced to translate in the hope that it would help them conquer Russia, as only the Mongols had succeeded in doing.

A horde-pleaser, well-written and full of surprises.

Pub Date: March 2, 2004

ISBN: 0-609-61062-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2003

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