A fine starting point for those interested in the history and future of Iran, but far from definitive.

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PERPLEXITY OF IRAN

This brief look at the history of Iran has an eye toward using the region’s diverse past as an argument for regime change.

Political unrest in the Middle East is deeply rooted in the region’s complex past, and its present and future are inexorably tied to events predating even the formation of Islam. This is especially true in Iran, a country that, despite its controversial role in the war on terror, is presented by ChamanAra (A Journey to the Truth, 2005, etc.) as a pluralistic society, both in its origins and as it exists today. However, according to the author, it is because of Iran’s vocal, ruling minority that the country stands at odds with its neighbors, so the dream of peace remains out of reach. The book’s solution is an optimistic though not implausible one, which suggests that regime change in Iran is possible without foreign military intervention. Instead, by utilizing the country’s moderate base (both at home and the millions of expatriate Iranians), religion and government could be separated in the country through the rejection of Sharia law, along with limited diplomatic pressure from the United States. Diplomacy in the region is, of course, not to be frivolously approached, so ChamanAra provides a useful “crash-course” in Iranian history, which looks at the conflicts that shaped the country and illustrates how they affected the Muslim faith, with emphasis on the differences between the Shia and Sunni and a focus on the hard-line offshoot, the Wahhabi. This history is exceedingly useful in understanding the book’s principle arguments; citation is poor, however, with most of the facts culled from Wikipedia, lending some doubt as to their validity. While it’s clear that ChamanAra has an impressive understanding and deep passion for Iran, the passion is outweighed by all the cold, dubious facts. The narrative occasionally slips into a reserved, almost detached tone, punctuated by obtuse metaphors and some intellectual condescension in its portrayal of Third World countries after World War II. In the end, the book’s revolutionary ideas aren’t adequately explored; instead, they’re lost in what amounts to a short history book.

A fine starting point for those interested in the history and future of Iran, but far from definitive.

Pub Date: April 16, 2012

ISBN: 978-1469168562

Page Count: 80

Publisher: Xlibris

Review Posted Online: Aug. 30, 2012

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Ram Dass lived a full life and then some. His final statement is thorough and, yes, enlightening.

BEING RAM DASS

A comprehensive memoir from a famous but humble spiritual seeker.

Mention the name Ram Dass (1931-2019), and you’re likely to hear three words: Be Here Now. However, there’s much more to the man born Richard Alpert than his best-known book, as this posthumous memoir, co-written with Das, makes amply clear. Born just outside of Boston to an ambitious Jewish family, he quickly became a hungry spiritual seeker. He ran with fellow Harvard psychology professor Timothy Leary, and together they became pioneers in hallucinogenic research. As he explains, psilocybin and LSD, which were legal when he began his studies, were a means of exploring other planes of consciousness, a rationale that didn’t keep him from getting fired for turning on an undergraduate student. One can imagine such a book by another author—say, Leary—as full of chest-puffing and war stories. Thankfully, on his road to enlightenment, Ram Dass also accumulated a good deal of humility. This comes across clearest in the sections that find him in India, where he became a disciple of the Hindu guru Maharaj-ji, who taught the young American pilgrim how to love and worship without using drugs—and gave him his new name, which means “servant of God.” “Turning toward Eastern spirituality was not just my inner evolution but part of a major cultural shift,” writes the author, who proves to be a steady guide to some heady events and trends, including the Harvard psychedelic tests, the communal living experiment in Millbrook, New York, the Human Be-In in Golden Gate Park, and the influx of Westerners flooding India in search of a higher state of being. Familiar names walk in, walk out, and often return: Allen Ginsberg, Aldous Huxley, Ken Kesey, and the members of the Grateful Dead.

Ram Dass lived a full life and then some. His final statement is thorough and, yes, enlightening.

Pub Date: Jan. 12, 2021

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 488

Publisher: Sounds True

Review Posted Online: Nov. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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