A clear, concise, and thoughtful introduction to Islam.

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An exploration of Islamic beliefs and history that aims to challenge American Islamophobia.

Debut author Slocum, a former Christian missionary to Kazakhstan, writes that he was horrified at ignorant depictions of Muslims in American media after the 9/11 attacks. During his years as a missionary, he “never changed anyone’s mind to become a believer in the Bible,” he says, but his newfound Muslim friends left an indelible mark on his own life—particularly, the fact that their culture prized hospitality toward strangers. The book begins by subverting popular American conceptions of Sharia law by rooting it in social justice, centered on protecting the poor and weak. Similarly, Islam’s “greater jihad,” he says, is not a literal holy war (a term first coined by Christian Crusaders) but rather “the internal struggle of living a life that is pleasing to God.” The book’s middle chapters offer a survey of Islamic history from Muhammad through the present day, highlighting both the wonders of the Islamic Golden Age and the horrors of European colonialism. To Slocum, the birth of the “dark blight” of Wahhabism in the 18th century marked a decisive turning point. Although the moderate Muslim majority rejected this absolutist ideology, he says, it gained traction in Saudi Arabia at the same approximate time that the West undergirded a Saudi monarchy linked with Wahhabism. Central to the book’s analysis of radical Islam is the notion that it’s a force of the West’s own making, from their support of the mujahedeen in Afghanistan to their installation of a brutal monarch in Iran. In doing so, Slocum is particularly deft at challenging the tropes that Islamic radicals hate American freedom or that Islam is an inherently violent religion. Although many in the West tend to associate Islam with Arabs, this book highlights not only the faith’s ideological diversity, from Sunnis to Shias to Ahmadis, but also Muslims’ ethnic diversity; only about 10% of the world’s Muslims hail from Arabic nations. Of course, none of this will be new to Islamic scholars or historians of the Middle East, but to many Americans who are unfamiliar with the topic, this is a first-rate primer.

A clear, concise, and thoughtful introduction to Islam.

Pub Date: July 2, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-9986838-6-7

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Top Reads Publishing

Review Posted Online: May 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2019

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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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A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.


A teacher and scholar of Buddhism offers a formally varied account of the available rewards of solitude.

“As Mother Ayahuasca takes me in her arms, I realize that last night I vomited up my attachment to Buddhism. In passing out, I died. In coming to, I was, so to speak, reborn. I no longer have to fight these battles, I repeat to myself. I am no longer a combatant in the dharma wars. It feels as if the course of my life has shifted onto another vector, like a train shunted off its familiar track onto a new trajectory.” Readers of Batchelor’s previous books (Secular Buddhism: Imagining the Dharma in an Uncertain World, 2017, etc.) will recognize in this passage the culmination of his decadeslong shift away from the religious commitments of Buddhism toward an ecumenical and homegrown philosophy of life. Writing in a variety of modes—memoir, history, collage, essay, biography, and meditation instruction—the author doesn’t argue for his approach to solitude as much as offer it for contemplation. Essentially, Batchelor implies that if you read what Buddha said here and what Montaigne said there, and if you consider something the author has noticed, and if you reflect on your own experience, you have the possibility to improve the quality of your life. For introspective readers, it’s easy to hear in this approach a direct response to Pascal’s claim that “all of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” Batchelor wants to relieve us of this inability by offering his example of how to do just that. “Solitude is an art. Mental training is needed to refine and stabilize it,” he writes. “When you practice solitude, you dedicate yourself to the care of the soul.” Whatever a soul is, the author goes a long way toward soothing it.

A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-25093-0

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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