An earnest, if occasionally dry, introduction to the Quran.

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QURÁN, THE UNIVERSAL MESSAGE

GUIDES MANKIND TO WAYS OF PEACE AND SAFETY

An examination of different aspects of the central Islamic holy text.

The Quran, Ahmad (Aspects of the Quran, 2009) explains, is meant to serve as “an eternal book of guidance for all of mankind.” As he explores this guidance in detail, he supports his interpretations with a plethora of quotations from its text. For example, he notes that the Quran highlights the importance of caring for the poor (“Islam detests poverty”) and the necessity of protecting the environment (“Those who corrupt the land are thieves”). What does the holy book have to say about the just nature of God? One example that Ahmad offers includes this Quranic quote: “And none shall be dealt with unjustly on the Day of Judgement.” The interpretations are mostly the author’s own, but he occasionally references the opinions of other authors, such as those of neuroscientist Sam Harris, whose anti-Islamic sentiments, Ahmad says, misconstrue the peaceful nature of the religion. The author also criticizes Muslim scholars for what he characterizes as misinterpretations or overemphasis on particular aspects of Islam. He notes, for example, that both Muslims and non-Muslims appear to be obsessed with the ways in which women are permitted to dress, according to the Muslim holy book. Ahmad points out that, out of more than 6,200 verses in the Quran, “only three regulate women’s dress.” So, he wonders: Why do so many people make such a big deal out of it? This book will best serve readers who are largely unfamiliar with the Quran. It reveals the thoughts of a lay Muslim who proffers no agenda in his work other than to explain the central text of his religion in a way that anyone can understand. This relatively brief work isn’t an exhaustive dive into Islamic thinking but a digestible primer on its most important text. It provides extensive examples in an attempt to neutralize hostility leveled at Islam, and, as a result, readers will come away with an understanding of the faith that goes beyond news headlines and the rehearsed opinions of professional spokespeople. But although the book does offer a heartfelt defense, it might have proven even more effective if it had taken a more deeply personal tone. The author does share one anecdote from his childhood—regarding his youthful indifference to the lives of some small frogs and the resulting lesson that he learned from his mother—but readers may find themselves largely at a loss as to how Ahmad and those close to him made use of the Quran’s teachings in their own lives. He does clearly lay out his interpretation of the holy book’s “universal message,” but he could have better shown the impact of its teachings on individuals. An extensive foreword provides some insight into his reasons for writing the book—pointing out, for instance, that the market was “flooded with anti-Islamic literature” following the 9/11 attacks—but more personal context might have resulted in a truly nuanced reading experience.

An earnest, if occasionally dry, introduction to the Quran.

Pub Date: Nov. 18, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-5049-5820-2

Page Count: 246

Publisher: AuthorHouse

Review Posted Online: March 20, 2018

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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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A timely, vividly realized reminder to slow down and harness the restorative wonders of serenity.

STILLNESS IS THE KEY

An exploration of the importance of clarity through calmness in an increasingly fast-paced world.

Austin-based speaker and strategist Holiday (Conspiracy: Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the Anatomy of Intrigue, 2018, etc.) believes in downshifting one’s life and activities in order to fully grasp the wonder of stillness. He bolsters this theory with a wide array of perspectives—some based on ancient wisdom (one of the author’s specialties), others more modern—all with the intent to direct readers toward the essential importance of stillness and its “attainable path to enlightenment and excellence, greatness and happiness, performance as well as presence.” Readers will be encouraged by Holiday’s insistence that his methods are within anyone’s grasp. He acknowledges that this rare and coveted calm is already inside each of us, but it’s been worn down by the hustle of busy lives and distractions. Recognizing that this goal requires immense personal discipline, the author draws on the representational histories of John F. Kennedy, Buddha, Tiger Woods, Fred Rogers, Leonardo da Vinci, and many other creative thinkers and scholarly, scientific texts. These examples demonstrate how others have evolved past the noise of modern life and into the solitude of productive thought and cleansing tranquility. Holiday splits his accessible, empowering, and sporadically meandering narrative into a three-part “timeless trinity of mind, body, soul—the head, the heart, the human body.” He juxtaposes Stoic philosopher Seneca’s internal reflection and wisdom against Donald Trump’s egocentric existence, with much of his time spent “in his bathrobe, ranting about the news.” Holiday stresses that while contemporary life is filled with a dizzying variety of “competing priorities and beliefs,” the frenzy can be quelled and serenity maintained through a deliberative calming of the mind and body. The author shows how “stillness is what aims the arrow,” fostering focus, internal harmony, and the kind of holistic self-examination necessary for optimal contentment and mind-body centeredness. Throughout the narrative, he promotes that concept mindfully and convincingly.

A timely, vividly realized reminder to slow down and harness the restorative wonders of serenity.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-53858-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Portfolio

Review Posted Online: July 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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