Smoothly composed history and fine scholarship.

IN THE SHADOW OF THE SWORD

THE BIRTH OF ISLAM AND THE RISE OF THE GLOBAL ARAB EMPIRE

Elegant study of the roiling era of internecine religious rivalry and epic strife that saw the nation of Islam rise and conquer.

British historian Holland (The Forge of Christendom: The End of Days and the Epic Rise of the West, 2009, etc.) first tells the tortuously involved tale of the rise and fall Persia, or what he calls Iranshahr, an empire imbued by the spirit of the prophet Zoroaster, who believed that a terminal confrontation between good and evil was imminent; it was also heavily influenced by the Jews, natives of Judah in diaspora to Mesopotamia, who were at work transcribing the written record of their rabbis and looking forward to a Messiah who would offer redemption from suffering. Meanwhile, Rome, whose own Virgil had broadcast its glorious mission statement, “a dominion without limit,” in the Aeneid, was besieged by barbarian tribes and on its knees by the first centuries CE, threatened by an implacable rebellious heresy, Christianity. Yet another current began to swell, similarly foretold in the Old Testament scriptures, such as in the account of Abraham’s begetting a son by the Egyptian maid Hagar, who would become Ishmael, heir to a great people, and Daniel’s terrifying apocalyptic vision of four beasts ruling in succession over mankind. So what was this new nation rising from the feral wanderings of “the wolves of Arabia,” seemingly portended in the bubonic plague decimating the Fertile Crescent in the sixth century? Holland portrays the age as ripe for the revolutionary visions of the Prophet, who certainly drew most self-consciously from tenets of previous People of the Book. Holland confronts questions in the Quranic text head-on, providing a substantive, fluent exegesis on the original documents.

Smoothly composed history and fine scholarship.

Pub Date: May 15, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-385-53135-1

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: March 13, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2012

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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 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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