BEYOND BELIEF

ISLAMIC EXCURSIONS AMONG THE CONVERTED PEOPLE

The famous novelist follows up on a travel narrative he published in 1981, Among the Believers, that examined the practice and revolutionary tendencies of Islam in Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Iran. Naipaul’s visit to Indonesia took place before the onset of the current “Asian flu,” at a time when the vast nation was enjoying a wave of prosperity. That prosperity, of course, has been very unevenly distributed. He notes, for instance, ancient neighborhoods and a unique vernacular architecture being knocked down to make way for glittering high-rises. Through interviews he portrays an Indonesian version of Islam triumphing peacefully over Hinduism, Catholicism, and even the remnants of Dutch colonialism, in large part by embracing Western technology and the faith of capitalism. Most instructive is Imaduddin, a man formerly at odds with the Suharto government but now one of its chief ministers, who took frequent refuge in the US but retains no affection for it. An engineer, he has had no trouble mingling his scientific training with an aggressive vision of Islam’s place in the world—and of Indonesia’s role in Islam’s rise. “Islam is not simply a matter of conscience,” says Naipaul. “It makes imperial demands.” This is even more apparent in Iran. Naipaul portrays a regime that has succeeded in disposing of every vestige of the shah but has yet to recover from its eight-year war with Iraq, and from the excesses of its own religious zeal. There are signs of liberation from the liberators, but Naipaul doesn’t miss the human cost: a beautiful young woman in her black cloak, for instance, with a government job but no personal freedom, who retreats to her room every night and rages hysterically. Naipaul’s evocation of a corrupt Pakistan, passionately Islamic but unsure of itself as a nation, captures the vibrancy of the place, but his Iran is mournful and haunting. A measured view of Islamic countries from the point of view of ordinary people rather than propagandists or detractors.

Pub Date: June 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-375-50118-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1998

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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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THE MYTH OF SISYPHUS

AND OTHER ESSAYS

This a book of earlier, philosophical essays concerned with the essential "absurdity" of life and the concept that- to overcome the strong tendency to suicide in every thoughtful man-one must accept life on its own terms with its values of revolt, liberty and passion. A dreary thesis- derived from and distorting the beliefs of the founders of existentialism, Jaspers, Heldegger and Kierkegaard, etc., the point of view seems peculiarly outmoded. It is based on the experience of war and the resistance, liberally laced with Andre Gide's excessive intellectualism. The younger existentialists such as Sartre and Camus, with their gift for the terse novel or intense drama, seem to have omitted from their philosophy all the deep religiosity which permeates the work of the great existentialist thinkers. This contributes to a basic lack of vitality in themselves, in these essays, and ten years after the war Camus seems unaware that the life force has healed old wounds... Largely for avant garde aesthetes and his special coterie.

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 1955

ISBN: 0679733736

Page Count: 228

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1955

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