Thin compared to more closely focused works such as María Rosa Menocal’s The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and...

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PEACE BE UPON YOU

THE STORY OF MUSLIM, CHRISTIAN, AND JEWISH COEXISTENCE

Against the clash-of-civilizations model, prolific writer Karabell (Parting the Desert, 2003, etc.) reminds readers that there was a time when monotheisms coexisted in relative peace.

Peace is at the core of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, Karabell urges, even if the times seem to have summoned up a militant air, the West fearing fundamentalism, the Arab world imperialism. The scholarly and popular emphasis on visions of war, ethnic strife and inter-religious competition, Karabell suggests, will in time obscure the achievements of times past, when followers of the three religions found it congenial to live and work together. It’s to be noted that those arrangements flourished mostly when Muslims held power, in places such as the Baghdad of the golden age (which, Karabell allows, was “never quite as golden as it looked through the misty eyes of later generations”), the Jerusalem of Saladin, the Istanbul of the early Ottomans and, famously, the Córdoba of the Umayyads. “For a brief period,” writes Karabell, “Muslim Spain was the most vibrant place on earth.” Indeed, and even if the Ottomans’ treatment of Christians and Jews was non-discriminating largely in the sense that all the empire’s subjects were mere “instruments of the state and servants of the sultan,” Karabell’s case studies suggest that there is no good doctrinal reason we all just can’t get along. There are, of course, other reasons, ranging from old-fashioned ignorance to the attacks of 9/11 and the long human tradition of murdering one’s other-thinking neighbors. His curious conclusion is that a future zone of tolerance might look something like Dubai—another place, of course, where Muslims rule over non-Muslim minorities that have suddenly become the majority.

Thin compared to more closely focused works such as María Rosa Menocal’s The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain (2002).

Pub Date: March 2, 2007

ISBN: 1-4000-4368-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2006

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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 author’s sincere sermon—at times analytical, at times hortatory—remains a hopeful one.

THE ROAD TO CHARACTER

New York Times columnist Brooks (The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character and Achievement, 2011, etc.) returns with another volume that walks the thin line between self-help and cultural criticism.

Sandwiched between his introduction and conclusion are eight chapters that profile exemplars (Samuel Johnson and Michel de Montaigne are textual roommates) whose lives can, in Brooks’ view, show us the light. Given the author’s conservative bent in his column, readers may be surprised to discover that his cast includes some notable leftists, including Frances Perkins, Dorothy Day, and A. Philip Randolph. (Also included are Gens. Eisenhower and Marshall, Augustine, and George Eliot.) Throughout the book, Brooks’ pattern is fairly consistent: he sketches each individual’s life, highlighting struggles won and weaknesses overcome (or not), and extracts lessons for the rest of us. In general, he celebrates hard work, humility, self-effacement, and devotion to a true vocation. Early in his text, he adapts the “Adam I and Adam II” construction from the work of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, Adam I being the more external, career-driven human, Adam II the one who “wants to have a serene inner character.” At times, this veers near the Devil Bugs Bunny and Angel Bugs that sit on the cartoon character’s shoulders at critical moments. Brooks liberally seasons the narrative with many allusions to history, philosophy, and literature. Viktor Frankl, Edgar Allan Poe, Paul Tillich, William and Henry James, Matthew Arnold, Virginia Woolf—these are but a few who pop up. Although Brooks goes after the selfie generation, he does so in a fairly nuanced way, noting that it was really the World War II Greatest Generation who started the ball rolling. He is careful to emphasize that no one—even those he profiles—is anywhere near flawless.

The author’s sincere sermon—at times analytical, at times hortatory—remains a hopeful one.

Pub Date: April 21, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9325-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2015

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