I read this nearly 2 decades ago and didn't really enjoy it then. Now that I'm older, wiser, better educated? I despised it. It was a maddening slog i...moreI read this nearly 2 decades ago and didn't really enjoy it then. Now that I'm older, wiser, better educated? I despised it. It was a maddening slog in which Brust retconned his characters' motivations, personalities & histories to force them to fit the new conflicts he wants to introduce -- it's part propaganda, part author-using-art-to-work-through-his-personal-issues, and everything is sacrificed in the service of those goals. You see, Steven Brust is a devout Trotskyite and his marriage had imploded at the time he wrote this. Both are so obvious here that it's almost as though he's trying to hit the readers heads over the head.
What is more, the order of this entry in the series is awful. Book 1 ("Jhereg") was an introduction to the characters, who were happily married; Book 2 ("Yendi") was a flashback tale of how the happily married characters met and fell in love; but now Book 3 ("Teckla") was a massive retcon, informing us that, two weeks after Book 1, their marriage is in shambles, because Cawti was a political fanatic all along and secretly despised Vlad. Never mind everything that went on between them prior to this novel. Never mind the fact that she worked happily alongside the aristocracy -- indeed, her sisterly relationship to the heir to the throne is entirely jettisoned and the heir goes unmentioned during this novel, no doubt because it fails to fit Brust's political agenda and re-imaginings of the characters.
I suppose we're supposed to be impressed with the hollow, childish, anachronistic rhetoric the Revolutionaries spout or Cawti's self-centered, fanatical hypocrisy or Vlad's baffling gullibility... But I certainly wasn't. Not a bit. And I may not re-read the rest of the series as a result.(less)
Good, in that it contains a lot of primary sources and some genuinely thoughtful analysis. This is par for the course, since the contributing authors...moreGood, in that it contains a lot of primary sources and some genuinely thoughtful analysis. This is par for the course, since the contributing authors come from an age in which people actually KNEW their Classical literature and in which scholars saw their work as more than simply revising history to fit whatever political or social fads happened to be en vogue at the time.
But Bad, in that it contains a lot of wild conjectures, bizarre theories, and outdated "facts". This is to be expected, since the contributing authors come from an age in which people were more open to...speculative...scholarship.(less)
This was entirely unexpected. I first became aware of PSME when a local PBS station ran the six-part mini-series, and the mini-series ended abruptly....moreThis was entirely unexpected. I first became aware of PSME when a local PBS station ran the six-part mini-series, and the mini-series ended abruptly. Very abruptly. It ended with the events chronicled in the previous volume, followed by a strange montage with the voice-over of a poem read by Rin. As such, I have absolutely no idea how this series will end, and had no idea what would come after we witnessed the tragic childhood of Shi On.
This volume contains no scenes from the protagonists' Earth lives. It is entirely focused on the adolescence and adulthood of the alien Shi On and his first encounters with the other alien scientists. We learn about the rivalry and resentment between him and Gyoku Ran, how others mistakenly assume they're best-friends, how Shu Kaido first met the "friends", etc. etc. We also learn how Moku Ren and Shi On first come to hate one another.
All of it is handled incredibly well, and I am glad to finally learn more about these characters I have loved for so many years! I can't wait to read the next volume, and eventually finish the entire series. And oddly enough, there appears to be a sequel series in the works right now!(less)
This book is awful. Just. Plain. Awful. It's named after Jaina Proudmoore, but she's only in ~1/3 of it, and barely does anything at all -- and when s...moreThis book is awful. Just. Plain. Awful. It's named after Jaina Proudmoore, but she's only in ~1/3 of it, and barely does anything at all -- and when she does act, even though her actions are fully justified and reasonable, everyone (eg: the countless male characters who occupy the other ~2/3 of the book) rushes to stop and condemn her (which they should have done to her attackers BEFORE her friends and kingdom were slaughtered by male sociopaths).
It's misogynistic, it's horribly paced, and the author apparently never went to Elementary school because Golden is completely ignorant of the old "show-not-tell" dictum. It perpetuates the new "Hush, Tyrande!" brand of WoW misgoyny, where strong female characters' actions are always irrational and they must be cowed, "put in their place" and "shown reason" by the men in their lives. Likewise, it perpetuates the old "Death to the Alliance! Thrall can do no wrong, even when he is clearly doing wrong, and the Horde should never face consequences for their actions!" approach Blizzard has been working to make the status quo of their little imaginary world. Despite the fact that Thrall appointed Garrosh, rejected all counsel against doing so, consciously turned a blind eye to Garrosh's war-crimes, and abandoned the Horde to Garrosh's whims -- despite all that, the supposedly neutral Go'el "Green Jesus" Thrall (incidentally, "Go'el" is Hebrew for "Redeemer" -- the "Green Jesus" accusations are NOT exaggerations) is written as somehow being free from blame and then turning around and SCOLDING JAINA for trying to avenge what his chosen successor did to her. Male after male does likewise, all scolding Jaina and telling her that while they chose not to intervene to save her people and her kingdom, they "must!" stop her. And how is Jaina finally stopped? Why, this vengeance-bound, ultra-powerful archmagus is soothed by the love of a man. That's right, after all this, the lesson is that irrational women can be saved by a few condescending platitudes from a handsome face. The Shattering: Prelude to Cataclysm wasn't great, riddled as it was by flaws, but it was better than this.
Like McConkie's "Mormon Doctrine", this book contains many treatises by one man which largely represent only his own personal views and interpretation...moreLike McConkie's "Mormon Doctrine", this book contains many treatises by one man which largely represent only his own personal views and interpretations. Unlike "Mormon Doctrine", Fielding Smith typically does an excellent job of outlining A) which views and interpretations ARE his own, and B) that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints expects its members to pursue personal spiritual confirmation of statements by its leaders. I tend to feel that this is one of the primary defining characteristics of the largest Mormon sect -- the belief that one should not just do what the leaders say because the leaders have said it -- and so appreciate when its leaders explicitly express this fact.(less)
This book began well enough, but quickly became all but interminable. It was a long, inexplicably slow slog, and the brief-but-regular moments of wit...moreThis book began well enough, but quickly became all but interminable. It was a long, inexplicably slow slog, and the brief-but-regular moments of wit and brilliance simply couldn't make up for how unaccountably difficult I found it to finish. The fascinating approach to magic and Satanism was likewise overwhelmed by the grotesque anti-Semitic caricature "Manasseh". Add to that the fact that Williams (a friend of Tolkien & Lewis) seems to subscribe to a sort of 19th/20th century transcendental Christian pseudo-mysticism I have always found impenetrably silly (eg: Prester John features in the novel, but Williams has the character simultaneously exist as the Priest-king, John the Beloved, Mary, Jesus, God, the Graal itself, etc.)... And, well, this book earns itself two stars. Not a must-read, but it wasn't all bad and readers with different tastes might love it.(less)
A beautiful dream, one well-worth striving toward, but humans are monsters and will always find a way to trade justice for oppression, Heaven for Hell...moreA beautiful dream, one well-worth striving toward, but humans are monsters and will always find a way to trade justice for oppression, Heaven for Hell.(less)
A tremendous disappointment. Solomon has a wonderfully dark sense of humor and the first few chapters are, while subtly betraying Solomon's own biases...moreA tremendous disappointment. Solomon has a wonderfully dark sense of humor and the first few chapters are, while subtly betraying Solomon's own biases here and there, pretty much gold. However, the last half of this book is so ideologically biased it felt less like "A Very Short Introduction" to Judaism and more like a "A Very Short Polemic" against all forms of Judaism that are not Reformist or Reconstructionist. His section on Feminism's impact on Judaism is also bizarrely antagonistic towards Conservative & Orthodox Judaisms, especially for a work intended by design to be an objective and scholarly introduction to all forms of Judaism. This is a terrible shame, a wasted opportunity. Our only hope is that there will be a new, revised edition by a different author, since this was written in 1996 and last updated in 2000, so its approaches to things like abortion and the State of Israel are out of date.(less)
I have nothing but affection and admiration for Prof. Rose, and the fact that she sent me this book for free with a hand-written dedication makes my f...moreI have nothing but affection and admiration for Prof. Rose, and the fact that she sent me this book for free with a hand-written dedication makes my feelings all the warmer. She published two books last year, this one and Zoroastrianism: An Introduction. Of Parsi descent herself, she walks the razor's edge between respectful reverence for the religion of her ancestors and the institutionalized atheism which is part and parcel of modern academia. She knows the history, the texts, the languages, and the scholarly theories, and she knows them intimately. All of this is immediately obvious, from the introduction to the epilogue. The problem with this book however is that her intimacy may blind her to the ignorance of the average reader.
I know how it is: I once spent a half-hour explaining my dissertation topic to a friend, only to discover that she hadn't even understood the word "dissertation". However, I have been studying Zoroastrianism for over a decade, and even I found portions of this book arcane and confusing. Prof. Rose seems to assume a greater familiarity with Zoroastrianism's history, theology and textual traditions (and modern interpretations of the same) than I would ever have expected -- especially in a book which she recommended to me as ideal for introducing undergraduates to the religion.
If this book is intended as an introductory discussion of the topic at hand, then it is an incredibly problematic work. Having already assigned it to my students, I'll have a choice come July: I will either have to spend my class periods explaining what Prof. Rose is talking about, basing my entire lesson plan around the fact that they probably won't understand a word of the book itself; or I will have to jam-pack the class with all the basics Rose either doesn't cover or doesn't articulate, and just use the book as a sort of supplement which I don't specifically address. I'm not sure I'm happy with either of those options, and suspect I should have assigned her other book instead.
These difficulties could have been remedied by taking actions like the following:
1) Including a fuller Glossary. A fuller Glossary would allow the reader to better understand what she is saying about this ancient and venerable religion. The Glossary which she includes at the back of the book is EXTREMELY helpful, as there are only a few Mazdayasni-specific words which she defines more than once in the body of the work -- and many of those words aren't defined till pages after they are first mentioned. The Glossary she's included lacks the following important terms, just to name a few: Zurvan, Fireshte, Gayomard, Yima, Frawahr, Vistaspa, Pushi, and Raspi.
2) Including a fuller description of the persecutions faced by Zoroastrians in their homeland. The reality is that Zoroastrianism once bestrode the ancient Near and Middle East; their ultimate decline only came about because they were brutally and cruelly persecuted by their Muslim conquerors. Without a more honest exploration of that reality, the decline of Zoroastrianism throughout the former Persian Empire seems like a baffling (if you'll excuse me) act of God, and the flight of the Parsis' ancestors to coastal India lacks any sense of urgency.
3) Include fuller explanations of important elements of credo & praxis. The example that struck me most profoundly was her discussion of the Nasjalars, the "Bearers of the Dead", who exist as perpetual outsiders due to their work. This is important! Their work is vital to the community, and their plight is relevant to the changing face of Zoroastrianism in the modern world! But she neglects to discuss several important features of the Nasjalars. She refers to their vocation as a "profession" but does not explain whether it is something which they choose to take up or something which is thrust upon them; whether they can marry and have families or are forced into celibacy; whether it is passed on from parent to child or is taken up anew by unrelated members of each generation; whether it is solely the province of men or whether women also participate, etc., etc. Two sentences might have clarified this.
4) Include a more detailed discussion of what Classical sources said about "Zoroaster". Why? Because the Greek rivalry with Persia, a rivalry which the Romans inherited, gave birth to some of the most fascinating legends about the religion which I have every encountered. The ancient Greeks & Romans didn't simply think Zoroaster was a foreign philosopher or priest -- they thought he was a wizard! And not just any wizard! They thought he was the founder of an entire branch of sorcery, a school of magic practiced throughout the world, including among their own people, and unique in its potency! What is more, the word "magic" comes from the Greek word "magika" which comes from the Greek word "mageia" which is Greek for "what Persian priests ('magoi', from the Persian 'magosh') do".
I understand that point 4 may just be my own personal preference, but I really do think these actions would have helped the book work better as an introductory and explanatory text.
If, on the other hand, it was intended to be a review of things the reader has already studied in depth, then I can understand the lack of basic information. Seen as such, it serves admirably and hence, in the end, my 4 star review. I was able to turn to other books (and Wikipedia articles) to fill out what was missing from this work, and it helped me understand Zoroastrianism from a number of different, new perspectives. There were only a few odd errors in need of correction, the most glaring of which was in her discussion of the "fireshte" which she likened (quite cogently!) to the popular Abrahamic concept of angels; however she incorrectly asserts that "angel", like "fireshte", means "one who is sent"! In fact, "angel" comes from the Greek "angelos" meaning "messenger" or "news-bringer" (used in Judaism & Christianity to render the Hebrew word "mal'akh" which means the same thing), and is a word used to describe everything from heavenly messengers to prophets to the ancient equivalent of a paper-boy. I suspect she is thinking of "apostle" which comes from the Greek word "apostolos" which does, in fact, mean "one who is sent". Aside from such relatively small errors, this is an excellent book for anyone looking to rekindle their interest in Zoroastrianism, to review the history and teachings of the religion, or to learn about the different modern strains of the religion which they might encounter. I recommend it!(less)
This is one of the best reviews of Islamic history I have ever encountered. Despite its brevity, Silverstein covers all the most significant elements...moreThis is one of the best reviews of Islamic history I have ever encountered. Despite its brevity, Silverstein covers all the most significant elements and handles them with a frankness that is welcome. The origin of Islam, the rise of Umayyads and Abassids, the rise of Persian & Turkish Islam, the spread to India and China...all are explored, if not in detail then at least in the broad strokes necessary to impress upon the reader their importance and relevance to world history and the history of Islam.
There are the occasional moment in which the author seems to assume Islam is true and Islamic historical accounts of the religion's foundation are reliable and objective (moments which deprive it of its fifth star), yet Silverstein himself notes that the scholarly study of Islam & Islamic history is characterized by a startling non-objectivity which favors Islam in a way that would never be permitted in the study of Judaism or Christianity. He admits that some of this is a result of militant Islamic extremism's tendency to...remove...anyone who approaches Islam with academic objectivity, but he also convincingly argues that Western guilt over colonialism and Orientalism has resulted in a disturbing new form of Orientalism which refuses to call itself such -- a belief that Muslims are too "sensitive" and "simple", and need to be treated with kid-gloves because it would be "oppressive" to study their religion the way all other religions are studied. He argues that this condescending approach to the study of Islam & Islamic History has actually perpetuated Western ignorance re: Islam, and negatively impacted US & European relations with Islamic nations. So if he exhibits moments of this Orientalism, he also provides an explanation for (and refutation of) them. He's forced to walk a razor's edge and he does so with aplomb.
I think this will make an excellent introduction to the subject under examination (especially with the ease of access to Wikipedia most students currently have) and it has actually inspired me to check out other titles in the "Very Short Introduction" series for potential use in undergraduate classes.(less)