Quite a simple and impressive book. Particularly for Americans, this book will call into question assumptions that lie below the conscious surface of...moreQuite a simple and impressive book. Particularly for Americans, this book will call into question assumptions that lie below the conscious surface of politics and government for many people. I think it would be worthwhile for anyone with an interest in current events to read it.(less)
What to say? Part of me wants very dearly to give this book one star. About fifty pages in, I found myself somewhat angrily thinking "Henry Miller, wh...moreWhat to say? Part of me wants very dearly to give this book one star. About fifty pages in, I found myself somewhat angrily thinking "Henry Miller, what's wrong with you? Don't you see that your self-absorption is holding you back? Don't you see how deeply you misread Rimbaud, how really you are using bits and pieces of Rimbaud to interpret yourself? How you are simply rambling on about yourself, again? "
But on the other hands, flashes of insight, vertiginous and brave. Even a moment or two of insight into Rimbaud. Things beautifully said. Particularly if you plow through the first 40 pages or so, it is as if Miller begins to relax, and the embarrassing bravado and hero-identification of the early pages begins to recede. Still, even in the more mature parts of the work, I found Miller's account to be more about what he saw in Rimbaud than a true study of Rimbaud. A few specific points: Miller certainly seems quite uncomfortable talking about Rimbaud's homosexuality. I also wonder if he really understands surrealism and symbolism from which he is so quick to distance Rimbaud, or if his engagement with them wasn't limited to some faux-rebellious posturing. And at least on one point, Rimbaud's putative egoism, I wonder if he has really digested the Letter of the Visionary.
But these, perhaps, are relatively minor points. I think of you are interested in Rimbaud, it's worth reading this. Prepare to be irritated, but hang in there, it's worthwhile.(less)
The "short history" is a deeply problematic genre of book, especially when it is the history of something as complex and rich as Islam. To write a sho...moreThe "short history" is a deeply problematic genre of book, especially when it is the history of something as complex and rich as Islam. To write a short history of Islam is to skirt reductionism. At best, these book provide a sweeping context which can then support further reading, and do a minimum of damage in terms of creating false generalizations that will need to be undone later. However, Karen Armstrong is a good historian, and she is mostly up to the task. This is a real history book, and though she often gives thumbnail sketches of beliefs or evolutions in belief in Islam, this is not her intention. This is not a book about the doctrines or beliefs of the religious tradition of Islam. The intention rather is to give the major historical developments, tie them together loosely with context, and gently draw out some of the major themes. All of this is achieved quite well.(less)
The crux of Reich's argument is that the weakening of the middle class since 1980 has critically eroded both the economy and the social compact that h...moreThe crux of Reich's argument is that the weakening of the middle class since 1980 has critically eroded both the economy and the social compact that has been the crucial support for American political and economic life. He carefully analyzes the causes of the problem and shows the dangerous direction unchecked, severe wealth inequality threatens to lead us. Even if you don't agree with Reich's politics, it is worth taking note when a respected former Secretary of the Treasury begins to sound such apocalyptic notes. His recommendations seem highly unlikely to be implemented in the current political climate, but really he seems to be implying that a significant worsening of our political and economic situation is inevitable, but that worsening may provide the necessary shift in the political environment.
Again, regardless of your political views, the problems Reich is proposing require attention and response. The book is well-argued, and while it is partisan, it isn't aggressively so. Highly recommended.(less)
An impressive work of scholarship, but a real bear to read. This is truly a history book - it is primarily the history of the "great men" of the Ottom...moreAn impressive work of scholarship, but a real bear to read. This is truly a history book - it is primarily the history of the "great men" of the Ottoman empire, with cultural and religious history drawn in mostly when required by the text. No doubt anyone interested in Ottoman history or the history of the middle east would value it as a reference book. As a book to actually read from cover-to-cover though, it leaves something to be desired. First of all, although I'm not sure how this could have been avoided, the pace of the book is often dizzying. Sultans rise and fall, grand viziers come and go - all these events rushing by with only a general description of their significance. The events outside of Istanbul often seem quite distant, and we don't get much of a sense of life outside the corridors of power, especially in outlying areas. But the scope of the book is massive, so this may be the nature of the beast.
Analysis of events and their significance is light. Generally, I appreciate a light touch in a history book, but in a book that is throwing so much information at the reader, even someone familiar with academic histories I think will find themselves wanting a few more interpretive signposts on the trail. Generally, the analysis that is present seems helpful, although I was left with several major questions that I don't feel I even have an impression of how the author might answer.(less)
I was generally impressed. The book is very engaging and the information is generally quite clearly presented. It sort of shades at some moments into...moreI was generally impressed. The book is very engaging and the information is generally quite clearly presented. It sort of shades at some moments into a kind of speculative historical fiction mode, especially when conjecturing about the motivations or thoughts of some of the main characters. And it is hard to assess at a few moments whether the author is extrapolating or has some evidence. But often such extrapolations are clearly indicated and mostly quite plausible. If this were intended to be an academic history these problems would be much more vexing, but this is really a popular history. As such, its highly engaging and approachable storytelling are great virtues. With the warning for history wonks that they will occasionally find the method, or lack there of, somewhat maddening, this is recommended for anyone seeking to learn more about Islam.(less)
Bruce Riedel, a senior CIA official who advised three presidents on the middle east, has written an impressively compelling, fairly non-political acco...moreBruce Riedel, a senior CIA official who advised three presidents on the middle east, has written an impressively compelling, fairly non-political account of al Qaeda, exploring the strategies, ideologies and personalities driving this movement. Although most of this information was quite available through media sources, it is nevertheless helpful to see it so clearly organized and analyzed. The disaster that was the invasion of Iraq is on full display here. It played exactly into al Qaeda's hands and in fact may have pulled them back from the edge of defeat. In fact, the picture that forms here is that Bush didn't really make an effort to catch bin Laden. A telling moment is when he asks a senior national security official "Who is responsible for pursuing bin Laden?" Shockingly, there is no answer - no one is in charge. And Riedel is no liberal - the American leader he is seems likely to cite approvingly is Mike Huckabee (although he has kind words for President Clinton as well).
The real tragedy here is that politically we are taking all the wrong steps. The demonization of Islam, the commitment to the "bleeding war" in Afghanistan, the failure to make a real move on the Palestine / Israel issues and the Kashmir issue, and the growing sense (at least on the right) that we ARE at war with Islam, as opposed to extremists, will all play into al Qaeda's hands. Riedel's basic point, that we must know our enemies in order to defeat them, is a certainty. His conclusion that we do not adequately understand al Qaeda is well proven by this book. And not only do we not understand our enemies, one develops the suspicion that we don't understand our friends in the middle east, or indeed much about the Islamic world at all. In a country more with a responsible, serious and reasonable public discourse, this book might be a wake up call. As it is, I assume this timely and clear information will be lost in the shouting and hysteria.(less)
I was basically impressed with this book, which interwove interviews with history and analysis of contemporary Pakistan. I felt the book conveyed a fe...moreI was basically impressed with this book, which interwove interviews with history and analysis of contemporary Pakistan. I felt the book conveyed a few broad strokes about Pakistan's current political environment and offered a few genuinely useful sketches of important contemporary figures. My biggest concern is that I read the 2010 update (the book was written in 2003 and then presumably added to with some new material and reissued in 2010) and it ended up feeling dated in certain sections both in focus and analysis. Nevertheless, the author had great access and seems like a skillful interviewer. Very helpful in gaining background on contemporary events.(less)